William Ryan Fritch ~ The Sum of its Parts/The Old Believers

The reputation of William Ryan Fritch had already been established when Lost Tribe Sound launched the Leave Me Subscription Series in 2014.  That series, twelve albums in total, sent him over the top.  As the subscriptions had been extremely limited, many never got to hear some of the finest entries, including The Sum of its Parts (one of our 2014 picks for Best Film Scores) and The Old Believers.  These scores are finally available to the general public, the second in an extended edition that incorporates music from other works, but comes across as a unified whole.

Documentary The Sum of its Parts still has an active Facebook page, but the links no longer work; a shame, as the film about students and robotics experts working together continues to be relevant.  Ex Machina may have gotten all the press, but this one explores the ground level.  While one might expect Fritch’s score to be cold and calculated, the opposite is true.  A remarkable warmth oozes from these grooves, blossoming as early as “Ratcheting.”  Fritch concentrates on the joy of creation, the eureka of breakthrough, the camaraderie of cooperation.  There’s a lilt to these pieces, an underlying joy that suggests it was fun to go to work, to coax these machines into life, to produce something more than the sum of its parts.  

A secondary current is that of striving ~ the strings sing of hope, of goals just beyond one’s grasp and the ladder needed to reach them.  On “Gnashing Metals”, the cello provides the grounding while the prepared piano offers soldering, coming across as a modified banjo ~ the encouragement to push on despite setbacks.  The slower “Disassembled” is the saddest of the tracks, but Fritch won’t allow the mood to stay there for long; after the soul-searching “Unfounded”, the perkiness returns.

I’m tempted to return to my original copy of The Old Believers to compare notes, to separate the new tracks from the old.  The extended edition folds in material from other scores, making it a new, standalone creation. As the film itself is only 24 minutes long, the expansion seems a gift.  But I resist the urge, preferring to take in the new music with the old, to listen for seams.  None are detectable.

The movie traces the attempt of Russian Orthodox Christians to preserve their culture in the new world. This time, we expect the timbres to be holy, measured, serene; and indeed they are.  A yearning is established in the early minutes and never abates.  Can the old ways survive?  Will our children honor our dream?  Should we have made this journey?  The newer films also deal with issues of immigration, making the collection even more timely.  In tracks such as “Clouded Was Every Prospect”, one can imagine gypsies, or crumbling churches, or Serbian refugees.  Whenever a single violin plays, echoes of evacuations emerge.  Dirges and elegies abound.  Tradition is a tricky thing, honored in some circles, derided in others.  Fritch’s approach honors the convoluted thoughts that surround the necessity of change.  By using new music to comment on the old, he offers a perfect musical metaphor.  Perhaps the old ways are worth saving after all.

Playing these albums back-to-back, one is impressed at the artist’s range of expression.  None of these tracks would fit well on the other album, yet together they form a symphony of sorrow and joy.  A debt of thanks to Lost Tribe Sound for opening their musical vaults.  (Richard Allen)

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