Thursday, 15 December 2011

The other end of the telescope

Working on the minutiae of academic administration as I am today, I feel the need for a little perspective. I was reminded of the Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi by a clip shown at the V&A Postmodernism exhibition. I know the film because it has a Philip Glass soundtrack, and I'm a huge fan of his and other's minimalist composition. The film has no plot, and no characters. It's a series of images spooling into one another as the world it depicts gets more complex and more machinelike. Its central motif is relentless, ceaseless movement, in which humans come to seem like parasites on the machine.

Glass's music works perfectly: minimalism works by investing the tiniest changes in essentially repetitive phrases with emotional significance. In the case of Koyaanisqatsi, the emotion is almost expunged: a listener/viewer could, with some effort, understand the images and music as celebrating industrial society (and anti-environmentalists from left and right would do so). A more defensible view would be to link the mechanical action of the natural world (wind blowing, petals unfurling) with the operation of lights and motor vehicles as being energetic but ultimately destructive and pointless in the cosmic sense. We're not consciously controlling our lives and environments: we're subject to the needs of our (selfish) genes. There's a system, but we're not running it.

Here's a clip (and The Simpsons' take on it):

1 comment:

Ewarwoowar said...

"Hi, is that Pseuds' Corner?"