Strung out for solo amplified violin gets its name from the way the original manuscript score of some twenty pages was bound. It unfolded in such a way that it could be ‘strung out’ around the performing space on music stands, or even pasted on the walls. Linking the piece in a clear way with other kinds of performance art being made at the time, the violinist’s manoeuvres round the space thus became part of the event; a contact microphone was used in order to amplify the sound while giving the player complete freedom of movement. With the exception of two short sections, the work consists of a continuous string of fast quavers, marked ‘mechanically’. Glass himself says that the title of ‘Strung Out’ relates both to the idea of stringing a violin and to the colloquial expression meaning ‘at the end of one’s tether’; it also has drug-related implications, but the composer does not seem to have ever mentioned these.
This work is one of at least eight which Glass composed between the simmers of 1967 and 1968 when, now just into his thirties, he returned to New York following three years abroad, including study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and travels in the East. Not quite his earliest minimalist compositions, they all experiment with an approach to the additive process techniques of rhythmic elaboration that he was soon to use in better-known works such as ‘Music in Similar Motion’ and ‘Music in Twelve Parts’. The difference between the works of 1967-8 and those which immediately follow them is that the former use an intuitive, non-systematic approach to the additive process, while the latter’s highly rigorous deployment of repetitive techniques makes them more easily followable, in line with the aesthetic of minimalism promulgated by Glass and others at the time. ‘Strung Out’ and its companion pieces (others include ‘Piece in the Shape of a Square’ for two flutes and ‘600 Lines’, Glass’s first minimalist ensemble work) have gradually been regarded as failures and remain rarely if ever performed. Listeners will, I hope, take the opportunity of discovering for themselves whether this unsystematic approach to rhythmic structuring can, after all, give rise to a compelling aural experience.
© Keith Potter, 2006