Nerve-jangling “future shock” is rarely as gratifying a sensation as it is in the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi. Titled after a Hopi word that translates as “life out of balance,” the film sets slow-motion and time-lapse footage of nature and industry against a hypnotically minimalist soundtrack by Philip Glass; the result is something like a kind of psychedelic version of documentary filmmaking — eminently stoner friendly, too, were it not for the absolute bummer of a subtext.
Thirty-two years later, Koyaanisqatsi looks all the more prescient; there’s nothing like this bizarre winter’s extreme weather to remind us that modern life is still perilously out of balance. So a new “reinterpretation” of the film by the German musician Benedikt Frey feels especially timely. Availing himself of some of the more kinetic passages from the film — workers streaming in and out of a factory, Twinkies barreling down a conveyor belt, machines stamping circuit boards — Frey has composed a captivating new soundtrack made of glassy drones, grumbling analog synthesizer, and deliriously cut-up vocal loops. (It sounds a lot like the bleaker bits of Actress’ Ghettoville, but violently sped up.) With the music stuttering and accelerating in time with the video, it all builds to an explosive climax of rapid-fire TV commercials and keyboard-mashing dissonance that will feel familiar to any user of the internet in 2014.
“It’s a social critique of technological invention,” explained Frey in an email. “We always think we have the power over machines, but they have started controlling our lives, every day.”