Thursday, January 14, 2016

Philip Glass Composition and Exploding Boxplot

This post will highlight a couple of my favorite things.  R programming and composer Philip Glass.  For those of you not familiar with his works, he basically pioneered the "minimalist" style of piano playing.  He has been writing and performing music since the 60s, and his pieces are still heard in film and other genres.  Much information on the composer can be found at

I put together a file for all his compositions, their date and composition style.  Using a new R package 'explodingboxplot', the compositions and dates can be visually inspected.  Click the image below to navigate to the interactive plot.

Philip Glass Compositions by Date and Type

In general when looking at the compositions of an artist over time like this, we can make a few observations.  The style of music that he composed the most evenly distributed overtime was "Chamber" music.  The wikipedia page describing the time-periods of his work mentions today as the "Chamber music" time-frame.  Early in his career we can see his compositions and really his reputation was built on his ensemble and solo compositions, though his solo compositions continued into more recent years (boxplot in red).  His ballets were mostly confined to the 80s and 90s, where his music accompanied the modern choreographer Twyla Harp in her pioneering contribution to contemporary ballet.

In general, this visualization is quite useful when considering summary information about categorical time-series data.  As it pertains to the compositions of an artist, it is a nice way to quickly survey their life-time work.  The package 'explodingboxplot' is available on github.  Much thanks to Kent Russell for his work on this R package.