Koyaanisqatsi, sometimes titled Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, was directed by American
director Godfrey Reggio. The film deals with the relationship between humans and nature entirely
through the contrast between the music and the visuals. The tone of each scene relies purely on
composer Philip Glass' score to aid what's being shown on screen and provide meaning to what's
Because there are no conventional story ideas or dialogue, the film takes its message from the tone
set by the music and the visuals. Glass uses key, tempo, and instrumentation to great effect, using
instruments to mimic everyday city things like car horns and using tonality to subtly change how
the viewer is interpreting the cinematography.
The vast majority of sound used in the film is non-diegetic, especially the musical ideas, which is
safe to assume, don't take place within the films realm.
In a film where music is needed to denote the messages the film is dictating, there is obviously a lot
music to analyse—in fact, the music runs almost constantly throughout the film without very little
foley sounds—so I've chosen what I consider to be the key, most important scenes in the film and
I'm going to provide my own interpretation on the film, writing a detailed conclusion on what I
believe the film is saying, and what effect music has had on projecting the films overall message.
The Main/Opening Theme – “Koyannisqatsi”
The opening theme consists of a sinister sounding, descending organ phrase made from the notes A,
A#, B#, D, E, E#. The notes are being played in the lower register and sound similar to Gothic
church music. The phrase sets the films initial tone as harrowing and depressing. The descendi...
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...erful music and the scenes of man's creations are accompanied by almost biblical sounding
Ultimately, it's difficult to draw a conclusion from the films overall message. On the one hand, the
film seems to be praising man's achievements, and on the other, one could view the film's ending as
something negative. Man's inevitable failing. A conclusion that almost cancels out man's greatest
accomplishments, praised earlier in the film.
I personally believe the film ends on a negative note. The credits eerily force the viewer to relate the
destruction seen in the film into their own lives, by using familiar, mundane sounds that make a
film that's anything but seem much more real.
Chion, Michel. (1994) Audio Vision: Sound on Screen.
Dickinson, Kay. Movie Music The Film Reader.
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