|Production still: Anonymous|
Koyaanisqatsi has to be one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever. Having the opportunity to see the score played live was something I never thought I would get the chance to do, but on Saturday night I found myself in the 3000 seat auditorium of the Edinburgh Playhouse. As the first bass synth note rings out (played by Philip Glass himself) we find ourselves in a cave, staring at the wordless pigment images of an ancient culture. The prayer-like chant of ‘Koyaanisquatsi’ bores into my chest and I’m floating over red-stone and vast deserts, a mountain with a gaping mouth that seems to scream. Speeding over lakes, seas and valleys, like the best dreams you ever had, I pause over slow motion close-ups of heaving waves and sped-up static seascapes.
Amazing breath control is displayed by the female vocalist, with a repeated synth and vocal stab, her voice sounds synthetic, faultless, soulless, yet joyful. Cars move forward like waves with faceless people inside. We see more cars lined up outside warehouses like crayons, and charcoal tanks that sketch the lines of war. We ride on the wing of a desert fighter-plane, radio chatter in the background. Then we move into a concrete nightmare of similar magnitude to the mountains; bombed houses, and flattened perspective, such beauty and despair as buildings fall like curtains. Better explosions than any Jerry Bruckheimer film! There’s a shot of the corner of the building, the sky appears split, moving against itself in counterpoint.
There’s a shot of the crowd of people, who sound like static interference or water, and their headless bodies trudge. ‘Grand Illusion’ says the neon sign; ‘Machine does not accept change’ says the ticket gate. And we're treated to moving studies of people attempting to be still with industry buzzing around them. The purple haze of the city turns to halogen green. Crucifix roads and LED street lamps; I feel like a neon particle, or a character in Tron. The music changes to 6:8 and suggests the curves of the road we see from a birds eye view.
Is industry bringing us closer to our dream-state? Is it a plastic dream-state, a new religion with television as a deity?
The map looks like a hooded thief, or a microchip, we are all part of the machine. The man smokes with a profile like an ape.
Still the Hopi plainchant of ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ (crazy life) continues, now with thicker timbre, as more singers join the bass backbone. We see a rocket launch, firing through a blue sky, but going nowhere until it starts to fall. Merely becoming clearer to us, but seeming to burn forever, the fuselage falls. The metal giant has made its terminal exhalation. We are back in the mystical cave.
I stand and applaud.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.