Koyaanisqatsi – Life out of Balance

February 18, 2006

Starting tonight at around 8’clock I’ll be sitting patiently in my seat at Davies Symphony Hall awaiting a screening of Godfrey Reggio’s movie Koyaanisqatsi with a full orchestra playing Philip Glass’s film score. About 2 weeks ago I went to UC Berkeley’s music library to get two books: Glass: A Portrait, and The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music. I wanted to brush up on some of the inner mechanics of the movies but more importantly Glass’s music. Unfortunately, since I was sick and trying to catch up with missed school work along with studying for a series of tests I needed to take I’ve only been able to get through the two relatively most important chapters of the Glass book: How to Listen, and Explorers on Stage and Screen.

I hope it was worth it. However I’m more interested for tomorrow’s screening of Powaqqatsi. Actually, even more interesting than that is a Conversation with Philip Glass and Bob Osserman, head of MSRI (Mathematical Sciences Research Institute). That’s what first attracted me to Philip Glass. He’s a composer who majored in philosophy and mathematics who, like Picasso, introduced and some say perfected a style in his art form based on African culture; additive, interweaving chords that swallow and explode on themselves.

I haven’t attentively listened to most of Phlip Glass’s music; I’m currently just letting the solo piano works he did for Kafka, mainly the songs titled “Metamophosis X” where “X” is a number between 1 and 5. For some songs it’s harder to hear where and when he used mathematics. Others it’s incredibly blatant. In “Einstein on the Beach” (which btw is a part of a long series involving the research of famous scientists, others include the recent Galileo Gallelei and Hawking’s Brief History of Time) the math is obvious. The peices titled “Knee” have a repeating chorus of “1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 repeat”. But maybe trying to find some sequencial evidence in other songs might be harder. Good luck finding one in my favorite track on Anima Mundi “Living Waters” if you do, tell me.

Edit: CorrectIon, after finishing the book Glass: A Protrait, I realized that Philip Glass actually found his “additive” inspiration from a short encounter with Ravi Shankar, who played cyclical and layered Indian music. So essentially, the African inspiration is mythical or at the very least not as influencial as the music of India


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