HiRez Poll Glass, Philip - KOYAANISQATSI [DVD-A]

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Rate the DVD-A of Glass, Philip - KOYAANISQATSI


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JonUrban

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Please post your thoughts and comments on the DVD-Audio release from 2001. (y):phones(n)


Koyaanisqatsi-8.jpg
 

EMB

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In THIS recent thread a little tangent involving this disc began, which is better continued here, since this is evidently something of a controversial DVD-A title. Hadn't played it in some time, so with the snow and ice around us, figured I'd spend an evening revisiting it.

First of all, have to say that KOYAANISQATSI is one impressive--and subversive--film experience. Although director Godfrey Reggio obviously was showcasing the negative aspects of 'progress' and our consumer-driven modern civilization, it was also obvious that--regardless of using time-lapse photography to suggest mindless pursuits, the rat race, consumerism, life out of balance (the subtitle of the film), etc.--and other passages to indicate our destruction of nature (more imbalance), there was also a certain beauty to things like skyscrapers and cityscapes. That may not have been intended, but that's the fascination of the film: the open-minded viewer can find something new and revealing with every viewing.

The music was composed starting in 1981 by Philip Glass, who has built a career on minimalist but mesmerizing instrumental and ensemble music (at the time, he was also working on variations on the same thematics that would become GLASSWORKS, issued first and released on CBS in 1982). His score for KOYAANISQATSI, and the film, were finally released in 1984 to, as expected, very mixed reviews. But since the film is essentially silent, it is Glass' score--either synced to the images or the images synced to the score, take your pick--that adds the necessary emotional depth, intensity, and cacophony that makes up a cinematic experience.

In the better theaters you got Dolby Surround--a basic 3-channel mix. The VHS, Beta and Laserdisc editions were also Dolby Surround. An edited stereophonic vinyl and tape edition was issued as an import on Antilles, an Island subsidiary label. More recently, the DVD edition of the film has the Dolby Surround somewhat altered for 5.1. Unfortunately, since it's not a full remix from the soundtrack tapes, it lacks the power of the original DS.

This DVD-A edition is a rerecording made for Elektra, and expands upon the album version, and includes all the important music passages. The sound quality is superb, with deep rumbling bass to sharp highs and full dynamic range.

The mix, however....is, ultimately, very disappointing. The only word I can use for it is conservative. And for a film of this unusual type and style--and given who the composer is--that was NOT the approach that should have been taken.

Curiously, it begins promisingly. The title track, with a basso profundo singer repeating the title word, is admittedly ambient but effective, and at a few points the volume shifts from fronts to backs, and in a theater, and as a setup for what's to come, it works. But then opportunity after opportunity is missed to isolate voices, strings, and keyboards in ways that not only would have made a great 5.1 experience, but would have, if anything, expanded the power of the performance and aided (had this been used for a rerelease of the film) to give the movie even more intensity and force.

So, what happened? Since those who supervised and arranged the music from the beginning also did the same for this redo, they must have mixed the album to sound as if you were listening to them at a concert (think Carnegie Hall), and therefore mixed to a more ambient than isolated, discrete style. And at an enclosed concert venue this mix is pretty much what I'd have expected to hear. If this had been a concert disc, I'd have less issue with the mix, but it isn't, and thus, with its clattering, busy indiscreteness (although there are isolated elements, they are often buried over others), this is, from a 5.1 standpoint, a disappointing result, potential unrealized.

"The Grid" is a prime example. Michael Riesman's keyboards offer a mesmerizing, disorienting carousel effect, and the visuals on screen in fast time-lapse keep our heads spinning for the next twenty minutes. But rather than even isolate him to the center with everything else going on in the other speakers--which would still have been conservative but workable--he's everywhere, but not really moving around. There's no swirling around the room in a daze, which is the visual effect. It's all too indistinct and dense, thus muting the potential mindblowing effect the mix could have had. Which is not to say the producers should have mixed everything so wildly; on the contrary, some passages beg for discrete but unexciting mixing, to keep in touch with what is seen on screen.

And maybe that's the problem. Without the movie, one is left with great music that has been mixed without the movie in mind, but as if it were a concert performance, or as if it were just a studio recording, and they were recreating the studio ambience. But even then I'd have expected more isolation than is found here.

How to rate this? The sound quality is a solid '10', and the music unforgettable. The mix, however, gets a '3' from me for simply being the wrong approach (to give it a '5,' which I consider mediocre, it would still have to be a basic discrete mix, just a boring one. This one ain't very discrete, so....)

ED :)
 

Bob Squires Jr

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I've always kind of likened the movie to a real life Fantasia.
My experience with this soundtrack goes beyond just the movie.
I originally ran the film at the TLA Cinema on South Street in Philadelphia, but...
At the Irvine Auditorium at the University Of Pennsylvania...
I had the pleasure of being the projectionist at the running of the film as well. (I was a cinema tech for 25 years!)
This was not just your ordinary screening, however.
We played the film with no sound, slightly over the heads of Phillip Glass
and his ensemble while they played it live, onstage.
It was one of the most interesting concepts I've ever seen and the sound, of course, was one of "you had to be there"!
THAT would have made one hell of a DVD-A!!
However, we'll have to stick with the cards that were dealt us, I guess.
After that show, though... even watching the movie again full screen
leaves a little to be desired!
Talk about spoiled!

Sound - I give a 10
Mix - I give a 5
Overall - A 7

-Bob
 

GabeL

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I gave this one an 8, but perhaps, since I only paid $10 for it (used) I should have given it a higher score since it was a good bit of value. I think my issue with this disc is that it is generally too mellow. I loved the movie and thought that this would be a great soundtrack for general listening, but I guess it was the visuals and not the music that moved me. In any case, can't really complain, at the price I paid.

I thought it was only fair to update this one (cheers ED). To my taste, the music on this disc has few high points...it is continuous and deliberate, as was intended, just not my cup of tea I guess. So, I said it was mellow...yes, perhaps a slightly incorrect description...just the word that came to mind. The Mix quality is quite good and hence worth the price. I guess I'm just saying that overall the soundtrack did very little for me while I really enjoyed the film. Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

Cheers,
Gabe
 
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EMB

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I'd ask what price has to do with mix quality, (or how anyone could consider the sound here 'mellow'), but probably wise to let it slide, Clyde...

ED :)
 

stormchaser

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I finally got ahold of this one and I simply love it. The repetitive nature of the music has been noted, but that is of course deliberate. I do second the point that the mix could have been much more aggressive than it is. Still, the fidelity is excellent and this is one of my go-to discs when I need to relax. Remember, I'm the guy who also loves Bass Communion's Pacific Codex. Overall, I give it a 9 although I do recognize the relative conservative nature of the 5.1 mix.
 

EMB

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The sound quality is superb, it's the mix that's an issue. Still, a pity POWAQATTSI was never mixed to 5.1, because that has its own strange brilliance--like its predecessor in some ways, but sufficiently different to bear up to repeated listenings.

ED :)
 

stormchaser

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This is one of my demonstration discs. While Philip Glass isn't for everyone, I find this work very satisfying and immersive. The mix has a fair bit going on in the surround speakers and indeed the repetitive nature of this score allows a listener to really focus on those elements. For me, this is a 10.

Okay, what happened here? I noticed a new thread on this disc and entered the above having forgotten that there was an older one. I suppose the two have now been merged? With time, I've come to enjoy this disc more and more...hence the score creep upwards from 9 to 10. :p
 
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Ge Someone

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Let start by saying that everyone should watch the film, at least once, in their lifetime.

Not many soundtracks keep me interested for a whole disc but this is one that does. Of course the combination with the film gives a much more immersive experience, but this can be considered as a neo-classical performance recorded in a studio environment. Although this disc is as long as the film, it is the 1998 re-recording (16 years after the film) and that results here in a glorious 96kHz 5.1/2.0 DVD-A.
The mix is what I would expect on semi-classical music. It is discreet but somehow subtle as well. For instance the choir is often mixed with some voices in front and other voices in the rears. Expect no swirling pan effects, but it puts me certainly in the middle of things.
To like it, you should like Philip Glass's compositions, I happen to often do that.

(just noticed the disc started again after the last track, why?)
 

EMB

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My problem, however, is that the potential of separating various elements of the recording wasn't achieved here, that the overall effect, while mildly discrete, is also extremely cluttered. That is partly a by-product of all the musicians involved, of course, but also because the remix doesn't take advantage not only of better isolation of voices and instruments, but of shifting channels to achieve some interesting effects I'd assumed they'd attempt. There are tracks where panning around the room, or back and forth between speakers, would not only have made sense but amplified the composer's original intentions (as we can hear on the soundtrack itself, and the original, abridged soundtrack Lp). Listening to this one yet again, I'm in one way overwhelmed by its sheer power (as I was watching it in a theater back in 1984 equipped to give that sonic oomph), but underwhelmed by the mix, which is to me is, most of the time, as messy as an SQ decoding without the quality decoder to truly separate all the elements properly.

And yes, I agree, everyone should see this film once. It may mesmerize and confuse someone upon first viewing so, like a handful of other films like 2001, you really have to see it many times to begin to drink in all the little things that, for this film, go by so fast. Hell, at one point, with the old Pacific Arts laserdisc, I actually sat down one day and tried to write down every TV commercial and passage that they used for that quick montage. And while the film does have a certain leftist POV on its director's part (aided much by the deft editing), there is unintended beauty scattered around, too, no matter how 'out of balance' he perceived our modern society to be. In a fashion Godfrey Reggio, in this trilogy of films, was an environmental alarmist, and while I can't argue with many of his concerns, he doesn't take into account the resiliency and adaptability not only of human, but of the planet to adjust to what we do to diminish it. There might well be a point where, collectively, we go too far and do permanent damage, but something like global warming doesn't enter into this film. It would be interesting if someone took the concept and updated it for the new century. We may still be out of balance, but we are also still here and thriving in spite of ourselves (what else is new?)

ED :)
 

Ge Someone

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we are also still here and thriving in spite of ourselves
That is part of the problem :).
Films like this often have no specific message per se, they show people something, confront if you like. From Wikipedia: The film also defines the word (Koyaanisqatsi) as "crazy life", "life in turmoil", "life disintegrating", and "a state of life that calls for another way of living".

But hey, even before seeing the film, forum readers might enjoy this DVD-A.
 

LizardKing

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The blu-ray of the movie is "DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1" .

Does anyone know if the soundtrack is the same on the movie? Anyway I'll add this to my list of movies to watch...
 

EMB

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Films like this often have no specific message per se, they show people something, confront if you like. From Wikipedia: The film also defines the word (Koyaanisqatsi) as "crazy life", "life in turmoil", "life disintegrating", and "a state of life that calls for another way of living".

But hey, even before seeing the film, forum readers might enjoy this DVD-A.
Maybe, but helps a lot to be a Philip Glass fan, since GLASSWORKS pretty much sets up the style of sound heard here.

As for the film having 'no specific message,' on the contrary, it was my impression from the outset that, beyond the 'life out of balance' motif, the director's intent was obviously pro-environmental and against the anti-social nature of urban sprawl and waste. He obviously views the cityscape--regardless of its positives and negatives--as an artificial wasteland, intrusive upon the natural order. Two shots indicate this. One is the skycrapers reflecting clouds, the other when we see, later on, the Big City of the rich, poor, the dying, the constant, helter-skelter motion of walkers and drivers. This is a pro-nature film, no mistake, and there is the Orwellian impression that, from twinkies to cars on the highway, we are in a junk society and moving toward no real purposes of value; i.e., of the spiritual, natural kind. It's a very subversive film, but where the director might have erred is assuming all the images are alarming or intrusive rather than, in their own way, appealing.

Glass' score reflects the images wonderfully, since there is a placid beauty early on, replaced by constant repetition and turmoil, even sadness, near the end. Still, this is the kind of film people either embrace or walk away from baffled. The music is a bit more accessible, though Glass can be challenging.

ED :)
 

EMB

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The blu-ray of the movie is "DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1" .

Does anyone know if the soundtrack is the same on the movie? Anyway I'll add this to my list of movies to watch...
The original soundtrack was Dolby Surround, the DVD just a 5.1 modification without any remixing. Too much to hope the Bluray would have a genuine 5.1 remix. Anyone?

ED :)
 

OptiquesJeff

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My experience with this soundtrack goes beyond just the movie.
I originally ran the film at the TLA Cinema on South Street in Philadelphia, but...
At the Irvine Auditorium at the University Of Pennsylvania...
I had the pleasure of being the projectionist at the running of the film as well. (I was a cinema tech for 25 years!)
This was not just your ordinary screening, however.
We played the film with no sound, slightly over the heads of Phillip Glass
and his ensemble while they played it live, onstage.
It was one of the most interesting concepts I've ever seen and the sound, of course, was one of "you had to be there"!
-Bob
I WAS THERE!!! It was incredible.
 

RSilverman

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I have to get a copy of this disc. I saw Glass perform this live at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago synced with the film. It was awesome. I love Philip Glass. "Akhnaten" is a favorite of mine. I want to say I also love "Einstein on the Beach" but it's so damn long.
 

d0zer

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I won't talk about the film, because it's about 35 years since I watched it (liked it then, I remember). I really enjoy this kind of music. The mix has like a "classical music" approach, but a little bit more than just ambience in the rears. The dynamics are great, and when in the last track (Prophecies) the "Koyaanisqatsi"-theme returns, it really gives me goosebumps... 9 points from me.
 

beerking

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The minimalist Mr Glass certainly knows how to get some great sounding, deep music coming through the surround system.
The mix is not overly adventurous but in this case that suits the music.
Tricky to vote on as not normally something I would play or listen to.
But to take it at face value..
It's an 8 from me.
 
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