Philip Glass will change your life. He’s been called a minimalist and the new Stravinsky, but it’s not as easy as all that. His style is about as difficult to pin as a wrestler on a Teflon mat. People love him. People hate him. He is the face of a revolution in neoclassical music and he atomizes paradigms with the precision and frequency of a Texan on a skeet range.
Before Philip Glass, musicians worked for visual artists. A combination of lust and admiration inspired nearly all the major composers of the mid-20th century to write ballets for Martha Graham. And when they weren’t writing for performance, major composers wrote for the movies. Until 1983.
It was then that Godfrey Reggio arranged a private screening for Glass of the first rough scenes from the movie that would become “Koyaanisqatsi,” later picked as one of the Smithsonian’s greatest 100 films of all time. Reggio explained that he could only make the film using Glass’ music. Glass agreed, despite his great distaste for film scoring.
With Reggio, Glass went on to make the entire “Qatsi” series of films. Beginning with “Koyaanisqatsi,” the two artists splintered the forward ranks of the avant-garde and redefined film to suit Glass’ sense of aesthetics. Philip Glass doesn’t write music for movies, people make movies for Glass’ music.
Live performance with film has become Glass’ passion. He recently wrote and performed an alternate opera soundtrack to the Universal classic, “Dracula.”
With a laundry list of some 60 albums and more than 20 films, Glass is touring the country again with “Shorts,” a collection of five short films made by five prodigies of independent film – all at his request. The show is a live ensemble performance to the silent films. He made a pit stop in Santa Barbara last night at the Arlington.
Atom Egoyan, famous for “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Felicia’s Journey,” presents an acid trip on 35mm, entitled “Diaspora,” complete with running sheep. Cannes-nominated filmmaker Peter Greenaway is in the lineup with “The Man in the Bath,” a stunningly beautiful product of digital film editing. Installation artist Shirin Neshat brings the enigmatic film “Passage.” Michal Rovner introduces stunning silhouettes in “Notes.” Rounding off the evening, Glass’ old friend Reggio brings his famous “Anima Mundi” and the newer “Evidence” to the screen.
Glass’ studio has become a hub for independent filmmakers. In addition to his work with avant-garde directors, he has written the scores for Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” and “A Brief History of Time,” as well as the Cannes favorite “Bent” and “Compassion in Exile.” These projects have made him famous, but they have not always paid the bills.
Glass’ feature films include “Kundun,” “Candyman” and “The Truman Show,” among others. While he avoids studio films with zealous caution, he admits to sometimes taking a contract to bring in some spare cash. He also said the chance to work with Scorsese on a movie like “Kundun” was worth the hassles of the studio system.
His most famous performance work remains “Einstein on the Beach.” His next album, “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” was just released and the final “Qatsi” film, “Naqoyqatsi,” was released on Oct. 8.