Monday, March 19, 2012

Mediocre (At Best) Soundtrack: An Inconvenient Truth's Music Isn't Going To Save The World.

The Good: Good background music . . . for elevators or documentaries
The Bad: Short tracks, Does not say much on its own, Homogenous in a boring way, Short.
The Basics: Good for what it is, on its own, the music from An Inconvenient Truth fails to hold up as a worthwhile musical entity.

Right up front, I am a fan of Al Gore and I enjoyed An Inconvenient Truth (reviewed here!). In fact, in the portion of my mind that lives in deep denial of the last eight years of American History, Al Gore fought long and hard, became president and was (unfortunately) assassinated, which is when the Republicans steamrollered over President Lieberman before replacing that milquetoast with George W. Bush. Come on, we have to dream! Anyway, there's no inherent bias on my part against Gore, the film An Inconvenient Truth or even the soundtrack.

But I grew up fortunate, I think. In my lifetime, there have been some pretty amazing cinematic scores. The Last Of The Mohicans and The Red Violin both had incredible soundtracks that stood well outside the context of the films to create a musical experience that was truly extraordinary. And as far as that goes, like it or hate it, John Williams' Star Wars music has instant recognizability and it part of the collective unconscious by now. But what of movies like An Inconvenient Truth. During a lull in getting new-to-me c.d.s in, I cleaned off my desk and discovered a An Inconvenient Truth Original Score soundtrack there. So, I popped it in and have been listening to it.

With seventeen tracks, clocking in at 40:02, the soundtrack to An Inconvenient Truth is a collection of instrumental tracks that are the works of Michael Brook. Brook composed, produced and performed the entire album and it is a strange thing to discuss. The artistic vision of Brook is interesting and good, but these pieces are tough to describe, differentiate and appreciate in any context outside that of a film soundtrack. But we are glad that Brook was able to get his musical vision realized.

That said, the score for An Inconvenient Truth is very much a soundtrack score. The pieces are short, musically lacking in larger sensibility and often replicate one another with a similarity that is disturbing. So, for example, on both "Science" and "Prof. Revelle," Brooks uses deep chords strumming anxiously to create a tense mood and then . . . nothing, the next track. There is no revelation on these songs, just the anxiety. This is roughly equivalent to playing the first three chords of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey for those thinking in soundtrack terms) without the two that follow. We get set up and then, nothing.

In terms of a soundtrack, this makes perfect sense; the scene shifts and the movie moves on. In musical terms, this makes little or no sense, it is the setup without the punchline.

In addition to a number of tracks that seem tailor made to suit the film (which, to be fair, they probably were) An Inconvenient Truth's score leaves the listener wanting because the overall sound is boring. Brook uses a musical technique called "infinite guitar," which I had not heard of until I began researching in order to pad, er, write this review. The "infinite guitar" uses a picking sound on the guitar that creates a baseline of musical sound using the guitar replicating a pattern of notes that sound like they are being plucked. This programmed technique makes it possible for the music to progress and the listener to fail to notice there is no percussion section being employed.

Indeed, it is clever that Brook uses the guitar as a percussion instrument by simply replicating the same notes over and over again to present a mood that is at once steady and unsettling. Over this, there are other guitars ("Election") or pianos played ("Main Title (River View," "Farm Pt. I"). This is what "shakes up" the tracks, save that the tunes are hardly memorable or sophisticated. Most seem to be establishing a ponderous mood using gently variations up and down the scale as Brook creates music of ambivalent mood. I suppose this makes it ideal for dining to. Actually, that is probably the perfect use of this disc; gentle mood music in candle lit places.

The problem, then, is that tracks like "Farm Pt. 2" are unsettling in their execution. The high guitars acting as percussion are offset by a throbbing bass that creates an auditory tension that is fundamentally disturbing. As a result, instead of being relaxed, the music puts the listener on edge. This makes it especially difficult to declare what context this music is ideal for. It is ambivalent and when it is not being ethereal and vague, it is creating a tension and an anger that makes it unpleasant to listen to.

The thing is, the tracks are not forceful or distinct so they blend in with one another. Ultimately, the album repeats and loops without any sense of beginning or end. This is, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of it. Unlike the film, the soundtrack makes no statement at all. It is sound, ambient noise to contrast a well-conceived argument.

Finally, the album is crippled by being short. At the 32:14 mark, the score runs out of material. That was all that was in the film! The final three tracks are all bonus music that was not in the movie. Frankly, we can all live without the added musical mediocrity. But for those who like looped guitars playing against other strings in a way that might create a mood, but just as easily dumps us, this album is for you.

For the rest of us, there are vastly better musical works to focus on.

For other soundtrack reviews, please visit my takes on:
Labyrinth Soundtrack
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
What's Love Got To Do With It? Soundtrack


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the music I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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