Boris Berlin ~ Soundtrack for an Imaginary Film

coverThe title may be a cliché, but the music is not.  New York composer Boris Berlin has simply been bold enough to use the phrase.  And so, yes, this is the soundtrack to an imaginary film (with an actual plot), but it’s also a work that might become the résumé for a real film.

Only a few weeks ago, I went through dozens of soundtracks from 2014 in an attempt to identify the best.  The top choices possessed enough variety to be enjoyed as albums without the visuals.  (Spoiler: Under the Skin was #1).  The biggest drawbacks of film scores are the need to repeat themes and the dominance of incidental music.  Berlin is not operating under these constraints, so his imaginary score competes well against its alleged peers.  Many of these twenty selections could be main themes of their own.

The sound of Berlin is surprising, in that it illustrates how far the virtual orchestra has come.  Berlin uses such enhancements in his music (and in so doing, likely saves a ton of money).  But one cannot always tell that the music is programmed rather than live; the perceptual line is shrinking.  And on early orchestral cuts such as “Tranceport Central” and “Somewhat Liberated”, the difference simply doesn’t matter.  Perhaps a cello would make these tracks 8% more appealing, but for purposes of the score, it works perfectly well.  (No one would dream of telling John Carpenter to lay off the synths.)  The beauty is in hearing the vision that Berlin has for this film, or for film in general: a series of alternating poignant, romantic and uplifting themes.

After reading the press release, I was looking forward to hearing “a tender glockenspiel overpower the brute force of an overamplified bass.”  While this doesn’t quite occur (c’est dommage), the glockenspiel does have its moments in the sun, especially “Forgive Appreciate”, while the bass dominates tracks such as the evocative “Neo Noir”, staying out of the brighter instrument’s way.  Field samples offer an additional appeal, first appearing up on the opening track (a subway announcement at 42nd Street), later resurfacing like a commuter from a tunnel.

If looking for memorable themes, the standout piece is “Karmical Connection”, with its Zimmer-like rounded staccato tones.  Due to the shared Manhattan setting, a line can be drawn to the conclusion of Zimmer’s score for The Peacemaker: a race to prevent a nuclear detonation.  “Hope and Circumstance” boasts a sprightly string theme built on brass, akin to John Powell’s work on How to Train Your Dragon.  And of course one seldom errs with military drums, as heard on “Why We’re Here.” One pictures the injured soldier limping forward to receive an award as the bells toll and the trumpets sound.  The set even includes the obligatory post-finale pop track.

Few of these pieces sound as if they might fit in an independent film, which provides an indication of where Berlin’s commercial interests lie.  But the overall impression – boosted in great part by the cover image – is that the artist is in love with film in general, and that his imaginary soundtrack is a love letter to the experience of filmgoing ~ not staying at home for Netflix, but bracing against a cold Manhattan night in order to experience the warmth of a good story inside.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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