Every day this month, in conjunction with our Feb. 1 cover story “Philip Glass, An East Village Voice,” Sound of the City will post excepts of interviews with Glass and his collaborators, as well as reviews of several concerts celebrating his 75th birthday.
Today we’re publishing our interview with Atlanta-based dj BC (a.k.a. Bob Cronin), whose album Glassbreaks mashed up The Beastie Boys’ “Pass The Mic” with Glass’s Einstein on the Beach (resulting in “Einstein On The Beast,” above), Lil’ Jon & the Eastside Boyz’s “I Don’t Give A Fuck” with Glass’s pharaonic opera Akhnaten (“Lil’ Tut”), and Kanye West, Talib Kweli and Common’s “Get ‘Em High” with “Evening Song” from Glass’s Satayagraha (“Evening High”).
Glass’s musical use of repetition—which predated the DJ scene by some time—made it a perfect fit for mixing with rap and hip-hop. We talked to dj BC about this synchronicity, his fleeting encounters with Glass, and why he wasn’t bitter when Glassbreaks was pulled.
I’m writing this long profile of Glass, and I’m talking to a lot of people who’ve worked with Glass, or who have been inspired by him in their work. I don’t know anything of your history, whether you worked with him on Glassbreaks or not.
So, I’ve been doing remix music since the middle of the ’90, when I was in college. I was using multi-tracks and stuff like that. I’d met Philip a couple of times, first when I was working at the Harvard music department. And I was the assistant to the chair, and they contacted the department and said “There’s this performance at Carnegie Hall with Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson and Robert Wilson, and can you let your students know. If there’s anyone who wants to go, they can come.” And I contacted all the students, and they were all like, “Meh, no, we don’t want to go.” I was like, I’ll drive to New York and hang out with Philip Glass! It was basically going to a rehearsal. So I went to observe the rehearsal.
I wasn’t really doing mash-ups [at the time]. I didn’t have the technology to match up the music using the construction of computers. So I was using a delay pedal. I didn’t really brag to Philip Glass that I was making music at that time.
Do you recall actually meeting him that day?
Yeah. I said, “I’m a DJ. I make hip-hop music.” And my girlfriend at the time said, “I’m a textile designer.” And he said, “Oh, yes,” he said “What we do is very similar.”
He said that to you or to her?
No, to the textile designer!
You know, and I was like, ‘Oh, man.” And then I met him at a show a couple of months later, and he didn’t really remember me, and I was just a fan. But I always remembered that comment. I kind of see what I’m doing as similar to him [in] using pieces. I’m using pieces of other people’s music, and he’s using chunks of his own composition, repetitively or repeating with variations. He’s sort of using chunks, and that spoke to me as to what he was talking about in being a ‘textile designer,’ and weaving and using threads.
But in any case, when I did Glassbreaks, I had started doing mash-ups in 2002, and I did a record called The Beastles, right after The Grey Album came out. I was inspired by The Grey Album.
I got a cease and desist from that, and I did a couple of other things where I got cease and desists. At that time, it was always a legal notice. They were threatening legal action or fine or something, and I’d take down whatever the company had a problem with, and it was actually kind of flattering to get noticed like that.
And then one day, I got an email from one of Philip Glass’s people, and they said, “We think this is really funny and cool and Philip likes it, but we have to ask you to take it down off the internet. And can you take down the picture of Philip Glass as well.” Because I’d asked someone to make an album cover, and they had used a copyrighted image of Philip Glass, too.
And so, and I said, “Sure I’ll take it down.” [Note: as you can tell from all the embedded songs hee, you can now easily find Glassbreaks and all of dj BC’s mash-ups all over the internet, even though they’re not on his own website]. I kind of appreciated that they contacted me personally and—it wasn’t lawyers, and they said they thought it was cool, but can you take it down?
He never knew I was doing this, and I hadn’t [made Glassbreaks] when I met him.
That’s too bad—thought he might have been more supportive of it. [NOTE: In our interview, Glass told the Voice he “always” says yes when people ask to use his music, though he is clear about protecting his copyright when it’s for a clearly commercial purposes. This took place years after the Glassbreaks incident.]
I thought the same thing. [But] At that time, people weren’t really sure where this whole mash-up thing was going. Right now, it’s hovering and they’re not busting mash-up DJs. They’re letting it happen. But when we first started doing it in the United States and it was catching on and The Grey Album came out, the record companies, if they saw something was popular, they jumped right on it. You know? So, individual tracks they wouldn’t [care]. But when I was making records in the early 2000s and putting them online, almost immediately once they started getting blogged they’d come down on me, and tell me to take it offline.
[With Glass’s people] it was nice of them, they were very personable about it, and every time I’ve met him he’s been really nice, and the whole nature of the interaction is such that you don’t know if Philip Glass is behind this email, or not. He could be out of town and someone is just like, running things for him, and they decided they’re going to have to take it down.
As a musician and a DJ, how do you find that [Glass] and his type of music—how does it influence what you do? How do you see the link between the music he does and those musicians do setting the stage for DJ music?
Just the fact that for one thing, he has a really unique approach to what he’s doing. It took guts when he first started to make music like this, to make something so repetitive. It takes a certain fearlessness not to change, to just be, you know, [to make] something like Einstein on the Beach. That genius. And then in terms of construction, as I was talking about, I look at pieces. Remix artists or DJs, or at least that’s what I do—when I am looking at music, I am looking at pieces, at discrete units which overlap on each other and blend into each other at different points, and there is repetition. And in some cases, with more ambient house music or things that are really extended, and you can really see direct similarities between what Philip Glass did and how that music actually sounds.
But and I think also just in terms of the elements that he used and a kind of music acceptability, there are ways you ways hear string sections in rock. But when you listen to Kanye’s stuff, some other hip-hop coming out, a lot of it has influence in things that Glass did- the sparse style and arrangements, that kind of stuff.
I’ve heard some interesting hip-hop online sampling Glass. Many people wouldn’t automatically see the connection between “black music” and Philip Glass, but it’s interesting to me [how parallel they sound] to me (as someone who is a musical layman).
Totally, you listen to to instrumentation and the rhyme of it. When I did Glassbreaks and I started putting the stuff together, I was like, “I love Philip Glass, and I really like the rhythm of hip-hop.” When I started putting the stuff together, there were just cuts that came together. When I put the pieces together, and put the rhymes on top of Glass, in some cases, I was just like, “Wow. This is beautiful.” Philip Glass’s instrumentation, with the rapper on top, made some of the stuff sound really emotional, or heartfelt.
What’s happening with you next? What have you got coming out?
I am DJing. I’m [resident DJ] at Bootie ATL. Bootie is a mash-up thing that happens all over the country, and in Europe. So I was doing Bootie Boston for four years, and I just moved to Atlanta. So I’m starting Bootie ATL at the Highland Ballroom. I’m working with a ska band out of Boston called Big D & the Kids Table, a punk rock band, and I’m working on some mash-up stuff with them. We’re putting out a record. I’m going to work with a local rapper [Moe Pope] and get some of his a cappella, and we’re putting together a wholly approved mash-up record.
And, I did that Brian Eno record recently [Another Jay On Earth: Jay-Z vs. Brian Eno].
Previous articles in our series on Philip Glass’s at 75:
Philip Glass, An East Village Voice (February 1 cover story)
Q&A: Kronos Quartet Founder David Harrington On Collaborating With Philip Glass
Live: The Premiere of Glass’s Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall
Happy (Happy Happy) 75th Birthday, Philip Glass, From South Park