Matt Schrader’s Score was a 2016 documentary that offered an array of insights from composers and stories behind some of the most interesting and best-known movie soundtracks of recent years, as well as providing an all-too-brief look at the history of film music. It attempted to crow-bar too much into its 90-minute running time, though, and focussed on Hollywood from the 1970s onward to the virtual exclusion of everything else. So, barely any time for Ennio Morricone and the merest nod to the wave of synth-based soundtracks that were prevalent for a while – no John Carpenter here, but plenty of time spent in the recording studio as an orchestra gave life to the Minions soundtrack.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Score skipped past the synth soundtracks was that the sound was very much of that era (about 1978 – 1985), whereas the sound of a full orchestra has never gone away, especially when it comes to the big blockbuster movies. Also, a sound that was unmistakeably contemporary in 1983 didn’t always suit a movie set in, say, World War II. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence had a haunting theme, which was a hit when David Sylvian added vocals to make “Forbidden Colours” but may have benefitted from acoustic instrumentation. Given the numerous times he has re-visited the title track, whether with piano, string ensemble, or Alva Noto, it’s reasonable to imagine Sakamoto feels the same way too. He’s gone for the piano and field recordings with occasional strings option on his latest soundtrack release, which certainly provides a more timeless feel to the work – although it’s nothing as straight-forward as a sequence of wistful piano undulations. There are some short but challenging pieces on here as well.
The Staggering Girl is a short movie, directed by Luca Guadagnino of Call Me By Your Name fame and starring Julianne Moore and Kyle MacLachlan. It features the couture designs of the Valentino fashion house so you might, at this point, be drawing your own conclusions about whether it’s a concise masterpiece, an arthouse bagatelle or an overly-long advertorial. Either way, we get 20 or so minutes of Ryuichi Sakamoto on the soundtrack and that’s enough for me. The opening title theme features the gentle waves of a piano’s lullaby, before being pushed to one side with the industrial ambient noise of “Woman In Yellow” divided into three parts, where the theme eventually resurfaces.
For all the album’s brevity, the music does have space to breathe: the strings of “Night Garden” suggest poplars swaying in the breeze, in “Roma” they creep up out of the looming darkness. Two mixes of “Dance” conclude proceedings, breaking out the drum kit for the first one in what amounts to an unwelcome change of tone from what’s gone before. Stripping the drums away for the ambient version fits in with the feel of the rest of the soundtrack. But one minor rhythmic misstep isn’t enough to detract from the deft work throughout The Staggering Girl. It sweeps through different moods but the arrangements remain sparse, with plenty of room for the listener to fill in their own images. It’s proof once again that there’s more to creating a compelling soundtrack than just throwing an orchestra at it. (Jeremy Bye)