From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse photography of cities and natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means 'life of moral corruption and turmoil, life out of balance', and the film implies that modern humanity is living in such a way. During the end titles, the film gives Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, David Monongye, Guy Debord, and Leopold Kohr credit for inspiration. Production began in 1975 in St. Louis, Missouri where footage of the Pruitt–Igoe housing project was shot from a helicopter. "--Sholem Stein

Related e



Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance is a 1982 film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by minimalist composer Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke.

The film is the first in the Qatsi trilogy of films: it is followed by Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). The trilogy depicts different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature, and technology. Koyaanisqatsi is the best known of the trilogy and is considered a cult film. However, due to copyright issues, the film was out of print for most of the 1990s.


The opening for "The Grid" is characterized by slow sustained notes on brass instruments. The music builds in speed and dynamics throughout the piece's 21 minutes. When the piece is at its fastest, it is characterized by a synthesizer playing the piece's bass line ostinato.

The film's soundtrack by Glass was released in 1983, after the release of the film. Even though the amount of music in the film was almost as long as the film itself, the soundtrack release was only 46 minutes long and featured only selections from the film's pieces. In 1998, Glass re-recorded the album through Nonesuch Records with a length of 73 minutes, 21 seconds. The re-recording of the album featured two additional tracks from the film, as well as extended versions of previous tracks from the original album. The album was released as a Philip Glass album titled Koyaanisqatsi, rather than a soundtrack to the film. The music has become so popular that the Philip Glass Ensemble has toured the world, playing the music for Koyaanisqatsi live in front of the movie screen.

The complete original soundtrack recording was released on CD in 2009 on Glass's own label Orange Mountain Music.

Track listing:

Length (46:25)

  1. "Koyaanisqatsi" – 3:30
  2. "Vessels" – 8:06
  3. "Cloudscape" – 4:39
  4. "Pruit Igoe" – 7:04
  5. "The Grid" – 14:56
  6. "Prophecies" – 8:10

Re-recording track listing (1998):

Length (73:21)

  1. "Koyaanisqatsi" – 3:28
  2. "Organic" – 7:43
  3. "Cloudscape" – 4:34
  4. "Resource" – 6:39
  5. "Vessels" – 8:05
  6. "Pruit Igoe" – 7:53
  7. "The Grid" – 21:23
  8. "Prophecies" – 13:36
Original soundtrack track listing (2009):

Length (76:21)

  1. "Koyaanisqatsi" – 3:27
  2. "Organic" – 4:57
  3. "Clouds" – 4:38
  4. "Resource" – 6:36
  5. "Vessels" – 8:13
  6. "Pruitt Igoe" – 7:51
  7. "Pruitt Igoe Coda" – 1:17
  8. "Slo Mo People" – 3:20
  9. "The Grid – Introduction" – 3:24
  10. "The Grid" – 18:06
  11. "Microchip" – 1:47
  12. "Prophecies" – 10:34
  13. "Translations & Credits" – 2:11


The first image in the film is of the Great Gallery pictograph in Horseshoe Canyon, in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The section shown depicts several tall, shadowed figures standing near a taller figure adorned with a crown. The next image is a close-up of a Saturn V rocket during its launch (Apollo 11). The film fades into a shot of a desolate desert landscape. From there, it progresses to footage of various natural phenomena such as waves and clouds.

The film's introduction to human involvement in the environment is a low aerial shot of choppy water, cutting to a similar shot of rows of cultivated flowers. After aerial views of monumental rock formations partly drowned by the artificial Lake Powell, we see a large mining truck causing billows of black dust. This is followed by shots of power lines in the desert. Man's continued involvement in the environment is depicted through images of mining operations, oil fields, the Navajo Generating Station, the Glen Canyon Dam, and atomic bomb detonations in a desert. Following the atomic bomb detonations, the next sequence begins with a shot of sunbathers on a beach, then pans to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in the background. Shots of taxiing United Airlines Boeing 747 aircraft and traffic patterns during rush hour are seen on a freeway and a shot of a large parking lot. This is followed with stock footage of Soviet tanks lined up in rows and a military aircraft, and an aircraft carrier.

Time-lapse photography of shadows of clouds are seen moving across the skyscrapers. Shots of various housing projects in disrepair, and includes footage of the decay and demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. The sequence ends with footage of the destruction of large buildings. A time-lapse shot of a crowd of people who appear to be waiting in a line. This is followed by shots of people walking along streets in slow motion.

The next sequence begins with shots of buildings and a shot of a sunset reflected in the glass of a skyscraper. The sequence uses time-lapse photography of the activity of modern life. The events captured in this sequence involve people interacting with modern technology. The first shots are traffic patterns as seen from skyscrapers at night. This is followed by a composite shot of the moon passing behind a skyscraper. The next shots are closer shots of cars on a highway. The sun rises over the city and we see people hurrying to work. The film shows at regular speed the operation of machines packaging food. People are shown sorting mail, sewing jeans, manufacturing televisions and doing other jobs with the use of modern technology. A shot of hot dogs being sent down rows of conveyors is followed by a shot of people moving up escalators. The frenetic speed and pace of the cuts and music do not slow as shots of modern leisure are shown. People eat, play, shop and work at the same speed. The sequence begins to come full circle as the manufacture of cars in an assembly line factory is shown.

More shots of highway traffic are shown, this time in daylight. The film shows the movement of cars, shopping carts, and televisions on an assembly line, and elevators moving from first-person perspective. The film then shows clips from various television shows being channel surfed in fast motion. The film, in slow motion, then shows several people reacting to being candidly filmed on the street. The camera stays on them until the moment when they acknowledge its presence by looking directly at it. The sequence then shows cars moving much faster than they were moving before.

Pictures of microchips and satellite photography of metropolitan cities are shown, comparing the lay of each of them. Various shots of people are seen from all walks of modern life, from beggars to debutantes. The final sequence shows footage of a rocket lifting off, only to end up exploding after a few seconds. Editing suggests that there is only one rocket, while in fact two different events were used: The first batch of footage shows a Saturn V lifting off (Apollo 11), followed by footage of the May 1962 explosion of the first Atlas-Centaur. The camera follows a flaming rocket engine and a white vapor trail or smoke against a blue sky as the debris plummets toward the ground. The film concludes with another shot of desert rock art similar to the image at the beginning. Epilogue shows the translation of the titular Hopi word and of the prophecies sung in the last part of the soundtrack.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Koyaanisqatsi" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools