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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG: Oh yes. I am actually talking to Godfrey about other projects, to Michal about other projects. I think the way Shirin works, I am the odd one in her body of work. I would like to work with her again. My family of collaborators is a growing one and I tend to go back to people I enjoy working with. All of these people, (with the exception of one) I enjoyed very much.

GS: I wonder who that was! So we can obviously look forward to Philip on Film II sometime in the future.

The second interview took place on January 9th 2003, prior to the showing of Powaqqatsi, the second part of the Qatsi trilogy. Robert Worby (presenter of Here & Now on BBC Radio 3) interviewed Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggio, director of the Qatsi trilogy.

Robert Worby: Godfrey, can I ask you first. You and Philip have been working together on this trilogy for, what, twenty-five years now? How have your collaborative methods changed over this incredibly long period?

Godfrey Reggio: That is an incredibly good question. I've only made a handful of films and what was begun with Philip in 1977 took us twenty-five years to explore. The methodology is one of collaboration. While it is a simple term to indicate, it is a very demanding process. As you probably know, most composers who score for film do background music for plot and characterisation. In the case of my collaboration with Philip, because the narrative structure is removed from the film - all of the foreground plot characterisation is removed - the music becomes the equivalent of the narration and that is an enormous opportunity. Because, as I'm sure you all know, music portends a direct communion to the soul of the listener. It doesn't go through metaphor. It is direct. So the way that our collaboration has changed is one of intensity. I think what we learned in the beginning was a way of dealing with this. Neither one of us had made a film before. We had, through the Braille method, as it were, to find our way. I can't say that in substance it changed. It only became more direct and, if I can be so bold, more profound. It's like if you make a circle around a tree, it's a circle. If you keep making it, it builds up an element of profundity. So over the twenty-five years, we have had a chance to increase our intensity but not change the methodology.

RW: Philip, how do you feel your music has changed in these twenty-five years?

Philip Glass: In fact, each of the films of the trilogy - Naqoyqatsi we have completed but it is not ready to do live yet. I would agree with what Godfrey said except that before each of the films Godfrey decided that each of them would have a different visual language and that each should have a different musical language. And so Powaqqatsi doesn't look like Koyanisqatsi. Koyanisqatsi is the one with all the fast moving stuff. That doesn't happen at all in Powaqqatsi. When we began approaching that, we discussed it a lot. Whereas the first film used the ensemble that you heard last night [performing La Belle et la Bete ] - the synthesiser, wind players, singer, Michael Riesman as musical director, Dan Dryden doing the sound - in order to invent a new sound, we decided to make it a different kind of music piece. I wanted a lot of World music material. The second film was also filmed in South America and the southern hemisphere. Koyanisqatsi was all filmed in North America. Powaqqatsi is really a world cultural film, southern hemisphere primarily. The other thing is that one of the ways we work is that I went on location with Godfrey. Michael (who will be the conductor tonight) and I went together and visited places in Africa and South America. We had already been to India numerous times and also to the Far East, so I didn't do that again. One of the things I was thinking about was what the piece would sound like, what the sound world would be like. In that way, the sound world of Powaqqatsi became unique. In a certain way, the methodology hasn't changed. But in terms of the visual language and musical language we consciously adopted new approaches.

RW: Godfrey, the opening of Powaqqatsi, the amazing shots of the goldmine in Brazil - 15,000 people ...

GR: 37,000 people when we were there. When I first visited it, it had 95,000 people?

RW: ... and your cinematographer and camera people had Philip's music on a Walkman on headphones as they were shooting the film. That's a very unusual way of working.

GR: The reason for that is that because that mine was very dangerous and very controversial, I had tried for four years to get permission to film there, without luck. Three months before the film was finished, I got permission and the score was already?I had images that were standing in proxy for those images, a Jacques Cousteau shot. Philip composed to that. So I invited Phil to come down. It would be an exceptional opportunity. We had the completed score in the ear of the cinematographer and the people that were in the mine that were all interested in wanting to hear.

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