Our Glass


Having recently seen and enjoyed The Hours, including its Philip Glass score, I’ve been getting back into his music. And wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Glass has a website.

There you will find a java applet-based interface for listening to over 60 of his works, simultaneously sorted on sliding scales (e.g., Joy, Sorrow, Intensity and Density). One can also filter by type of work (e.g., Solo, Opera, Film). This “engine,” an IBM research project, is both a good overview of Glass’s work and an impressive example of interface design (though I find myself wanting more, like auto-shuffle and continuous playback).

While the mechanical nature of Glass’s work is obviously highlighted as one slides his or her way from one track to the next, the process also tends to short-circuit the sense of duration one typically experiences in listening to Glass, even with his shorter works. At the same time, the interface provides for juxtapositions between passages to create altogether new compositions. As such, the Glass Engine offers an interesting alternative to the ways we commonly think about organizing data.