on May 1, 2001
I just saw Philip Glass at a screening of Koyaanisqatsi and then at a composer's forum, inspiring me to take to the keyboard (the piano AND the computer version). This is my favorite Glass piece in my ever-growing collection -- ironically, it's the first one I ever bought. The genius of Glass's middle-style -- slow unfolding poignant minimalism with operatic sensibility and universal themes -- comes to absolute fruition where the music meets Allen Ginsberg's insighful, 'deep-thinking' beat poetry. All of the rough edges of the early style (shaky orchestration, the tendency for overkill) seem well-trimmed here... In under an hour and a half Glass creates a masterpiece with every bit as much to say as Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha or Akhnaten. Indeed, newcomers to Glass ought best to start here. Highlights include Ginsberg's reading from Wichita Vortex Sutra, Aunt Rose, and the final ode to death. And like most all Glass music since the early operas, this piece is very user-friendly for connoisseurs and non-art-music-fans alike. Hydrogen Jukebox is proof that minimalists need not meander adrift on the waves of cyclic time, but can produce grippingly poingnant short pieces. This may well be Glass's masterpiece and deserves greater recognition. Buy now!!
on June 17, 2005
A friend of mine who is a classical musician was over the other day browsing through my CD collection and found Hydrogen Jukebox. I had played just a bit of it a few years back and was turned off by Jahweh and Allah Battle, what with its frenetic drums and urgent, frantic choral ensemble.
I had never returned to it, but I was immediately drawn to Iron Horse, sung by tenor with a pulsing, minimalist atmospheric accompaniment of flute and synthesizer keyboards, typical of Glass. Jahweh and Allah still was jarring, but makes sense in the context of the overall work, which as other reviewers have observed is operatic in scope. The music carefully and effectively reflects the words of Ginsberg.
Ah, the words of Ginsberg. Spectacular images of America, the threat of apocalypse reflected in sheet lightning. Love, aging, treachery at the highest levels of government, corruption. All lead to the Buddhist concept of escape into death, peace.
There are many examples of thrillingly sublime art. After the frantic war of the gods, we return to the calm of Iron Horse, which features soaring soprano vocalize. The words are deeply haunting and relevant to these terrible times: "Who's the enemy, year after year? War after war, who's the enemy." These are, of course, quite exactly the questions that we are asking ourselves now.
Interwoven with the history of America's post-WWII role in the world are frank personal reflections by Ginsberg on the trajectory of his own life. These lend an intimacy to the work and render it all the more poignant. This is especially apparent in "To P.O.," "Cabin in the Woods," and "The Green Automobile."
"Cabin in the Woods" captures young love in an exotic location, Calcutta. The music is rhythmic and sonorous. "Cabin in the Woods" opens with the same haunting soprano vocalise that is woven throughout the music and text of this masterpiece. "The Green Automobile" is extraordinary, with a gradual crescendo to a spectacular, joyous climax and a shimmering testament to love and joy.
After "To P.O." we are treated to a wild "Crossing Nation" and Ginsberg's reading of "Wichita Vortex Sutra," accompanied by Glass on piano. "Howl Part II" also features Ginsberg, but most of it is sung, with a wild saxophone accompaniment. After this long exploration of 20th century history, "Cabin" is a welcome, quiet, change of pace.
The wild "N.S.A. Dope Calypso" documents terrible events and is followed by soothing, elegiac songs.
This is an endlessly imaginative work, and as others write, may be his masterpiece indeed.
Listening to a recording of Philip Glass' 'Hydrogen Jukebox', with libretto by Allen Ginsberg, I get the strong feeling of how far we have moved past the time when Ginsberg's beat / existentialist verses really did reflect a major strain of thought in America. In a way, this makes the work slightly less than perfect, not exactly as timeless as Bach's Mass in B-Minor or Beethoven's 9th Symphony. An even more pertinant comparison would be to compare these lyrics to some of Bob Dylan's songs. Dylan was dealing with exactly the same anti-war sentiments, yet his songs are as powerful today as they were 40 years ago. But it's still valuable. There are few better ways of capturing that Zeitgeist than in a live performance, that is, no better than seeing the live performance on stage yourself.
on August 2, 2003
I bought this CD with mixed feelings. I am a devoted fan of Ginsberg's writing and poetry. I'm also in love with the Phillip Glass string quartets. However, I knew that most of his other music was not appealing to me, particularly his choral works and plugged music.
I found the majority of Hydrogen Jukebox to be hard to listen to. It's an odd combination of operatic choral singing, electric keyboard music, and Phillip Glass' extremely tedious repeated-run style of music.
I found the male voices particularly hard to listen to. However, the soprano is absolutely enchanting, especially in her solos such as Cabin In The Rockies.
The true redeeming value of the CD are those works in which Ginsberg himself reads aloud his writing. This is mainly just certain highlights within tracks. However, the closing of Part One, Witchita Vortex Sutra, is a must-have for any Ginsberg fan. Phillip Glass' unplugged piano and Ginsberg's reading of this large section of WVS is a truly memorable, moving piece. It's a highly emotional reading that is understandable to even those without a huge interest in poetry and a great statement on love, language, and war. It's a shame that this track seems so out of place with the rest of the CD.
If you are a fan of Phillip Glass' operas, keyboard works, or general minimalist-gone-maximal style, you'll probably appreciate this CD much more than I did. It has grown on me despite my negative reactions.
on January 22, 2002
This CD ranks among my favourite Glasspieces, along with Koyaanisqatsi. I usually make a special occassion of giving it a thoroughtful listen all the way through from the beginning to the very last note sung by a solo male voice. All in all the small scale operatic concept form of this little wonder deserves to be treated with respect by any listener. Hats off for the author's intellect and modesty in creating a truly distinguished opus in my view standing on solid ground of originality among his output. Once again he prooved his versatility and demonstrates how potent a genre minimalism can be. The featured ensemble of musicians and singers sounds very chamber-like, the overall sonic atmosphere brings them all virtually to your very living room. The intensity of musical message is so subtle, they don't need to bang our ears, yet still they are capable of delivering some very rapid paced "loud" stuff. A modern classic indeed with the authors themselves contributing with an outstanding piano-narration duel, a true gem. And check out the haunting sax performance on Howl...
on September 9, 2007
Like Schubert's "Die Winterreise", this contemporary song cycle is destined to be a classic, covering as it does, a broad swathe of the American psychic landscape, and in its way, like Winterreise, comprising a life's journey to its culmination in death. Words and music, and recitation by Ginsberg himself, are all seemlessly woven into an affecting, grippingly evocative whole. Interestingly, I recall having heard Allen Ginsberg doing some of his own poems to music, some of which are the arrangements present here. This is a real achievement, which continues to reward with every listen. Highly recommended.
on February 1, 2001
Hydrogen Jukebox is a wonderful melding of Beat poetry and contemporary serious music. I believe that if the recording had been enthusistically promoted when it first was issued, it could have been a best-seller. As it is, it is an important addition to the discerning listerner' collection.
on December 25, 2014
on November 11, 2000
From the introductory notes written by Philip Glass (b1937) and Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), this is a work of great personal significance. Each writes of the social issues which are presented. Mr Glass credits Mr Ginsberg with "inventing a poetic language from the sounds and rhythms all around us - an American language that is logical, sensual, at times abstract and always expressive." Mr Ginsberg writes notes which help to explain his intention. "Ultimately, the motif of HYDROGEN JUKEBOX the underpinning, the secret message, secret activity, is to relieve human suffering by communicating some kind of enlightened awareness of various themes, topics, obsessions, neuroses, difficulties, problems, perplexities that we encounter as we end the millennium. So this 'melodrama' is a millenial survey of what's up". He guides the listener through the work by brief paragraphs of ideas concerning each piece. "The title HYDROGEN JUKEBOX comes from a verse in the poem HOWL: '...listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox...' It signifies a state of hypertrophic high-tech, a psychological state in which people are at the limit of their sensory input with civilization's military jukebox, a loud industrial roar, or a music that begins to shake the bones and penetrte the nervous system as a hydrogen bomb may do someday, reminder of apocalypse." The music of Mr Glass works well to keep things light and a little bit glib. I think it sometimes lacks a requisite conviction which is detracting when applied to serious topics such as found in NAGASAKI DAYS. On the other hand, this collaboration is fun for me on the lighter pieces such as FROM CROSSING NATION. It's an evening of shared conversation with friends. Personally, I don't know the family that well. I don't see myself in the "portrait." So, some of it comes off as a trite home movie. Instead of thoughtful reflections from "some kind of enlightened awareness", I hear uninformed opinions attacking men of straw. The naivete of this project is exposed when the "medicine" for the problems is "several haikus, written on meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains." First, the poetry of CABIN IN THE WOODs hardly qualifies as strict haiku, but I will grant poetic license to Mr Ginsberg on that point. It is fanciful to pretend that "sitting on a tree stump with half cup of tea" will in any way solve the problems Mssrs Ginsberg and Glass have presented. Tantamount to cutting your victim in two with a machine gun, then, offering a bandaid, this collection was entertaining yet dissatisfying to me as an effort to "relieve human suffering". If you are interested in the personal opinions of two of the most reknowned artists of the late twentieth century, this will be interesting and perhaps, enjoyable to you. Peace.