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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

GR: I don't. I'll tell you why. When I was fourteen years old, instead of growing up in nineteen fifties America, I grew up in the Middle Ages of France. I was a member of a Catholic order and as a result had no education in culture. Some consider that a disaster and therefore say look at how bad the films are, others consider that an advantage - I didn't have to unlearn anything. So I approached these strictly from the point of view of a novice, as an amateur doing this, remarkably, for love. So I didn't have any measure to go with. Film critics always have measures, so for those of you who are film cognoscenti, you will know the name of Bruce Connor. In America, he is probably the greatest montagist. People say, "You must have been terrifically influenced by Bruce Connor." Well, the fact is, I didn't even know who Bruce Connor was. So anything you see here comes from an original act.

RW: Did you know what you were doing when you made this first movie?

GR: No. I knew what my heart was telling me, that I should make this film. But how do you begin? You have to not be mystified by the tools. I don't use a computer. I've never used a camera, editing machines etc. That's not to say I don't understand them. It just hasn't been my thing. But I wasn't mystified by them, perhaps through hardiness, frivolity, whatever; I was willing to embrace that which I hadn't done before, with some very capable colleagues. Not only Philip and I work on these films. Obviously these are not the films of two people. They are the films of many artists. When people come to work on these films, they do not come as professionals who are there for an income because they don't make much and the films don't make a lot of money. But they do come because it is an opportunity to collaborate and to create their own art in the context of a collaborative process. So the cinematographer, the editor, these people could be up here [on stage] with us. They have as much involvement in the life of these films as certainly Philip and I do.

RW: Do you know what you are doing now? What have you learnt?

GR: Especially now, I don't know what I'm doing. For twenty-seven years, I've had this isometric on me; I've had a commitment, not with grace and gratuity, but to an insane asylum, to make these movies. And that is over with now. Philip has been on tour for thirty-five years and I think he has got at least another thirty to go. I'm not sure what I'm doing right now, to tell you the truth. And I'm very happy about that.

RW: Philip, did you know what you were doing when you began writing the music?

PG: One of my first obligations was to listen to Godfrey. And as you all see, he is a very articulate fellow. And it has been a great joy and pleasure to be involved in a dialogue with him. It's mostly a monologue, to be truthful. [Laughter.] But I make the appropriate sounds to keep him going. So it's actually been evolving, although I've probably noticed it more than he has that his ideas actually do change over the twenty-five years. There has been a basic idea. It is interesting that, at the same time, I have been working in opera and dance and theatre, other forms which have to do with music and image, added to that, text and movement. Text doesn't come up in Powaqqatsi, except for one word in both of these movies, which is the only word that you'll hear, which is the title of the picture. However, the exercise of combining image and music is a fundamental activity that I am involved with and I do it in other ways. I was talking to some people recently who asked me what is the difference between writing music for a film and film for an opera. There isn't much difference. When you get right down to it, image and music reduces to something very ? For instance, Godfrey will sometimes come up with an assemblage of images. With Koyanisqatsi, it might be clouds, it might be aeroplanes. I look at them and my job is to figure what is the sound image that goes with the visual image. I have developed, over this period of time - not only with Godfrey, I have had the opportunity to work with dance and with opera a and theatre at the same time - to discover how broad and fluid that relationship between music and image can be.

RW: Did you know what you were doing right at the beginning when you began to write this music that is now loosely labelled "Minimalism", making music with minimal means, with limited number of notes??

PG: That was a by-product of a historical moment. It didn't really matter hat it was minimalism. It happened to be that moment when I was maturing as a composer and had encountered the music of Ravi Shankar and eastern music and I had begun to encounter? It is a long rigmarole that is not worth going into now?

RW: But it was the very antithesis of what else was happening.

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