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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)






Music composed by John Frizzell.

23 Tracks (Playing Time = 43:13)

Album produced by Ray Costa and John Frizzell. Orchestrations by Andrew Kinney, Jerome Leroy, Frederick Wiedmann, and Michael Bowers. Score recorded at CNSO, Prague. Engineered by Cendra Kotzman. Edited by Chuck Martin and Andy Dorfman. Mixed by Frederick Wiedemann and Micha Liberman. Art by Mark Banning.

Nicabella Records 001

Rating: ***


Nicabella is a new soundtrack label in an ever-growing market. For their initial score release, they have chosen STAY ALIVE the latest in a smattering of teen bloodfests with videogame themes. John Frizzell has a penchant for scoring these thriller/horror genre films that occasionally just bump up against the blockbuster possibility. Fans of his music know though that underlying sometimes awful films is a voice that is adept at creating appropriate suspense, lyric themes, and always interesting combinations of sounds.

For this score, Frizzell experiments with manipulated sounds using Logic Pro sequencing software. There are orchestral ideas of an almost Herrmann-esque nature which have also been recorded in various registers and combinations and then played back in unusual ways. It is most noticeable in the first track “Enter the House” where it at first comes across like a scratched LP. A gentle waltz-like idea appears throughout often against a variety of unusual sounds. There are typical thriller gestures as well, but Frizzell also uses these as a departure point for unusual sounds and ideas. The regularly recorded orchestra helps anchor the score. When these various threads come together in an action cue like “Finn Plays Alone,” they lift up the tension level a notch or two. The disc offers a lyical repose from the horror in “Butch’s Story” featuring a solo cello line against strings.

Tracks run between one and two minutes giving time for ideas to really play out. Longer tracks, especially “Playing the Game,” tend to cohere more as a listening experience and are generally well-shaped as stand alone tracks. An ostinato idea recurs throughout the score. It provides a bit of a clue in being able to appreciate Frizzell’s experiment. You need to think more in terms of textures and ideas as unifying factors than in just themes and motives. An ostinato pattern becomes a signifier in a track as much as the manipulated sound patterns do. This is what makes the score interesting to those fascinated by compositional methods. When need be, Frizzell resorts to standard horror music gestures but most of the time these become starting points for bizarre musical landscapes.

The score is interesting because of these various experiments. Horror scores often are great places for composers to explore dissonance and unusual sounds. Frizzell does this in STAY ALIVE while finding ways to pull these ideas together into a somewhat coherent whole. The palette here is a mix of aleatoric compositional ideas, sound manipulation, whirling strings, plaintive lyrical piano, and unusual ambient sounds.

The disc can be recommended to those interested in this compositional approach which stands out more in the technique department than in the resulting music, a fault more of the genre than of the composer necessarily.


--Steven A. Kennedy , 31 May 2006

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