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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

GR: OK. Let me try to give a context, because it's a trilogy. The central theme of this whole trilogy is technology. Technology not from the point of view of something we use but as a way of life. Something that we live, as ubiquitous as the air that we breathe. These are not environmental films. They are not trying to lay a point of view on you, necessarily, though there is a point of view in the film. It tries to offer the viewer something to provoke you to a thought. Not necessarily while you see the event tonight but when you leave the theatre. Having said that, the first film, Koyanisqatsi, deals with northern hemisphere hyper kinetic industrial grids or societies. It was all shot in the United States but it could all have been shot in the UK; it could have been shot in Europe, in Hong Kong or in Japan. The second film, Powaqqatsi, deals with southern hemisphere living, cultures of orality, cultures of simplicity, handmade cultures, people that create their own way of life, and how those people are being seduced by our notions of progress and development out of the sockets of their own cultures and way of life. The third film, Naqoyqatsi, deals with the globalised moment in which we live right now. As it were, if you won't be offended, the Los Angelisation of the planet. Its subject matter is more difficult than the other two. The other two were actually shot in real locations and encountered real images. The locations for Naqoyqatsi were themselves images because virtuality is the theme of Naqoyqatsi, globalisation, how the world is being homogenised, being unified through technology as this unifying factor as the new environment of life. So we wanted music, in the case of the third film, that would, as Philip said, be a voice for this manufactured image or - if you want to use the term - manufactured evil, which is what the image can be because it produces uniformity. So - after several months of being marinated by myself and colleagues with all kinds of musics, sounds, technology, images - Philip said, because this film is so completely technological in terms of the image, that he would make a completely acoustic score.

PG: The idea was that, if I had gone in the same direction as the image, maybe a very hi-tech music score, I was afraid that the film would become unviewable, that this one-two punch of technology both for the eyes and for the heart would somehow be offensive, actually.

RW: What do you mean by a hi-tech score?

PG: Well, I've played a lot with technology myself. It could have used synthesised sounds, fabricated sounds - in the way that Godfrey was using synthesised images - sounds that don't exist in nature, so to speak, but can be created.

RW: But they are still pitched?

PG: Yes. They can be. You were talking a few minutes earlier [before the interview?] about Stockhausen, who works with electronics. So there is a whole culture of fabricated sounds and, in a way, that would have been an easy marriage with images that are also fabricated. I felt that there had to be some sort of a bridge between the spectator and the so-called story, the message of the film. So I did a piece that was completely orchestral. Not only that, but we had the opportunity, very late in the process, Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist, got interested in the project and he wanted to play. In fact, there was a lot of solo music in the piece already and there were a few places where I could contribute more solo music. And he became the solo voice of the piece. So the film functioned in a somewhat different way than it did in the others. It became a kind of counterweight to the image. But in fact I think it will succeed in the sense that it was through the music, in a certain way, almost through the security, the familiarity of the music that we could look at images that were quite almost violent in their alienation.

RW: (to Godfrey Reggio) Would you agree with that?

GR: Yes. I would say they were terrifying beauty. The images were awesomely difficult to look at.

RW: Can I come back to the movie that we are going to see this evening [ Powaqqatsi ] and the one we are going to see on Saturday [ Koyanisqatsi ]. How do you feel that these images have changed over the years? I am thinking in Koyanisqatsi, for example, we see images of collapsing skyscrapers and a lone fire fighter. After 9/11 these images have new resonances and meanings. When I first saw that movie in the late 70s, the meanings that were generated then are completely different from when I viewed it recently. How do you feel time has changed the images?



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