With 24 IMDb listings to his credit, it’s no surprise that Jim Copperthwaite‘s debut album sounds like a soundtrack. The question is, what kind of soundtrack? Ballroom Ghosts is the score to a new home, an elegy to empty spaces and a love letter to classic cinema.
Seven years ago, Copperthwaite and his wife moved to a quiet place in Somerset. They converted an old hayloft, noticing herbal intrusion and jackdaws on the roof. The more at home the composer felt, the more he mused on the residue of former residents: psychic imprints, notes embedded in the walls, the echoes of ancient dancers. Could they somehow be alive ~ not in the cold sense of The Shining and The Caretaker, but in a comforting manner? And so he began to tease out their stories.
When listening to Ballroom Ghosts, one hears hints of eras not too long ago ~ the generation of our grandparents, perhaps, but stretching as far forward as our folks. The album is filled with ballroom music, including numerous waltzes and piano segments reminiscent of Debussy’s “Snowflakes Are Dancing.” The press release wisely picks up an Elfman reference, and again one thinks of winter, in particular the penguins of “Batman Returns” ~ but also the ice scene of Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” (James Newton Howard), 1978’s “Ice Castles” (Marvin Hamlisch), “Fantasia” (numerous composers) and pretty much every courtly romance portrayed on film. Copperthwaite does more than reflect on the history of his village; he re-invents “Cinema Paradiso” in aural form.
The freedom of operating without a director is that Copperthwaite can contribute his own narrative: no incidental cues, no desperately repeated motifs. Instead, he offers a series of related vignettes, each with its own magical tone. When one hears the flutes of “Like Butter,” one thinks of dancers bowing and curtsying; but the woodblocks are reminiscent of cartoons, the choral flourishes “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It’s as if all of cinema met in a frosted forest to exchange ideas.
We don’t know of any other living farmer/composers. The combination delivers a rustic quality: like spending a night with friends watching a movie that everyone has seen before and wants to see again. The outside world never intrudes. The music is transporting, allusive, suffused with a sense of joie de vivre. Whenever it returns to earth ~ the center of “Cold Light”, marked by music boxes and ivories ~ it sounds like a bedtime story, which also means the beginning of dreams. And what are dreams if not a combination of memory and imagination, the pairing of which Copperthwaite captures so well? He’s not only gone looking for ballroom ghosts; he’s coaxed them from their corners, and invited them to dance again. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 15 December