The Smaller the Theater, the Faster the Music

This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here.

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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus11 min readScience
A Novelist Teaches Herself Physics: To explore loss and mystery, Nell Freudenberger journeyed into the atomic world.
Helen Clapp, a professor of theoretical physics at MIT, recounted the biggest news of 21st century physics, the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), an international collaboration of scie
Nautilus7 min read
Is Tribalism a Natural Malfunction?: What computers teach us about getting along.
From an office at Carnegie Mellon, my colleague John Miller and I had evolved a computer program with a taste for genocide. This was certainly not our intent. We were not scholars of race, or war. We were interested in the emergence of primitive coop
Nautilus5 min readScience
In Brain’s Electrical Ripples, Markers for Memories Appear
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. It’s very easy to break things in biology,” said Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s really hard to make them work better.” Yet agains