7 May, 2017, 14:00
Manchester based trio, GoGo Penguin, took things to a new level at Colston Hall, performing their original film score for Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 cult classic ‘Koyaanisqatsi’.
The trio, nominated for a Mercury Prize and signed to top Jazz label, Blue Note Records, merged classical and electronica music to create a modern and more frenzied take on the infamous ‘visual tone poem’. The film title (slowly revealed on a small projector in fatal red writing) means ‘life out of balance’ in Native American tribal language, Hopi. Using time lapse photography and slow motion visuals, the documentary captures the unsettling marriage of nature and civilisation.
With a set up of three men on piano, double bass and drums, GoGo Penguin totally transfix the audience. Their distinctive sound – airy and nimble fingered piano melodies, deep sinking bass, and fidgety, disciplined drum beats – create a fragile disquiet as the camera pans over our land. Wobbly shadows on expansive rocky plains, galloping billows of clouds, and doomsday swirls of ocean, all epic in their irrefutable power. Far from the sobre chants that roots Philip Glass’ original score in ancestral meaning, an eerie disconnect plays over the tumultuous elements.
So follows man’s attempts to control: factory workers’ repeated action reflected in rhythmic progression; time lapse photography making road junctions streams of neon; news clips mocking us with their fallacy. Playing with fierce commitment to accuracy, Illingworth’s piano solo shows every degree of touch accounted for; and, while the musicians dedicate themselves to their acoustic reenactment of electronic programming, on screen, a child enjoys the systematic fulfillment of playing an arcade Pac Man. So we see ourselves, immersed in this organised chaos. Turner’s scuffling of cymbals, earlier impersonating the sound of insects, now plays over the shuffling of people in an underground. We are in this quickening world.
A sequence of infrastructure implodes with an outburst of colliding drums. I laugh in response to the band’s startling synchronicity. On screen, smoke is left hanging like a mobile from the sky, where bridges and skyscrapers once stood. A bulbous cactus in the foreground mirrors the mushrooming eruption of buildings in the distance. Here comes a sense of predetermination. A connection between both Mother Earth, and man’s, destruction. As a soaring rocket combusts into a slow snow of debris, we are brought back to the cave drawings that opened the performance, faced with the beginnings of our strange society.
As experts of their own musical style, GoGo Penguins were always going to put on a good show. But the fascination with robotics and technological advancement that is explored in their 2016 album, Man Made Object, has clearly paved the way for the trio to take on globe defining subjects. With the film itself taking 6 years to make, this was an experience in overwhelming commitment and talent. It appears GoGo Penguin not only have the power to captivate you in their meditative compositions, but also, to communicate to you on a level where you most long to feel it.
Koyaanisqatsi: A state of life that calls for another way of living.