Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Philip GLASS Koyaanisqatsi OST [73:23] Jukebox (bonus CD - selections from Glass's Nonesuch recordings) [73:46] NONESUCH 7559-79519-2  


Crotchet (UK)

(Please note that we have used some artistic license showing the above illustrations. The actual CD comes in a cardboard slip cover with just the picture of the car in the desert and nothing more. Sliding this aside, the purchaser discovers the CD with a very stark booklet front page design showing only the words Philip Glass and Koyaanisqatsi printed in blue on a yellow background)

Made in 1983,by filmmaker,Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi (pronounced Ko-YAWN-is-SCOTS-ee), was a film completely without narrative, without any identifiable character and without dialogue. It was simply a cavalcade of awesome visions - clouds rushing across a New Mexico desert, the dynamiting of a failed housing project in St Louis, people swarming out of Grand Central Station, and crowded traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. As Tim Page says in his very helpful notes, "Although Koyaanisqatsi was intended at least in part as an indictment of late-20th century Western society (the title is Hopi for "life out of balance"), it is one of the paradoxes that the images of a supposedly crazy, hard-driven over-the-top America are so vibrant and captivating - probably the most exhilarating (and curiously affirmative) passages in the film.

The original recording of Koyaanisqatsi was issued on LP now with the advent of CD it has been possible to include about half an hour's more music - material that hitherto has been available only with the film. Furthermore as Glass, himself, admits in the 1970s and 1980s his ensemble was in the process of creating a musical language - "now we're fluent in it."

The opening, title, movement begins with a deep pedal droning on the organ followed by a gloomy meditation on the word Koyaanisqatsi by deep male voice(s). Throughout there is the usual Glass tendency to compose material using simple music cells with repetition relieved from monotony by subtly shifting modulations and harmonies and the introduction of new instrumentation. The second movement is a slow moving and introspective piece with long-held sighing notes for cellos with staccato one note then increasingly complex flute punctuations; the movement lives up to its name "Organic" for it might be seen to imply the slow steady growth of a plant. "Cloudscape" is a shimmering vehicle for muted brass as if one is viewing a landscape fudged by heat haze - a very colourful evocation and there is some very inventive writing for brass including bass trombone and tuba. "Resource" sounds like fairground roundabout music before the saxophone comments and you suddenly have the impression that you are listening to a steam train labouring up a gradient then speeding along the track (that is the most appealing thing about Glass's music it really fires one's imagination). The idyllic a capella lyricism of "Vessels" demonstrates Glass's equal facility for writing very effectively and imaginatively for voices. The multi-part voices move against each other with impressive inventiveness and great clarity and transparency. "Pruit Igoe" has an ecclesiastical feel like Vessels but it becomes increasingly agitated and in turmoil as all Glass's instrumental and choral forces smash the serenity of the opening string meditation. "The Grid" is longest and most impressive section for full chorus and ensemble. Quoting Page again, "It begins simply enough in a rather old-fashioned manner, the brass puttering along with near-Elgarian[?] pomp. A few minutes on, however, one of Glass's trademark bright, rapid arpeggiated passages for keyboard and woodwinds cuts fiercely into the action, and the music is transformed. For the rest of its twenty-one minutes and twenty-three sections, The Grid might as well have been titled The Dervish as it whirls furiously and exhaustively through hundreds of reiterations all varied just enough to sustain the listener's interest." The final "Prophesies" is another substantial 14 minute piece with a nice solo organ introduction with added voices and predominantly gentle Fauré-like sonorities before the return of the mournful Koyaanisqatsi chant that opened the work.

There is also a very considerable bonus CD, "Glass Jukebox" supplied with Koyaanisqatsi. It is considerable not only in playing time but also in the quality of the music selections from earlier Nonesuch recordings. These are:-


"Secret Agent and Roast Beef" plus "Trust" from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent

"Interlude" from Orphée Act II, Scene 5

"Living Waters" from Anima Mundi

"Runaway Horses"; and "Osamu's Theme: Kyoko's House" from Mishima

"Knee 3" and "Dance 2" from Einstein on the Beach

"New Cities in Ancient Lands, Africa and New Cities in Ancient Lands, India"; and "The Unutterable" from Powaqqatsi

"Mishima/Closing" from String Quartet No. 3 "Mishima

"Promenade dans le Jardin" from La Belle et la Bête

"Part 2" from Music in 12 Parts

"Movement 5" from String Quartet No. 5

"Song No 15, Father Death Blues (from Don't Grow Old)" from Hydrogen Jukebox


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

Return to Index