Film Music Review
The Sammy awards







Music composed by Graham Reynolds.

22 Tracks (Playing Time = 51:20; 20 Score tracks, Playing Time = 44:13)

Album produced by Skip Williamson and Brian McNelis. Features Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio. Includes two remixes: “Darkly Mix” by Jack Dangers, and “Call Sign/Aleph:/” by DJ Spooky. Music recorded and mixed by Graham Reynolds. Engineered by Buzz Moran. Recorded at Red House Studio, Austin, TX. Mastered by Dave Donnelly at DNA Mastering, Studio City, CA. Art direction by Stephanie Mente. Layout by Joe Chavez.

Lakeshore Records 338632

Rating: **1/2


Philip K. Dick ’s stories seem to be difficult to adapt for the screen. You would think otherwise since they are generally engaging, vivid descriptions with timely allegorical content. One can argue the success of the nine or so films that adapted his work. The music for them ranges from the electronic sounds of Vangelis in 1982’s BLADE RUNNER to John Williams’ 2002 score for MINORITY REPORT. Along the way Jerry Goldsmith, John Powell, and Mark Isham have contributed music for Dick films.

For A SCANNER DARKLY, Richard Linklater has turned to a musician and composer from the Austin music scene. Linklater’s indie film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, promises to at least be one of the more interesting science fiction films of 2006. It combines live-action photography with an animation process called “interpolated rotoscoping” which he used in WAKING LIFE (2001).

Composer Graham Reynolds has a number of serious projects to his credit including concertos and four symphonies. He has two additional feature film scores to his credit: THE JOURNEYMAN (2001), and MOONLIGHT BY THE SEA (2003, a sci-fi film). He is working on Steve Collins’ upcoming comedy, GRETCHEN. Linklater contacted him early on in the production of A SCANNER DARKLY and his work began on the project over a year and a half ago. His recording here is with the Golden Arm Trio of which he is the primary member while the others come from a host of area musicians. He comments that “all the sounds [for this film] came from acoustic instruments but…they are processed, mangled, and otherwise transformed. The result is…otherworldly, sounding drug-induced and unidentifiable.” The question really is does it work in the film, and consequently on a score release.

“7 Years From Now” opens with ambient sound a nice lyrical idea on cello. This is a brief moment followed by “Aphids” which has an indie rock sound with a variety of unusual sounds tossed into the mix. “Swallowing Up in Victory,” the third track, begins with a kind of contemporary noir feel with manipulated sounds, but nothing much happens in the brief cue. A country feel makes up “Strawberry Pie” which could come from any number of independent film scores—which does not mean that it is not well done. Already though, one can sense the problem with this score. When it follows more pop-oriented styles tracks play on indiscriminately with generic shape. When it heads into more experimental territory it does not come together in any real coherent shape. When it tries to sound like independent film music a la Burwell, as in “The Dark World Where I Dwell,” it features bare motivic ideas with generic, labored ostinati. The one thing that does help is the cello idea that provides some sense of unity or a center. It is also what makes the final score track, “Little Blue Flowers,” the standout cue of the bunch.

A SCANNER DARKLY recalls 1981’s HEAVY METAL in places. One can get the sense of the disorientation Reynolds is attempting here. But I have to wonder if there is not going to be a need for the audience to have something more centered aurally to hang onto while watching this film. In its more experimental moments, the score falls into a soundworld similar to that explored by Morriconne back in the 1960s and 1970s. The difference here is the current rock rhythmic ideas and more updated instrumental sounds. While one can admire the creativity of what is happening, it does not help make the score release all that cohesive on its own. Part of the problem is that things do not really get a chance to grow organically. Most tracks barely get going before they just end. That may help create the disillusionment and drug-induced visions of the screen but they really are a rough listen on their own.

Lakeshore can be commended for taking a risk in releasing this score. The problem here is just that one can only appreciate so many tracks where “interesting” is the best adjective one can have for them. By the midway point’s title track, it felt like all the tricks were out of the bag. However, those of you interested in unusual scores, or those who were intrigued by the music that accompanied Tom Tykwer’s films like THE WARRIOR AND THE PRINCESS (2000) will be able to discern a similar spirit at play in this alternative approach to film scoring. This is where ratings systems kind of breakdown because Reynolds’ approach is unique and different enough to raise it above the typical score of its type. Where it falls down is in continuity and cohesiveness, which may be exactly what works for this unusual film.

Those who got excited over Ipecac’s release, “Crime and Dissonance,” may find this an interesting disc worth adding to their collection.

SIN CITY this is not.


--Steven A. Kennedy , 17 June 2006

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