The Philip Glass Ensemble was founded in 1968 by one of the most influential – and controversial – contemporary composers, Philip Glass. Michael Riesman is the Ensemble’s Musical Director and technological mastermind, and also plays keyboards.
On February 25th, the Ensemble delivered a rare 5 hour long performance of Music in Twelve Parts to celebrate Glass’s 75th anniversary. This musical marathon also marked the first public run of their new live rig based on Plogue Bidule. Michael Riesman gracefully shared with us his experience with the Philip Glass Ensemble and their migration process to Bidule.
Maxime Deland (PLOGUE): You’ve joined the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1974. I guess the live rig has changed a few times over all these years. Could you share with us how your setup has evolved until the latest pre-Bidule setup?
Michael Riesman: When I joined, the keyboards consisted of 3 Farfisa Mini-Compact organs. That was it.
Over the years of my involvement, the Ensemble went through a series of migrations to new hardware. The first was the replacement of one of the Farfisas by a Yamaha YC45-D dual manual electric organ, a wonderful machine with touch sensitivity and adjustable percussive attack. After that, we added an Arp Explorer synthesizer. Next came a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, then an Oberheim OBXa, then a Yamaha Dx7 (one of the first in the US, hand-carried back from a tour in Japan), then an Emulator I sampler (serial #002), then a Roland Juno-106 and a Roland JX3P, and an Emulator II sampler, and then, as we adopted MIDI controllers and rack modules, a Roland Super Jupiter, a Yamaha TX-816 rack and a TX-802, several Oberheim Matrix-6R. and a number of Akai S-900 samplers, later replaced with Digidesign Samplecell I cards running on Mac IIs.
Finally, the last pre-Bidule rig, initially set up in 2004, ended up consisting of a TX-816 rack, 2 TX-802s, 2 Matrix 6Rs, 5 Matrix 1000s, and a PC hosting Synthogy Ivory for piano sounds, all fed into a Pro Tools 5 system running on a Mac G4 4-slot computer housing 2 Pro Tools cards, 2 Samplecell II cards, and an instance of Soft Samplecell. The Pro Tools rig was just for mixing (no sequences or other virtual instruments or audio playback), with the hardware fed into 3 888 interfaces and the Samplecells fed directly into the TDM bus and showing up as inputs (cards) or Rewire instruments (Soft Samplecell) in Pro Tools. Performer 5.5 was used as the front end for MIDI, because Pro Tools had a problem with our Aphex trigger-to-MIDI converters, which did not (by default) send any note offs. In Pro Tools, the MIDI buffer would eventually fill up and crash Pro Tools because it was keeping track of all the note-ons without note-offs. This drove me nuts in rehearsal until I finally figured out what was going on and took Pro Tools out of the MIDI equation and all was well. I still to this day don’t use Pro Tools for any MIDI.