Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Koyaanisqatsi: A Life Out of Balance with Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble


One word sums up the extraordinary experience of a live performance of Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble performing the score to accompany the Godfrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.
In hindsight, foolish not to have purchased tickets for the trilogy, but financial caution seemed wise beforehand. Now my response is along the lines of "An opportunity wasted". But a commitment to 3 evenings getting to Melbourne seemed a big ask when I booked. Next time, I'll throw caution to the winds and revel in the visual and auditory feast of the films and music.

I read that this film has become a cult classic, but looking round at the audience I see people of all ages and ethnicity. Students in their school uniforms, older men who would have been called beatniks once upon a time, surfies with dreads, wealthy looking highbrow gentry, people decked out in splendid attire and those in jeans and hoodies, even a few hippies. There's no evident "type", yet there is a common bond - it seems everyone knows and loves the film and music.

There's so much in Koyaanisqatsi; wonder, delight, surprise, and an overwhelming sense of 'What have we done, what have we become?'. To explain the film is difficult at best, and a confusing impossibility at worst.

The simplest description comes from the Arts Centre blurb:
The first in the trilogy caused a sensation when released and is now a cult classic. Reggio's film is a simple but searing vision of an urban society moving at a frenetic pace, detached from the natural environment and overwhelmed by technology, in images at once stark and beautiful, assaulting and hypnotizing.
Striated mountains stretching from horizon to horizon, would take millions upon millions of years to form, layer upon layer representing thousands of years of sediment, silt, dust, life and death. Millions of years of erosion; water, wind, rain and geologic upheaval have presented us with exquisite, almost intricate, achingly beautiful formations. It's easy to be lost in awe.

Acres of impossibly uniform paintbox coloured flowers seem at odds with the natural beauty, yet they're beguiling - how is it possible to have them all the same?

Ghostly stock exchange employees - I smile wryly, not much has changed there! Yet other careers have gone, devoured by technology.

Clouds, clearly showing rain shadows. Brilliant for teaching aspects of geography, weather and climate.

The impossibly deep voice intoning "Koyaanisqatsi" weaves throughout, slow paced, measured, authoritative. A commanding presence. A statement. A question ... asking the audience to confront the images, and not shy from them.


Images are still swirling through my brain. Sausages being extruded from chutes, but are they sausages ... or people on escalators ... or frenetically funnelled cars on freeways - (how unutterably wrong that word sounds - 'free' - clearly the single occupants aren't free, no more than the sausages are free). I suffer from vertigo and these speeding scenes don't feel good.

Watching the musicians. Taking delight in their skill and ability to synchronise beautifully with the film. I feel privileged to experience their utter professionalism, and am grateful that there are those who devote their lives to transporting us lesser mortals on an emotional journey of joy, questioning and wonder through their skill.

The pace changes, and whilst this film was created 30 years ago, the fiery tumbling spacecraft reminds me of the more recent shuttle disaster, of suffering, unimaginable pain, fear, death. Slowly, gracefully, arcing through the sky. Transfixed. By golly this is powerful stuff.

Crumbling buildings, cracked glass, decay. Tanks. Explosions. The pointlessness of dominance, of power and might. Spiralling out of control. Destruction. Dust to dust. Oblivion.

Yet ... on stage the musicians create. The singers, one female, two extra males, are poised, attentive, giving of themselves, sharing the power of their gifts. Intense concentration. Beautiful!

The words being sung are Hopi sayings. They weave, rising and falling, meshing with the music, now departing, lone, alone, they whisper, flutter hesitant, but gain momentum and with growing insistence move assertively across the landscape. They command. Demand we listen.

And stop.

I want to stand and cheer ... but that wouldn't be right. There's more.

This feast, both visual and auditory is mesmerising. The music departs from the visuals, meets, meshes, and they depart again. It is wonderful. Nonverbal communication at its best!

How much has changed in the years since this film was released. How much is the same. How much is worse. Our frenetic mindless movement towards self destruction doesn't seem to have changed. Yet, experiences like this give me hope. We can be so utterly, movingly, creatively, powerfully brilliant. It'd be sad to see these aspects of humankind go to waste.



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue ..I've come across Philip Glass elsewhere ..

Susan Scheid at Prufrock's Dilemma - has amazing knowledge of music, art and literature ..

If you type in Philip Glass into her search box .. you'll get a few more posts and a couple when she was over in Wales earlier in the summer.

Now I know the name of this film and its associates .. it'll ring a bell and perhaps I can watch it sometime ..

... though not with the live accompanying music you appeared to have ..

I must keep my eyes open .. so interesting -I've been keeping the post to come back to ... cheers Hilary

sue said...

Thanks for the link Hilary. I hope they make a return visit because we'll be certain to subscribe to the series of 3 performances. If you get to see any of the films I'd like to hear how you enjoy them.