Conducted by Michael Riesman.
Composer: Philip Glass.
Lyricist: Bernardo Palombo.
Personnel: Shaikh Fathy Mady (vocals); Albert De Ruiter (bass voice, vibraphone); Foday Musa Suso (kora, balafon); Franc Menusan (tanpura); Karen Karlsrud, Elliot Rosoff, Sergiu Schwartz, Sanford Allen, Linda Quan, Richard Sortomme, Carol Pool (violin); Karl Bargen, Jack Rosenberg, Jill Jaffe, Lois Martin (viola); Seymour Barab (cello); Jack Kripl (flute, piccolo, saxophone); Diva Goodfriend-Koven, Michael Parloff (flute, piccolo); Jon Gibson (didjeridu, saxophone); Steven Hartman , Laura Flax, John Moses (clarinet); Ethan Bauch, Mike Finn, Lauren Goldstein (bassoon); Steve Elson (saxophone); Lorraine Cohen, Bill Rhodin, Neil Balm, Wilmer Wise (trumpet); Tony Miranda, Ann Yarbrough, Alan Spanger, Joe Anderer, Sharon Moe (French horn); Alan Raph (trombone, tuba); James Pugh, Keith Quinn, Keith O'Quinn (trombone); Jeff Rona (keyboards, synthesizer, programming); Paul Rice, Lee Curreri, Martin Goldray, Michael Riesman (keyboards); Barbara Wilson (double bass); Roger Squitero, Valerie Naranjo, Joe Passaro, Sue Evans (percussion); Bob Bielecki, Connie Kieltyka (sound effects).
Recording information: Living Room, New York, NY.
Directors: Godfrey Reggio; Angelica Rosa Sepulveda; Hector Carrasquillo.
Unknown Contributor Roles: Steven Hartman ; Foday Musa Suso.
In 2002, Philip Glass toured in support of the four-disc set Glass on Film, culled from his movie scores. It was good to see that the Philip Glass Ensemble performed the long-underrated Powaqqatsi among his other collaborations with filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, because those electric keyboard works have outlasted the symphonic stuff. Back in the '80s, Glass didn't seem to think so. He aimed to become the thinking filmmaker's response to John Williams by turning his minimalist background to astringent, stately symphonic movie scores for Mishima, Hamburger Hill, and The Thin Blue Line. It's understandable how Powaqqatsi's music was overlooked: The synthesizers and the orchestra and booming percussion were uncomfortably cluttered and showbizzy. Even today, Powaqqatsi's Anthem sounds like a naked attempt at an instrumental hit like Vangelis' theme for Chariots of Fire. On the other hand, the melodic and textural similarities of the symphonic scores, plus the snatches cribbed from them for other movies, have deadened their appeal. Powaqqatsi is straight-up loud. Instead of Koyanisqqatsi's somber organ prelude (as in a Baptist service), Serra Pelada provides the mightiest track in Glass' career: a gamelan ensemble marching with a drum-and-bugle corp behind the voices of the Latin American Children's Ensemble (set off with a coach's whistle). Almost everywhere, the synthesizers and orchestra work and play together, while the tunes are actually memorable on their own. The three-part New Cities in Ancient Lands, set in China, Africa, and India, features woodwinds and keyboards from the Philip Glass Ensemble, with kalimbas and balafons strewn among the orchestra. Video Dream is simple lyricism, like the English horn that unrolls the Arabic melody of That Place. The ponderous Caught and two of the three Anthem reprises are mere clutter, but somehow Glass makes room for everything, even Foday Musa Suso's kora and vocals on Mr. Suso #1 and Mr. Suso #2 With Reflection. It adds up for a bright world music symphony. ~ John Young