Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 26/06/20


As the events of the last week or so in my life are taking some time to - as they say nowadays - process, I'll fill the gap with some good music.

Powaqqatsi (1988) is the second of three films made by American director Godfrey Reggio. Like its predecessor Koyaanisqatsi (1982), it is a documentary film with no dialogue which, in this instance, displays through its sequence of images a focus on the changes in people's lives in the tiers monde forced upon them by industrialisation and what is euphemistically termed 'development'; indeed, the film's title means 'Life In Transition' or 'Life In Transformation' (its official subtitle) in a neologism coined by Reggio from the Hopi.

(The other films in the sequence, Koyaanisqatsi (once waspishly translated by one English Sunday-supplement hack as "Vacuous hippy") and 2002's Naqoyqatsi also have titles derived from that language)

All three films have something further in common, too; music by the legendary Philip Glass. Although the first film's music has grabbed the most critical acclaim (much like the film itself), I find the soundtrack to Powaqqatsi is the one which pleases and satisfies me the most; there is a greater sense of the organic to it, with comparatively little use of the electronic instruments which were a prominent feature of the Koyaanisqatsi music.

It's also more conventionally melodic for large stretches, and the three Anthem pieces exemplify that. Appearing in the first half an hour of the film - interspersed with other pieces following its visual narrative - they follow the same melodic patterns and tempi, with instrumentation, vocals and time signatures varying between and within the pieces.

The first part is in 5/4 time throughout:

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The briefer Anthem Part 2 brings us essentially the same melodic and instrumental forms, but this time in 7/4:

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Whilst the final (and climactic, augmented as it is by a children's choir) iteration of the piece starts off in 4/4, but then reverts to 7/4 until the last 'choruses' alternate between 11/4 and 9/4, 12/4 and 8/4 before dropping back to 7/4 to close.

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If this seems to be all a bit too technical, or if you always associate Glass with music which is deemed 'difficult' (usually by people who can't admit that they can't be arsed trying), forget that; I first heard these pieces when BBC2 showed Powaqqatsi one Saturday afternoon in about 1989 and I didn't know the music was by Philip Glass. I was just blown away by it, and that is all that ever matters. Just listen and enjoy.