2 Dec 2016

Philip Glass: "Koyaanisqatsi"

The stuff of legend compressed into one of the best and most iconic film scores in history
Philip Glass is of course widely reknowned for his involvement in an alternative approach to classical music, and the genesis of experimental minimalistic music and ambient. The crowd he associates with includes other legendary musicians and composers such as Steve Reich and Moondog, and both David Bowie and Brian Eno, among many others, have expressed their enthusiasm with his music.

Though he has composed literally dozens upon dozens of works, albums and more, one of the stand-out incarnations of his music, to me, will always be his score for Godfrey Reggio's 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi. The music speaks for itself in a way, but when held up against the visuals and themes of the film the compositions were written for you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the album.

"This first installation ... explains only through a visual and musical narrative."

Koyaanisqatsi is often labelled as a documentary, but it is both more and less than that. Reggio's film takes its title from the Hopi Indian language, meaning "life out of balance", and is the first film in a trilogy examining mankind's influence on Earth, nature and life. This first installation does so with no spoken or written narrative, and as such explains only through a visual and musical narrative.

If you were enthralled by Hans Zimmer's phenomenal score to Christopher Nolan's 2014 science fiction film Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey, you are already acquainted with what is essentially the sound that Philip Glass achieved with his score for Koyaanisqatsi. The same sense of heavy grandiosity and deep-felt urgency is present in both pieces, and there can be no doubt as to where Zimmer got his inspiration for his score.

"Philip Glass' vision comes to life in a dramatic and ambitious concept,"

Glass' score compiles incredible layers of instrumentation in the creation of its soundscape, mirroring the complex nature of Earth's balance. Through an assortment of horns and wind instruments, keyboards, cellos and other string instruments Philip Glass' vision comes to life in a dramatic and ambitious concept that examines moods that induces feelings of stressful urgency and the heaviness of modern life upon the shoulders of man and nature.

From the serious tonality of the choir chanting "koyaanisqatsi" that opens and closes the soundtrack over the sprawling organ-laden soundscapes of The Grid to the heavy-hearted and light-headed Prophecies closing track, the album is a compilation of absolutely immense mood-setters that are hardly rivaled by any other film score before or since. Through clever use of contrasting tonalities, highs and lows that contradict but accentuate each other, and simplicity versus complexity, Philip Glass achieves a symphony about the world's direction communicated in a way that is deviously effective, breathtaking and touching.


Released in 1983 by Island Records


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