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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG: I don't need much of a trigger, really. It was what I thought about when I was doing it. In the same way that a lot of the environment in this film is snow and weather of different kinds, and people outside and walking, I was looking for a musical encounter with that image that would give it another emotional layer. The interesting thing about images is that they are probably the most important element in the arts today, and at the same time they are less articulate, in a certain way, than music. Music can actually define very precisely a mood whereas images will change a lot according to what you put with them.

GS: You mentioned the word "narrative". You [Michal] were saying you were not looking for narrative, although the film itself seems to be very rich in suggested meaning and mystery. You, on the other hand, Philip, quite often say that you are trying to redefine the role of music within film in order to give music more of a sense of narrative.

PG: Not so much. It is more about the structure of the film. In a lot of commercial or even independent movies, the music basically is decorating the film. It doesn't actually articulate the structure of the film. In the cases where the music can do that, it becomes a powerful companion to the image. It leads you through the experience in a far different way than just kind of telling you what you're supposed to feel when you are looking at it.

GS: Would I be I right in saying that in the Godfrey Reggio film Anima Mundi, it is much more of the descriptive kind of music than the collaborative?

PG: Sometimes it is, but then the descriptions can be quite odd. For instance, in Koyaanisqatsi, there is a whole section of just planes in the air. And I wrote a piece for voices. What I liked about planes was that they were so heavy but they seemed light and I thought the voices would be the right?So I have to find a quality in the music that will not exactly match but will state in a musical way something that we're looking at.

GS: Did you ever disagree about time and structure? Because this idea of form in music matching form and arguing or having a dialogue with visual form?were your ideas similar when you felt something was right or were there tensions in that process?

PG: (to MR) Did I give you pieces of music that you began to cut with, to edit with?

MR: Unfortunately, we didn't have an argument. Philip described the music he was going to write, and then he invited me once to his studio and he played on the piano and asked if I liked it, and I liked it a lot. But the only thing was that I showed you some images and then it was very strange to know that sound can really change the whole meaning of the image. I was a bit curious about it, because you make a work and it does have a sound for you, even if it doesn't have a sound externally it does have an internal sound that is a very specific sound. Then the music that would come along with it was for me a bit of a mystery because the film came first. In a way, I sort of wrote the notes for him on those five lines [in the film, Notes, there are sections where people actually appear on stave lines and look like musical notes]. But we had the decision at first to be independent, in terms of where we cut it and timing and so on. After I gave the rough cut to them - Philip had already written the music - I went back. I always like to go back and make it better. So I made it a bit longer here and a bit shorter there and I thought now it is really good and I sent it back to them and I got a phone call from Michael [Riesman, conductor of the Philip Glass Ensemble] who was in Singapore and Philip was maybe on the way to the Dalai Lama, and I was in Israel on the road with a cell phone, and they said, "We have the last rehearsal tomorrow and you've changed your piece entirely." I said that I didn't change it entirely. I said I changed it four times and Michael said that he knew exactly where, three seconds here and one second there. So I went back to the editing room for the whole night and recut it to fit.

PG: The difficulty was that Michael had learned the piece, the first edit, and we were going to play it in about three days. So it would have been a big problem.

GS: Now it gets interesting!

MR: Then I realised that we had this cool idea that is very contemporary that we will be independent and lay one thing on top of the other but not really do it together. But I realised that they were really cutting it to the cut.

PG: Michael is looking and timing. He doesn't use any artificial mechanical click track or anything. He is actually synchronising it to the picture, to what is seen, and it also floats a little bit. It is not exactly?

GS: I was going to ask you about this desynchronisation. You've used the word "synchronisation" and your wanting to move away from that ?

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