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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG: It happened that I was doing a tour of the West Coast of the United States in October, November immediately after 9/11. The first thing that happened if you were doing concerts then was that a third of your audience had simply evaporated. This was across the board, for everybody. But the people that came, when they saw Koyanisqatsi, were so moved by it they were often in tears. I had never seen that when we had done Koyanisqatsi before. I'd been playing it live in this way since about 1983. We had figured out how to do it, Michael had begun conducting it and I reckon we'd done it live two hundred times, two hundred and fifty times maybe. But until that October, November it looked very, very different. The oddest thing about these movies is that we seem to age but the movies don't seem to age.

GR: You know, there's a Latin term that means, "One receives according to the vessel that they have". Because we are all changing, thank God, and we don't have to stay the way we are tonight. We could be different tomorrow. If you see these films, because they don't have the linear direction of a narrative and an overt story - that's not to say there's not a story there - it depends on the mood or the feeling you bring to the piece as to what you get out of it. That's not to say that the piece can do that for everybody because for some people it will be boring or uninteresting or pretentious. But for those that can get into it, it is what is known in the business as a "repeatable". It's something that can be seen over and over because what you bring to it will add a dimension that the film can't possibly offer without the viewer. In fact, when the film is made, I look at it from the point of view of a trialectic relationship, the image, the music and the viewer. The viewer in this case if the film works; if it doesn't, it is boring and you want to get out of the room as fast as possible. But if it does work, it becomes an engaged response. It is not something for your mind. These films are made to go over your head and hit you somewhere in the solar plexus (or under your head). Something where you can feel something, so it is like an experience. It is like when you are looking at the sunset. You would never ask what is the meaning of the sunset. It is whether it moves you. It is the same with the music that Philip writes. People frequently ask Philip and I, what does this film mean. Well, it means whatever you want it to mean, which is not to say that there is not a meaning. If you went to a Vivaldi concert, or a Philip Glass concert without the images on the stage here, you wouldn't ask your friend, "Gee, I wonder what Philip Glass meant by that." It would be more whether it was a moving or a meaningful experience. This is what we are trying to create with the work that we've done, a moving or meaningful experience for the viewer.

RW: This seems to me to be rooted in Modernist ideas. One of the things about the Modernist movement was that you could say that the responsibility for the generation of meaning shifted from the producer to the consumer. So in the paintings of Jackson Pollock he doesn't paint dogs and cats, T.S. Eliot...

PG: You can go further back. You can start with Duchamp. In fact Cage was the one who coined the phrase that the audience completes the work. That is what that is about.

GR: I don't know if he was a Modernist but Aristotle, in his teaching about what it means to teach, says that the learner is the efficient cause of knowledge not the teacher. The teacher is there to raise the question not to give an answer. So it has a root way back.

RW: Your film making, Godfrey, is it rooted in the experiments of the sixties and seventies. I'm thinking of the underground film movements in New York. At the end of the day, these are images made with projected light. That is what we have. You seem to be going back to the fundamentals of filmmaking, pre-talkies. There is no talking in these films, no dialogue. There's not much atmos recording. You don't hear much location recording.

GR: There's no location recording, very little. If there is, it is included in a montage of sound that comes in with the score.

RW: So is your filmmaking technique rooted in those. Do you feel rooted in that work that was going on in America in the sixties and seventies?

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