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Recent Soundtrack Releases

David Aspinall

Bicentennial Man
James Horner
conducted by the composer
Sony SK 89038

In Bicentennial Man we encounter Horner in his sleepy Cocoon mode. Now sleepy mode is a rather pleasant place to be, but you don't want to stay long. Ten minutes is nice, but after that I want to either to go to sleep or get up and stop wasting time. I gather that the plot of this film involves a robot (Robin Williams) who wants to be a man (hu-man, that is, not merely a male person). If it sounds Pinocchio-esque, one could at least wish upon a star that Horner's creation might have displayed as much vivacity and vitality as the Leigh Harline/Paul Smith score for the Disney classic. Alas, though there is much pretty tinkling piano and thrummed harp and an abundance of feel-good chords from string section and synths, Horner's efforts are, to analogize along the subject's line, robotic. Cynics have rightly observed that our technological society, with its planned obsolescence, is designed to serve less than altruistic ends. The cynic in me (and the conspiracy theorist who's in there with him) would suggest that this Hollywood generation, whether serving up mechanical excitements (Independence Day, Armageddon) or assembly-line humanism like Bicentennial Man, is feeding us placebo populism, stimulants and/or sedatives -- our choice of drug. Didn't Huxley predict that this would be the ultimate tyranny -- planned somnolescence?

The End of the Affair
Micheal Nyman
conducted by the composer
Sony SK 51534

A human being is a mist appearing for a little while. An amoeba lives forever. A man moves, both in body and, more significantly, in his imagination. An oak stands ten times as tall as a man but remains in one place. Who would rather be an amoeba or an oak than a human being? These unmusical reflections are forced upon one in trying to account for the popularity of Michael Nyman's oeuvre. I am at a loss to explain the success of Nyman, Glass, etc., on purely aesthetic grounds. Unlike the amoeba, Nyman won't live forever. But his aesthetic is similar -minimal motility and energy expended, maximal offspring. There seems to be some correlation between the success of minimalism and our (much) reduced attention span. Read a Victorian author - any Victorian author - and you'll quickly notice that the cultured reader is expected to follow a complex sentence through (sometimes tortured convolutions) to a logical conclusion, which is often removed from its beginning by several dozen words. Few of us have the patience for this type of English any more. Is this progress? Or have our sensoria been conditioned, by two generations of ever-shortening sound and video bytes, to new stimulae every few seconds? So that while Brahms is too hard work for almost any of us - we'd have to be able to follow an idea for longer than the length of the average commercial - Nyman with his slightly-varied repetitions is about as much of a stretch as the modern listener can handle. For those accustomed to this aesthetic, Brahms must be like watching four or five television programs at once. Who wouldn't prefer the millennial equivalent of Lawrence Welk?

Except that we used to be able to handle Brahms. Forty years of listening to Beethoven had made Brahms accessible, even inevitable. Another forty years of Brahms made Berg (if not Schoenberg) accessible. I fear that those conditioned by Nyman and Glass will not likely ever be able to "get" Newman and Herrmann, let alone Brahms and Berg.

To the music (finally and briefly!): minimal movement tending to stasis, minimum contrast in dynamics and timbre (mostly strings, unlike, to be fair, some Nyman scores), tending to anaesthetize the listener. Summary: maximum boredom.

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
Eric Serra
London Session Orchestra, Metro Voices, Eric Serra cond.
Sony SK 66537

I haven't seen The Messenger and after hearing the score, the inclination is even less than it was. While Serra's score is by no means as monotonous as most generic film music, it translates the story of Joan of Arc into music in a way that would indicate her "voices" were visitors from intergalactic space, not the supernal realm. Piling in influences willy nilly (Nyman, Morricone, Williams, Herrmann - the Harryhausen scores, and the omnipresent Orff) with a heavy dose of electronics. Most of it is from the music-as-sound-effects school, and, like most of that genre, manages to manufacture mystery but not music. And at the end, just when you thought it was safe to go to sleep, a bromide titled My Heart Calling, of which nothing more need be said than that it sounds like a Celine Dion reject. As my wife Vivian asked upon catching its immortal lyric, "You mean it took TWO people to write this?"

The Classic Film Music of Georges Auric, Vol 2
Orphee; Les Parents Terribles; Thomas l'Imposteur; Ruy Blas
Slovak Radio Symphony (Bratislava), Adriano cond.
Marco Polo 8.225066

We greeted the previous Adriano/Auric release with much enthusiasm. La Belle et La Bete, with its amalgam of Ravel, Fauré and multifarious pleasant influences, was a CD well worth sampling. This set of suites from Cocteau collaborations I'm still not sure about. Perhaps it's Adriano's four-square conducting. I'm not crazy about his Honegger CDs either, and the performances may have at least as much to do with that as the music. Whatever, nothing here excites me after a handful of hearings. Mostly meandering, formula stuff, obviously written as accompaniment. Not without Auric's water colour skills (especially the Imposteur baroquery). I suppose the sum is that Auric's film music, while often lovely, has not the character nor feeling to elevate it beyond the distinctive, unto the distinguished. A suitable comparison: compare Auric's swashbuckling Ruy Blas to anything in this genre by Korngold, or to Steiner's Adventures of Don Juan, written about the same time (1947). Auric is skilled, various in his themes and orchestration, a not unpleasant diversion, BUT .... . What's missing is power, passion. Artisanship in abundance, but not alive. A simulacrum of art, but, lacking the vital spark, finally not life.

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