Philip Glass - Powaqqatsi

Philip Glass - Powaqqatsi soundtrack CD cover Whereas Koyaanisqatsi deals primarily with North America and the tensions between modern lifestyles and the environment, its sequel Powaqqatsi looks at the developing world and its rapid transition towards industrialisation. Not only did composer Philip Glass suggest the idea of a trilogy to filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, but he was involved throughout its development. He accompanied the film crew to many of the locations used in the shooting, and met local musicians who introduced him to the musical traditions of the countries visited. Like the previous film's title, the word "Powaqqatsi" comes from the Indian Hopi language and can be translated as "Life in Transformation". The film's message seems to be less one-dimensional with Powaqqatsi. In some ways it is more observational than critical, reflecting the diversity of traditions and modes of transition across the globe and perhaps accepting the inevitable pull of Western-style concepts and products both good and bad. The music too is mostly happier in mood and uses ideas and instruments from "World Music", with unusual scales and a plethora of percussion instruments.

The first track on the album "Serra Pelada" exemplifies this aspect of acceptance. While the footage shows men in an open mine in Brazil toiling with heavy loads under the harshest conditions, the music is universally buoyant and exuberant. Even when an unconscious man is carried away after an accident, this jubilant carnival continues its apparent celebration. This is followed by "The Title", a short synthesiser transition, presumably by Jeff (Jeffrey) Rona who is credited with Sound Design and Keyboards. This leads directly into "Anthem part 1" which introduces an important theme for the soundtrack. With its regular percussion backing and slowly building layers, it suggests the work of Vangelis, but the mark of Philip Glass is also evident in the way the counter-theme resolves itself. This theme returns again as "Anthem part 2" and then "Anthem part 3". Though it's perhaps not immediately obvious,. the Anthem morphs between repetitions so that the original 10 beats per bar become 12 beats and then 13 beats per bar, divided into smaller groups by the percussion, varying the rhythmic backing and broadening the thread while in its 3rd incarnation introducing voices in a celebratory tutti. The track "Anthem part 2" also plays a role in the film "The Truman Show" during those key scenes where Truman is starting to have doubts about the people around him, after a set light falls to the ground outside his house and his car radio picks up a stray transmission which reports on his movements. Back to Powaqqatsi, an interesting interlude is "Train to Sao Paulo" which imitates train sounds very effectively.

The music for the second half of the movie is darker in tone. "Video Dream" depicts Westernisation of the media starting with television adverts accompanied by a surreal waltz. Glass introduces some important new themes in the second half which are also developed and combined, such as the halting, sad and sometimes angry "The Unutterable" where a variety of scenes contain references to war and conflict; and the unhalting, directionless "CAUGHT!", seemingly regretting the loss of cultural traditions and this track climaxes with the boy/truck scene which provides the cover photo. Some of the later tracks transition directly into each other and this lack of a break reflects to some extent the relentless march of progress across the developing world. There are however several examples of mood and tempo changes with different styles of World Music either seemingly in traditional formats or moulded to Glass's own unique style. As well as percussion instruments, there are different styles of vocal music both solo and choral, and a didjerido provides a foundation for a number of tracks. The final track "Powaqqatsi" recapitulates the original version of the "Anthem" theme and deep male voices entone the film's title "Powaqqatsi" in the same way as the title track on the first movie "Koyaanisqatsi". The following links will help you explore this film and its music - please remember to check versions, regions and special offers on CDs and DVDs:

Powaqqatsi by Phil Glass - Track Listing (1988 film soundtrack)


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