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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG: We do that too. For example, in this picture [ Notes ] you can definitely see that there are sections. There are images that are distant, images in the mid-distance and images that are closer. Some images are on five lines, some on two or three lines, and some at an angle. So those became definite places when that changed that I could make changes in the music. I didn't do it all the time, but I did it enough so that hopefully the spectator who is looking at it is more or less convinced that I was looking at the movie, which may not have been entirely true. So what happens in between those moments can be much more free. What I have always liked is a kind of breathing place between the image and the music. I don't like the music right on top of the image. I want them to be like two people who are dancing and every once in a while they may catch a hand or do a spin together but a lot of time you are just looking at them together.

GS: It is difficult for you to answer this, but do you think this is why so many directors like working with you, because they feel that, in a way, your music gives them some space to work?

PG: Well, not that many do like working with me! I don't know what to say about that except that when I was working with Stephen Daldry, what he liked about the music for The Hour s was that there was something emotionally slightly abstract about it. The emotion of the picture wasn't exactly in the film. It's that little bit of distance which I think is very important because I think that is where the spectator begins to create their own encounter with the image. When you are completely synchronised, then it becomes like a commercial where the cameraman is actually telling you what to look at. One of the differences between theatre and film is that in film you are looking at it with the cinematographer or director showing you, in the theatre you are looking in a much freer way. So when I'm making film music, I'm aware of the fact that it is not theatre music. Since we can't actually step back from the film I try to make the distance in that way.

GS: Is the approach very different in the commercial film industry? You adopt almost a completely different persona. I can't imagine directors like Martin Scorsese saying, "Take a bit more time there."

PG: He doesn't do it that way at all. He always takes time away from you. He is a time thief actually. (Don't tell him I said that.) In one way you can say that it is different, but writing music for an opera or writing music for a film fundamentally you are matching image and music. There is a basic activity, which is not going to change. What does change is the rules of the workplace. If you're working on a Hollywood movie and the director of the studio or the producer wants something to be changed then by God you change it or you're out the door. When you're doing an opera, no one tells the composer what to do. The opera house is the composer's house. You can pick the director and the designer; it works that way. That sounds very different but in actual practice the work that we do - of making a combination of image and music or movement or text, those are the four things - is not that different. It is just a question of who gets the last word. In the collaboration with Michal and I, in the end Michael got the last word because he was conducting and he had to be able to see what was happening.

GS: I'm interested that you talk about the rules of the workplace changing because in a way this is a very different workplace from anything that has existed in the past. Ten years ago you wouldn't have got this sudden explosion of artists working in film much more and putting these films on in a gallery. They put them on in cinema, they put them on now in the concert hall. And the audiences you are writing for are very different. In an art gallery, people wander past the film if they were watching this. Here, you are sitting passively but you are watching live music. In the cinema everything is fixed.

PG: Generally speaking, filmmaking has fallen way behind the other performance arts, which have become much more fluid in terms of how the elements come together. With Godfrey [Reggio], I could do lots of different things. Godfrey and I work in many, many different ways. By the way, I had made a list of ten film makers I wanted to work with, and I called the first four (I only needed four because I had Godfrey) and they all said yes, so I never got to the other six. [The four were Michal Rovner, Shirin Neshat, Atom Egoyan and Peter Greenaway.] I don't know the order of the first four. I said I wanted to work with these. There was a fifth one I wanted to work with, someone who was doing animation. I never got to the animated one. But at any rate, by being the initiator of the project, by my making the phone call, in other words, that helped to create a certain freedom in the relationship, that it was not going to be an industry-defined relationship.

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