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Philip Glass

For a composer always designated as a minimalist, Philip Glass has created a number of surprisingly sensuous film scores. While these scores are certainly in a technical sense minimalist in the sense that Glass relies very little on traditional Western harmonic structures, they are hardly minimalist in an emotional sense. His scores - as should always be the case with any well-crafted and intelligent score - make the movies of which they are a part more psychologically and more aesthetically compelling. This paper examines two of the American composer's scores, those that he wrote for Errol Morris's 1988 Thin Blue Line and Godfrey Reggio's 1982 Koyaanisqatsi.

Both of the scores demonstrate the importance in Glass's music of repeated phrases that are based on variations of related rhythmical structures, creating a sense that the music is almost not music at all but something created through natural actions, like the wind blowing again and again through leaves, each time striking their surfaces a little differently and producing a slightly different sound ( Glass's use of repetition has a fundamentally hypnotic effect: We feel as if we were confronted with a cobra and find ourselves swaying in time to the swaying of serpent, waiting for the moment when we will be considered fit to be sacrificed.

Glass's score for A Thin Blue Line - which used a variety of legalistic strategies to help demonstrate that a man convicted of and jailed for a murder was in fact innocent (the man was released after the release of this movie) - adds substantially to the haunting quality of this movie. Glass's score for this movie emphasizes in an implicit way a point made explicitly by the narration and the dialogue: That the world is falling apart and that the structures that we are most in need of relying on are failing us.

Even as Morris creates a powerful statement about the weakness of innocence...

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Philip Glass. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:37, December 06, 2021, from