Composer Philip Glass talks time with painter Fredericka Foster.
How is composing music of a given meter similar to painting flowing water? In this conversation between the composer and musician Philip Glass and the painter Fredericka Foster, two artists set out to tackle this question, before flowing into questions of memory, physics, and death.
Glass and Foster met in the late 1990s through their mutual interest in Buddhism. They shared a teacher, Gelek Rimpoche, and attended yearly meditation retreats together in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I invited them to have a conversation about time, they both responded with great interest and curiosity. How better to reflect, they said, on a decades-long relationship that had been sparked by Buddhist teachings and strengthened by a mutual artistic admiration?
Getting them together was less easy. Glass was traveling in Europe, while Foster was in Seattle. So we recorded a telephone conversation, transcribed it, then recorded a second conversation to fill in the gaps. In a way, the resulting dialogue between the two artists—their first formal collaboration—is informed by its own distortions of time and space.
After Glass returned to New York, I got a chance to see him perform a piece at Carnegie Hall that was introduced more than 30 years ago. It was recognizable as a Glass signature, but at the same time it was something different, even better than the original. As I was listening to the piece, I was reminded of what my collaborator, Lee Smolin, wrote in his introduction to our project on time:
“In the new view of time, time is essential, and irreversible because it generates genuine novelty.”
Time had given a genuine novelty to Glass’ performance of an old piece. I expect it will do the same years from now, when two old friends reread their conversation on an ageless topic.