Philip Glass (born January 31, 1937) is an American composer whose music is frequently described as minimalist. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland and studied the flute as a child at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He then went on to the Julliard School of Music where he switched to mostly play the keyboard.
After studying with Nadia Boulanger and working with Ravi Shankar in France, Glass traveled, mainly for religious reasons, to North India in 1966, where he came in contact with Tibetan refugees. He became a Buddhist, and met the Dalai Lama in 1972. He is a strong supporter of the Tibetan cause. It was his work with Ravi Shankar, and his perception of rhythm in Indian music as being entirely additive, that led to his distinctive style. When he returned home he renounced all his earlier Milhaud and Copland-like compositions and began writing austere pieces based on additive rhythms and a sense of time influenced by Samuel Beckett whose work he encountered writing for experimental theater. Finding little sympathy from traditional performers and performance spaces Glass formed his own ensemble and began performing mainly in art galleries, this being the only real connection between musical minimalism and minimalist visual art. His works grew increasingly less austere and more complex, and in his consideration, not minimalist at all, culminating in Music in Twelve Parts. He then collaborated on the first opera of his trilogy Einstein on the Beach with Robert Wilson.
Glass orchestrated some of David Bowie's instrumentals from the albums Low and Heroes in his Low Symphony and Heroes Symphony. Glass has been prolific throughout his career, and has scored many films, including Godfrey Reggio's experimental documentary film Koyaanisqatsi, Errol Morris' biopic A Brief History of Time (based on Stephen Hawking's popular physics book), and Martin Scorsese's Kundun.