Saturday, 10 November 2012

Lifespan: Terry Riley on Film

One thing that didn't quite make it into my recent interview with Terry Riley for Fact was a brief conversation we had about working for film – or rather, about how rarely, compared to other composers of his generation, Riley had composed for film soundtracks. Was this something he had deliberately avoided, I wondered?

"I haven't avoided it," he replied. "It hasn't come my way, you know Martin Scorsese didn't knock on my door." Listening back as I transcribed the interview later, it occurred to me that this might just be a sly reference to the Philip Glass-scored Kundun

"I've been happy with that," Riley continued, "because basically I feel music is a total, complete art to occupy your senses. It is interesting to work with images. It hasn't been something I've pursued because I'm very satisfied with music as a complete obsession."

In terms of (relatively) mainstream, narrative cinema, there is one exception, however, and it is a distinct oddity. In 1975, Riley composed a synthesizer-led score for a curious Dutch film called Lifespan, directed by Sandy Whitelaw – a man otherwise better known for providing English subtitles to several foreign language films and making brief appearances in both Der amerikanische Freund and De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté. He only directed to other films and remained uncredited on one of them. Lifespan itself would seem to be one of the few films to combine an interest in genetics and gerontology with shibari bondage. It stars Hiram Keller (from Fellini's Satyricon), Tina Aumont (from Modesty Blaise and Tinto Brass's Salon Kitty) and Klaus Kinski as the muysterious Swiss Man (a role with so little dialogue apparently because Kinski thought so little of the script that he would simply discard large chunks of it as they went along).

One of the cuts from the soundtrack would later be arranged for strings to be played by the Kronos Quartet.