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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG:They wanted to hear. We played it for them. It was also a way of radically altering the normal way of image and music making. Normally - let's say in the film industry if I can use that word?

RW: "Dominant cinema"?

PG:?"Dominant cinema", if you will, but that includes independent films too. For the most part, images come first and music comes after. And we did it the other way round, to the point where the cinematographers were actually listening to the music while they were filming. I don't know what the result of that was. We'll see the result tonight [in Powaqqatsi ]. We just did it because we could do it, we were in a position to do it and we embraced it.

RW: It seems, looking at these movies, that the image and the music production is a kind of two way process. It looks to me, looking at Koyanisqatsi, that the film is cut in places to the music. The cuts occur on a downbeat.

GR: That's not exactly true. With polyrhythmic music, like Philip writes, you almost can't lose. On the other hand, you don't want to always be cutting in the same place. Then it would become obvious to the viewer, and boring. Sometimes it is not on the beat at all. You'll see that tonight. Working with Phil and his kind of music - this is why I chose Phil as a composer. I can only speak for myself but other directors tell me the same .It is like a director's dream to have this kind of music because it is very cinematic. It allows the viewer to think for herself or himself what it is that this is about. It is not directive in the sense of scoring for plot and characterisation where, if there is a heavy moment, the music is going to pick up, if there is some drama, the music is going to let you know that. This is a constant narration that runs through the film which leaves more freedom for the audience to have their own response to it. If there are two thousand people here tonight, there could, hopefully, be two thousand different points of view about it.

RW: That leads me to think. Thinking about your music, Philip, one thing that occurred to me is your music is popular; it is popular late 20th century music ...

PG: mean people like it, not that it sounds like The Beach Boys?

RW: ... but I'm sure that almost every temporary Hollywood film score probably somewhere has some Philip Glass there. It has probably been played in every ballet studio in the world. It is incredibly, probably the word is "serviceable". It works with everything! Why do you think that is?

PG: I have no idea. It does appear pervasive. It is difficult for me because I'm always trying to run away from it. My position is quite different. It may be serviceable to the people who listen to it but it also presents tremendous problems. For example, when Godfrey and I got to the third film, Naqoyqatsi, what kind of score would I do that would have its own voice and yet be related to the first two? It becomes increasingly challenging to be inventive within a language which has become so well known.

RW: But Powaqqatsi is very different from the first movie, there is this whole world music feel and ...

PG: ... and Naqoyqatsi again is different.

RW: Tell us about it. We haven't seen it here yet.

PG: Well Godfrey should say something about how he made the film, and then I'll talk about the music.

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