Phillip Glass, America's master of minimalist expansion, produces yet another subtle transformation on his soundtrack for KOYAANISQATSI, Godfrey Reggio's provocative earth-documentary. Of course, the album version doesn't contain all 87 minutes of Glassworks, but it does end up being one of the composer's most accessible records.
The title cut is built over a slow, elegant fugue-like organ figure and bass singer Albert de Ruiter's booming one-note recitation of the Hopi word whose many interpretations include "a state of life that calls for another way of living." The whole thing comes off with the gothic grandeur of Russian liturgical music.
"Vessels" explores the rich and intricately woven vocal tapestries of The Western Wind ensemble, the melody suggesting the ebb and flow of a moontide. "Cloudscape" sounds like a "Victory at Sea" outtake, sort of a "Dawn on an Aircraft Carrier," while "Pruit Igoe" has a bright brassy edge and an actual, distinguishable crescendo. Glass' music used to call for another way of listening, but "Koyaanisqatsi," with its melodic and harmonic variety, is almost easy in its effervescence.
The only real dud is an appropriately titled "The Grid," a cacophonous irritation of noise, incessant modulations and audio anxiety. Happily, the album ends with "Prophecies," restating the theme and casting a chant-like grace over the whole affair.
Ruichi Sakamoto's synthesizer-based score for MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE is built around a truly haunting theme and much beautifully textured filler. The theme, washing up out of a waterfall of soft sounds, is so good, in fact, that it's repeated three times, once at the beginning of the album in a strictly instrumental version, once in the middle with subtle variations and finally at the end with David Sylvain's slightly anguished lyrics. It all provides a touch of modernity in a period piece; surprisingly, it works every time.
Sakamoto, the leader of Japan's Yellow Magic Orchestra as well as David Bowie's nemesis in the film, has anchored his music between cultures; there's a chimey quality to the theme song that will be percieved as oriental, but it's really an atmospheric musical netherworld he creates. Most of the record is a collection of aural brush strokes, with Sakamoto usually opting for texture above substance, and mood above melody. Still, it's entrancing and well worth the listening. And David Bowie does sing on it -- as part of the prisoners' chorus on "The 23rd Psalm." Listen real hard. THE ALBUMS -- Philip Glass, "Original Soundtrack from 'Koyaanisquatsi' " (Antilles/Asta 1); Ruichi Sakamoto, "Original Soundtrack From 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence' " (MCA 3648-49).