PHILIP GLASS – Powaqqatsi (1988)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

“Powaqqatsi”, which means “Life in transformation” in Hopi, is the second of 3 “qatsi” films, for which Philip Glass scored and recorded the soundtrack. I am not familiar with the other two. I vaguely recollect seeing one of the 3 movies, and I THINK it was this one. The movie presents in a non-narrative manner without dialog several scenes of events around the world. I honestly don’t remember much more, but it has no bearing on the appreciation of this album. It definitely sounds like a movie soundtrack, but stands up very well as a work on its own. I am familiar with some, but not all, of Glass’s work – his piano etudes, the Low and Heroes Symphonies and “Knee Play” segments from “Einstein on the Beach”, as well as other scattered pieces I’ve heard performed over the years. The basic elements of Glass’s general style are very much identifiable in this music, but this is “big screen” Philip Glass. It uses Minimalist elements in its structure – the subtly-changing repeating simple lines that weave patterns with each other, but it certainly is not “minimalist” in its arrangements. Most pieces are quite dense with orchestra, percussion, choirs or other vocal ensembles, and a very wide range of different “ethnic” musical influences. This is kind of Glass’s “World Music” work, reflecting the themes of the movie. The sound alternately evokes Brazil, India, China, and the Middle East without necessarily directly quoting their musical styles. The obvious exception is the vocal (in Arabic, I assume) on “From Egypt”. Sometimes the music gradually transitions, while other times it jump cuts abruptly. Dense, bombastic (in a good way) pieces like “Caught” contrast with sparser & gentler passages.
In a nutshell, it’s a definite thumbs up for this one. The “CLASSICAL” and “MINIMALIST” labels should not scare away listeners. Glass’s work (as far as I know it) is very much tonal, and this album is quite accessible for listeners who are somewhat adventurous and interested in world music. 

This review is also posted on Amazon here.