Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Koyaanisqatsi

By David Luhrssen
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Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi (1982), a virtually wordless montage of slow motion footage and time-lapse photography, was a visual indictment of modern society. Koyaanisqatsi’s juxtapositions implied that civilization was utterly out of sync with the rhythms of nature and racing headlong into the abyss. The film would have been considerably less moving and memorable without its original score, composed by Philip Glass for a chorus and an ensemble of brass, woodwinds and strings.

Some of that music was issued in 1983 on a truncated soundtrack album. Glass released a different version of music from Koyaanisqatsi in 1998. Now, finally, Orange Mountain Music, a label whose catalog includes Glass’ opera The Juniper Tree, has issued the complete original soundtrack. The suite-like composition includes Glass’ familiar sonic signature, that swirling wheel of crystalline notes rising and descending in intensity. But there is also a touch of throat singing, a brooding Gothic organ passage, segments of near cosmic silence and string sections whose slanting melodies suggest a world off balance as well as soaring semaphores of ominous intent.

If anything, the message of Koyaanisqatsi is more relevant nowadays than it was 25 years ago: slow down, chill out, or else!

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