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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG: It was actually the voices of the women [in the film] which had been recorded by Shirin and then she handed the tape to us. It is in a very odd meter, and Michael was the one who managed to edit the tape in such a way that it sounds like they are actually singing in the rhythm of the music, but initially they weren't. All the consonants, sounds and vowels were in fact the original language but the rhythm of it had been altered to fit the music.

GS: [From the audience] What qualities do you look for in collaborating with a filmmaker? How did you make up your shortlist of people?

PG: I was interested in people who were working very independently. This whole exercise of working with film and music, which we're doing this week, is about re-examining the whole way in which films are made and the way they are put together, the way the elements come together. So I wasn't interested in working in any industry-style way, because there is plenty of that. There is no need to do that. I wanted to go back to the beginning of when film and music, when sound and music came together in the late twenties. At some point, for some reason, it was decided very quickly that the words and the images would work in a certain way and since then that has become the convention. The way commercial music is written, that is the way it is done, even usually with the music coming at the end. That is why I say it is not really like the silent movies. And I wanted to go back and look at that. For example, the one we are doing tomorrow, La Belle et la Bete, is a completely different way of thinking about how image and music go together. That feels like a strange thing to say. I hesitate to say it is an original idea because I don't think we really have original ideas, so to speak. It is so rare to have them, but by God, I had one! The whole way of how image, music, text, movement go together, what I'm trying to do and what I've been able to do in concert halls - and to a limited extent in films. Sharin and Michal are really artists who have come to film; Atom and Peter are filmmakers who also make art movies as well as making commercial movies. Godfrey is Godfrey. I don't know how to describe him. He has always made his own work in his own way.

GS: [From the audience] Where was Shirin's film shot?

PG: She does most of her work in Morocco. Her films have a strong cultural and ethnic side to them. She says her films have been invited to Iran. She is a bit hesitant to go back.

GS: But you were the first non-Iranian to work with her?

PG: The first non-Moslem, actually. Mostly she works with Sussan Deyhim who is a wonderful composer. But I invited her. If I hadn't invited her, it would never have happened. She never would have thought of asking me.

GS: [From the audience] Have you ever analysed the importance of rhythm in your work? It seems to have such a primal role.

PG: Rhythm is an interesting thing. We have visual rhythm; we have harmonic rhythm; we have melodic rhythm. Rhythm we often think of as just the beat of the drums. Rhythm is actually the rate at which material recurs. Rhythm comes from the recurrence of material and the patterns that sets up. There is so much visual rhythm in Michal's work. I tend to be drawn to image-makers who relate to structure in that way. But in terms of analysing how I do it, I haven't bothered to do it at all. Except that I know what the technical basis of it is. I learnt a lot of that from non-Western music, and from working with people from Africa and Asia. But I'm more interested in how rhythm occurs in dance and in image.

GS: (to MR) Have you ever analysed your approach to rhythm in your work?

MR: I'm don't know if it's good if I analyse my work anyway. It's not good to be too self-aware.

GS: Do you have a sense that rhythm is an important part or is it image more than rhythm?

MR: Let's say I filmed fifty people and then I layered them and then one I didn't like the rhythm in which one would walk, then I would take one single one out and one would slow down etc. I'll use your question to say something else. I think it's very interesting when you do a co-action like that. The film can actually stand still and the music would give it space to exist in a way, which is, in fact, active. And the other way round. If the film has a lot of movement in it and does have a rhythm as you describe, it really can almost substitute for the rhythm of the sound just like rest.

GS: Which goes back to your point about the dialogue, and they don't have to actually be imitating each other. They can each give space.

MR: If you take two video artists, they will take the space from one another. It is not an easy thing to do but this way it is almost giving space to each other.

GS: Did you enjoy it enough to do another film together?



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