The three films that Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass have made together since 1975 are unique cinema. Now with Glass’s live concert versions of the films they have become unique events. Sydney is lucky to get the world concert premiere of Naqoyqatsi, the final film, and is the first city where Glass has staged all three films in a season.
Glass sees the concerts as a way of keeping the films alive. For the composer, the concerts enable the music to continue a living relationship to the films.
The problem with film, something that I think even the most ardent film buff would agree with, is that it’s frozen in time. It becomes a document. It can’t be changed -¦ The exception, of course, is something like we are doing now with -¦ the -˜live music’ Koyaanisqatsi, Glass told an interviewer after one of the early concert versions of that film.
In this case I can see what happens with the score -¦ on our tour with Koyaanisqatsi, changes -¦ are taking place in the score. In the clouds sequence last night for instance, I noticed a long crescendo-and-dimenuendo in the brass that wasn’t in the original score. Now it’s part of the music, Glass added.
Glass brings a particular dramatic vision to his music for film that he says comes directly from his work in opera and theatre. He is not concerned to merely have his sounds mimic the images, he seeks a dynamic relationship, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background.
The films are often described as non-narrative visual collages and certainly they do not have a traditional story with obvious characters. But they do tell a story and they do present compelling narratives even without dialogue.
The themes are well known. Koyaanisqatsi is subtitled, Life Out Of Balance. Powaqqatsi is earmarked: Life In Transformation, and the final film, Naqoyqatsi, released last year, is themed around the idea of Life As War. They are films with a global vision and have collected imagery from many cultures. They are startling in their juxtapositions and are at once frightening, disturbing and enthralling human documents.
In the end they are, in many ways, about the human body and its ability to endure and adapt. And that is one of the reasons that these films must be seen live. In the concert hall, Glass’s hectic rhythms enter the audience’s bodies in unique ways. You can feel and see the vibrant reality of his sound world.
The Quatsi Trilogy, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 6, 7, 8, 9 January 2005; $45 – $90 (Special A Reserve tickets to all three screenings $225); bookings: 9250 7777.