Review: Roving Mars
3 / 5 Stars
Where does one draw the line between style and repetition? When does one composer\'s distinct musical signature become an impediment to his creativity? That question has been discussed many times over with regards to James Horner and Hans Zimmer, and I found myself puzzling over it this time around, listening to Philip Glass\' Roving Mars. I\'m sure many people have confronted this question earlier into Philip Glass\' career, but now it\'s my turn and I am forced to admit that, while the music on its own is very good, it might sound largely familiar to Glass\' usual audience.
Glass is no stranger to the world of documentaries, having provided scores to A Brief History of Time and The Fog of War; now, he lends his peculiar minimalism to the exploration of Mars by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. In terms of colors, Roving Mars sounds like a slightly more fleshed out Koyaanisqatsi, utilizing a small orchestral ensemble made up of solo woodwinds, brass instruments, occasional percussion, and a piano. The trumpet is played in the usual Glass fashion, more like a staccato car horn hitting a note between beats than a Baroque virtuoso. A minimal theme is stated in \"Opening Titles\", based on a mysterious eight note, minor mode figure for violins. It is a powerful, albeit simplistic, representation of the modern day space race and the unknown that awaits at the Red Planet and serves as a minimalist anchor for the whole score. \"Origami Spacekraft\" is even more bare bones but lighter in its approach, utilizing a sound Glass perfected in Dracula. The longest track on the album, \"Opportunity vs. Spirit\", is not a slowly growing, slightly changing exercice in sustained minimalism the way most of the Qatsi pieces were; rather, it is made up of distinct sub-movements that help keep the listener engaged. The album ends with an affirming, major mode coda delivered by the flutes and violins and an interesting song by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, uping the etherealness by a notch with their signature dreamy vocals and processed drums. It is strangely upbeat and heroic in its exoticism and serves as the perfect nightcap for Roving Mars.
My problem with the album lies with the feeling of déjà vu. The star rating becomes meaningless: a person new to the world of Philip Glass would most probably appreciate the effectiveness and surrealness of the music, while a collector adding this CD next to the Qatsi trilogy, The Hours, Dracula, and other Philip Glass classics would find him- or herself sighing. It is more of the same. Glass\' sound is his own and it is a remarkable achievement; but his sound has become his music and he seems reluctant to break from his familiar motifs, progressions, and -isms to the point of endless repetition. It is possible to compose in a minimal style and not sound like Glass; the problem with Roving Mars is that it fails to boldly go where no rover has gone before.
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