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A Descent into the Maelström


A Descent into the Maelström


Music by Philip Glass
The Philip Glass Ensemble
Michael Riesman, Conductor

Orange Mountain Music OMM-0005


1 Vertigo 2:10
2 He is Coerced to Look 2:08
3 Engagement 8:39
4 The Naming 0:54
5 Tranquility 6:04
6 The Beggin 1:08
7 The Strategem 3:47
8 On My Watch and Caught 2:10
9 The Hurricane and Recognition of Death 2:55
10 The Entrance of the Moon 3:03
11 The Sighting 2:42
12 They Enter the Stream 1:15
13 Abandonment 4:15
14 The Brother Becomes a Maniac 2:30
15 The First Mad Rush 2:14
16 Second Perception of Light, Moon, Mist, and Rainbow 6:19
17 The Maelström 8:44
18 Hour of the Slack and Escape 4:01

"A Descent into the Maelström", Edgar Allan Poe's vertiginous short story of being swept into a huge and terrible whirlpool by a raging hurricane that "the oldest seaman in Norway never experienced" was transformed into a Musical Dance/Theatre piece by Philip Glass and collaborators, dancer/choreographer Molissa Fenley, set designer Eamon D'Arcy and theatre director Matthew Maguire.

In 1986 Mr. Glass was commissioned by the Australian Dance Theatre to create and bring a piece to the Adelaide Festival of Arts in Adelaide, Australia. He chose to write a piece based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story "A Descent into the Maelström" and invited his collaborators to participate. While researching this piece for the Philip Glass archives and Orange Mountain Music I came across a hand written document of Mr. Glass' that describes his approach. In it he writes;

"The commingling of text, music, image and movement, long honored in time and practice, is the real subject of our work. The tone poems of the late Romantics and the flowering of 19th century opera are ready examples of that in the not too distant past. Yet I feel our approach has been somewhat different.

We began with Poe's "Descent into the Maelström" as the basis for our work. We sought not so much to interpret the story but rather to extrapolate from it a new work that would articulate in theatre form the sense of the original. Though the text has all but disappeared from the final work, it has remained as the subtext to the work. And more than just that, were the story to be read aloud it would, with normal dramatic adjustments, fit into the real time of our theatre piece.

Again, more simply, we can say this new work stands as a poetic meditation in theatre form to the work of a great artist, the work of whom, in the beauty of its language and the power of its thought, continues to inspire us.

Finally, and more simply yet, our intention was, given the work of Poe and the magic of his voice, to bring to it song, image and movement."

This compelling piece of music premiered in March, 1986 at the Adelaide Festival of Arts and was only performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble during the week of the festival in Australia. Consequently, it has had very little exposure to Philip Glass' audience, although there have been bootleg recordings available on the internet. In the spring of 1986 after the Ensemble returned to New York there was a request from documentary filmmakers for an audio recording of the performance so the piece could be broadcast. Also, the Australian Dance Theatre, who performed the work under the direction of choreographer Molissa Fenley, needed a recording to use so they could continue to perform the piece after the ensemble ended their engagement at the festival.

When the 24 track live recordings of the performance were shipped to New York for mixing it was discovered that the recordings were distorted, noisy and mostly unusable. At that point PGE musical director, Michael Riesman, Kurt Munkacsi and the Ensemble members set about replacing their parts. Of course everything had to be kept in sync with the live recording for the television broadcast. The resulting recording is a studio/live hybrid. It is very similar to the mix that was made in 1986 for the video but we've remixed the material taking advantage of the digital recording technology that is available today.

— Don Christensen
May, 2002

Music by Philip Glass.
Direction by Matthew Maguire. Choreography by Molissa Fenley. Production Design by Eamon D'Arcy. Sound Design by Kurt Munkacsi.

Music Performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble: Philip Glass, keyboards; Michael Riesman, musical director and keyboards; Martin Goldray, keyboards; Dora Ohrenstein, vocals; John Gibson, saxophones and flute; Jack Kripl, flute and bass clarinet; Richard Peck, saxohopnes; Kurt Munkacsi, house mixer; Dan Dryden, monitor mixer.

Music Directed by Michael Riesman.
Dance Performed by the Australian Dance Theatre: Guy Detot, Linda Gay, Csaba Buday, Tia Propocz, Paul Old, Michele Ryan, Phil Callaghan, Lisa Heaven, Kim Hales, Meredith Kitchen, Kathryn Hourigan, Elizabeth Old, Leonard Choice.
The re-recording in New York was done at the Living Room Studio, June, 1986. Produced by Kurt Munkacsi and Michael Riesman and engineered by Don Christensen.

The mix for this CD was done at Looking Glass Studios by Michael Riesman, Don Christensen and Hector Castillo, assisted by Mario McNulty, May 2002 Produced by Don Christensen.

Orange Mountain Music would like to thank photographer Sven Ulsa (e-mail for his photographs, Eamon D'Arcy for use of its artwork, and Amanda Werner for finding the program. Thank you Kara Bilof and Nico Mulhy at the Looking Glass.
Philip Glass's music is published by Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc.

A Euphorbia Production for Orange Mountain Music, 632 Broadway, Suite 902, New York, NY 10012.
P and © 2002 Orange Mountain Music.