How did you first team up with director Godfrey Reggio and get involved with the “Qatsi” films, as it were?
We think we began in ‘78 or ‘79. The main difference is clearly that these are not industry films, they’re not commercial films. The whole way of working is closer to the way of a collective artform rather then an artform where there’s a heirarchy of studio, producers and directors and you go down the line and the composer is down at the bottom somewhere and below that is the writer, y’know, that kind of thing. The way Godfrey works, he considers it really a collective work. He considers the participants in this case, John Cane, the editor, Godrey, of course, and myself. But there are many people.
How do you create such moody music?
Well, the first film I used my own ensemble at the base of it. It’s basically a high-tech synthesizer ensemble and it went very well with the kind of…uh…that first film, which is really about the early perception about the impact of technology on the environment. The second film was much more of a world music film. I did a lot of world music in it. The first one was filmed a little bit in San Francisco, a little bit in New York and LA. Most of it was all done in North America. The other film was all done in South America, Southern Hemisphere countries, so it would be Africa, and South America and parts of Asia, and I used a lot of world music instruments.
All of the films in this series have such stunning images. How were the images achieved for Naqoyqatsi and how does your score work in tandem with the images?
In this film, I would say 80% of the images are archival or fabricated, digitally fabricated images. It looked to me like what we needed was a much more acoustic sound. It needed a score that would become a bridge for the audience into the film because the film is very demanding and there are a lot of images, which you’re not used to seeing in that way. So, it’s basically an orchestra piece with a soloist, Yo Yo Ma playing the cello, who becomes the voice of the film. And the music provides anchors the film in a more familiar world. And I think that dynamic between that kind of music and that image has been successful.
The film is very dreamlike…
Oh it is, but it’s a dream that takes 12 years to realize, so it’s a dream that sometimes is a nightmare. These films took a long time to make. There are only three films over 25 years. The thing that I admire so much about Godfrey is his ability to maintain his interest and enthusiasm for the project over a long period of time and my ability to stay with him was because I believed in what he was doing and I admired his conviction. There’s nothing comparable to that. Even an opera can be done in three years. 12 years for a project, I think, is beyond the pale, in a way.
How do you create such unique sounds within the score?
Well in this case, we did it in every way you can think of. In this case, with Naqoyqatsi, the score was pretty much created before the editing was accomplished, though I had access to all the images. There was certainly a treatment that Godfrey and I worked off of. I saw collections of images and I was in the studio very often to see what people were doing. But the film was really cut to the music and that way, the film became the template for the image. In the other films, it was much more back and forth. With Naqoyqatsi you have to remember that many of these images took so long to fabricate that Godfrey would describe them to me long before I saw them.
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- PHILIP GLASS: A THEME FOR CHAOS
- GODFREY REGGIO: MAKING THE FINAL “QATSI”
- HYPED IN LOS ANGELES
- DAVID NEWMAN IS “ON THE SCORE”
- WHY THE ANDERSON CHILDREN DIDN’T COME TO DINNER
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