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Crystal symphonies

Philip Glass fills the movie darkness with shimmering music.

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Published 10/31/2001

Philip Glass is a pop composer. No, he’s not Sir Paul McCartney. No, you won’t hear even your most pretentious office mates whistle or hum a catchy Glass tune on the way to their cappuccino break. But Philip Glass has shaped the moods of the movies — the most popular of artistic media — with his music for more than 25 years.

From Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman bring a unique cinematic event to Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater. Glass and friends will accompany Tod Browning’s 1931 horror classic, Dracula. Then they’ll provide music for a night of short silent films that (in a flip of the script) the composer has commissioned from such noted directors as Atom Egoyan (Felicia’s Journey) and Peter Greenaway (8 1/2 Women). Finally, there’s the cult classic Koyaanisqatsi. All of these works are featured on his most recently released Nonesuch recording, Philip on Film: Filmworks by Philip Glass. Think of Philip on Film as a concert tour of his big-screen greatest hits.

Glass was commissioned by Universal’s Family and Home Entertainment Productions to compose a new sound track for the 1999 rerelease of Browning’s Dracula as part of its Classic Monsters Collection. You don’t get much more mainstream than that. Glass’ music evokes fear, horror and lament in its pulsing and drumming chords, illuminating the emotional depths of Browning’s moving and beautiful black-and-white illustrations of restrained horror. Dracula will be performed — appropriately enough — on Halloween, Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m.

Like in any modern greatest-hits collection, it’s the previously unreleased selections that lure any serious fan. Shorts (performed Thursday, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m.) baits the hook with a five-course feast for the eyes and ears. The local debut of Egoyan’s Diaspora (2001) and Greenaway’s The Man in the Bath (2001) may prove irresistible to any true cinephile. Neither director is a stranger to the concert halls of “serious music” (Egoyan’s Salome was performed by the Canadian Opera Company and Greenaway has been noted for his opera Writing to Vermeer). Greenaway — like Iranian Shirin Neshat and Israeli Michal Rovner, who offer their pieces Passages (2001) and Notes (2001), respectively — is also known for his video installation pieces.

If that isn’t enough, Glass also performs the score to Anima Mundi (1992), a short film by Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi). Anima Mundi is described as a poetic visual tapestry of Reggio’s own footage plus existing images commissioned by the Italian jewelry company Bulgari to celebrate the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Biological Diversity Program.

This brings us to the pièce de résistance, Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1983), to be performed on Friday, Nov. 2, and Saturday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. Likely the most popular non-narrative film of all time, Koyaanisqatsi has entertained the masses with an epic cinematic spectacle that isn’t so much a story as an apocalyptic warning. This was Glass’ breakthrough sound track and perhaps his greatest hit.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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