ko.yaa.nis.katsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life disintegrating. 4. life out of balance. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.

Koyaanisqatsi is a groundbreaking 1982 motion picture essay which looks at modern life and its imbalances.

It was directed by Godfrey Reggio, with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke. The movie was a cult hit and has proven to be very influential, vaulting Glass to a peak of public awareness and establishing a audiovisual language that’s been mined by others ever sense.

It was the first film in a trilogy which was followed by Powaqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). The trilogy depicts different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature, and technology.

Music credits, beyond Philip Glass include: Kurt Munkacsi, who produced & recorded Koyaanisqatsi; conductor Michael Riesman; and Music Director & Additional Music Michael Hoenig.

Koyaanisqatsi is one of Glass’s classics. He established a new vocabulary for scoring films, demonstrating that minimalist music could be accessible and create a wide range of textures, moods and emotions. Glass also incorporated synthesizer into a classical ensemble in subtle ways that sound as good now as they did in 1982.

16 thoughts on “Koyaanisqatsi

  1. Koyaanisqatsi is one of my favourite movies of all time… but what does this have to do with synthesizer or electronic music? Those electronic music videos aren’t really news either, if you ask me. Real new has been substituted with fluff on this website lately, if you ask me….

  2. I’m happy to brag that my parents took me to see this in its heyday at the Roxi on South Street in Philthydelphia. Very bizarre thing to see for a 12 year old but hey. 🙂

    But it got me into Glass; last concert I saw him do was Monsters of Grace, just outside of Philadelphia. Unfortunately you need to bootleg that album.

  3. I would highly suggest anyone who hasn’t seen it to spend some time and watch the movie.. It’s the best one of that series and would be a GREAT primer on how to best VJ to an electronic music score. The videos aren’t all effects and fractals but is just as intense to watch.

    Saw the movie in college in 93 and regularly have gone back to watching it for references on how to best blend music and image together. It’s a timeless classic.

    So poweful!

  4. If you like Ron Fricke’s cinematography, my friend Knoll edited a video using Fricke’s work to go with a song I wrote a while back called “Numby Numbs.” Check it!

    Yer Pal,

  5. A_Synth_Fan_From_BC – I’ve been including more electronic music videos lately because I like to share interesting work. Skip them if you don’t like them. There’s still plenty of synth news – and if you’d like to see more of anything, leave a comment and let me know what you want to see more of.

    I’d disagree with you about Koyaanisqatsi not been synth-related, though. If you get the chance to see Glass perform, you’ll see that he frequently layers traditional instruments with synthesizer to create an expanded orchestral palette. He does this pretty heavily through Koyaanisqatsi.

    It’s not as obvious as a big synth solo, but he’s done more to move the synth into popular classical music than anybody.

    Raines – same here – this and Blade Runner! Both are great to come back to.

    BlueBrat, Vergel – I saw it at a midnight showing in Kansas City at the Tivoli in Westport and it blew my mind!

    Gel-Sol – thanks for the link; it’s a great pairing.

  6. DHM – sorry, but I can’t control who Hulu lets see the video. That sucks, though. I hope they get the legal rights figured out so everybody can watch videos soon.

  7. JR – Hulu hosts legal official copies of the movies, so they are full length and relatively high quality. YouTube isn’t currently doing this.

  8. Torley – that’s pretty cool.

    I wouldn’t want to be the dude that has to score a film after they used that as the temp track, though!

  9. I saw Glass perform the score live with the film in the late 80s at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I had a balcony seat and could watch the group in the pit though out the entire performance. Glass did not sequence the keyboard parts, he sat there and played the piece in real time – an amazing sight, from the perspective of one with fingers of concrete.

  10. dcravens – yes, Glass always has multiple keyboardists, often doubling wind lines. His use of synths is unique within the classical music world.

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