Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Rob - Maniac OST (album review)

Cover by Jeff Proctor.
Doom metal is the music of horror in tone, mood and evocation of feeling.  But on the big screen, horror filmmakers chose a different soundtrack.  For the score of his film, Franck Khalfoun, director of the 2012 re-make of Maniac, chose to hearken back to the days of the heavily synthesized drones of John Carpenter, who was setting the pace for horror composers everywhere at the time the original Maniac film came out, back in 1980.  Other recent films have gone down a similar route, the most notable and perhaps even the most successful that I've heard is the Jeremy Schmidt (of Black Mountain as Sinoia Caves) composed soundtrack to Panos Cosmatos's 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow.  Unfortunately there's no soundtrack album for that film (at least none that I know of, if I'm wrong about that let me know!), but there is one for Maniac, and you're going to read all about it here, if you'll indulge me.

Storytelling takes many different shapes and forms and they're all great.  There's the spoken word, there's writing and there's illustration.  You can take a photograph or a series of photographs to tell a story, you can even tell a story through interpretive dance.  Okay, let's say most forms of storytelling are great.  One of the most challenging ways to tell a story is through music.  For the most part however, the seemingly gargantuan job is broken down into a couple of easily digestible and incredibly easily understandable steps.  They are: theme and development.  Theme is a musical phrase which represents some thing, usually a character and development is all the ways in which the fickle hand of fate (that of the composer) screws with that character.  There's more to it than that, and almost always, composers are juggling several key themes which traditionally include a heroic theme, a love theme and a hopeful theme.  Add into this mix the element of live scoring a moving picture in the studio to match the images on screen and, whammo, you have all the ingredients on hand for a non-musical Tim Burton-esque jumbly disaster.  Fortunately, composer Rob (otherwise known as Raphaël Hamburger) like the sound of those Carpenter drones as well, because it helps to simplify things to an astonishing degree.

But Rob doesn't keep things as low key as and simplistic as Carpenter, Maniac's "Haunted" theme is a bustling metropolis of sounds moving at different paces, reflecting the urban environment in which the film is set, and matching the mechanical conveyances and synthetic canyons of the landscape for mood.  That's not to say that "Haunted", or any of the 14 other pieces of music on the soundtrack album are 'busy', it is actually quite spare, but over the course of the album's 31 minutes or so, that one basic key-driven theme roils in and out, creating a fugue of restless variation.  Typically, Rob uses a pair or trio of drones (Bass and  mid-range and sometimes treble) which is overlayed with a sequence of keys and DAT drums which alone have the freedom of movement.

The soundtrack works successfully on several levels.  Reflecting the urban setting is one, but the synthetic coldness of the music also works to reflect the psychopathic mind of the film's subject Frank Zito (played here by Elijah Wood).  It's a good thing too as much of the film is shot from his point-of-view.  Aside from those considerations, the soundtrack also works as a good piece of giallo film music and is a perfect mood setter for stalking wintry nights or writing intense scenes of villainy.  For fans of Carpenter, Sinoia Caves and Wendy Carlos's A Clockwork Orange soundtrack (of which the "Haunted" theme is a direct descendant), Maniac works on a purely musical level.  It also works on a storytelling level as, even without the aid of the accompanying visuals, we can hear Zito's descent into darker and deeper rings of hell, culminating in the sinister "Wedding Maze".  This effect can be achieved in many ways, drop a drone here or there to create feelings of isolation, get rid of the high end tones to convey shadowy and stony darkness.  This is the benefit of using multiple drones, it can create an emotional and tonal depth to the score not often found in the works of John Carpenter.  Where Carpenter would add a "stinger" to heighten terror at a given onscreen moment, Rob subtracts, downsizing his droning industry to achieve a similar, though not the same, effect.  Tension is the name of the game here and there's more than one way to play it, this is the fine art of storytelling.

Almost as an afterthought, the soundtrack album ends with a pair of notable tracks.  "Boum" is a minute long almost throw-away track that is a beautiful slice of AM radio gold, but the final track is called "Juno" and it's a bunch of dance/pop bollocks, but I just deleted it off my itunes when I picked this album up.  I almost forgot all about it in fact.  But this isn't music for dancers, unless they are dancers with the dead and those who like to throw in some horror music with their doom shouldn't miss out on this album.

Highlights include: "Haunted" and "Headache"

Rating: 3.5/5

1). Doll (1:46)
2). Haunted (3:40)
3). Double Trouble (1:02)
4). Bells (2:46)
5). Haunted Piano (1:35)
6). Headache (3:54)
7). Floor Light (1:09)
8). Haunted Sequence (3:11)
9). Slow Machine (1:23)
10). Floor (1:12)
11). Maze (1:38)
12). Headache City (1:57)
13). Wedding Maze (3:44)
14). Haunted [alternative version] (2:05)
15). Boum (2:05)
16). Juno (3:25)
Total Run Time: 31:54 (not inc. "Juno")

From: France

Genre: Electronic, Horror, Giallo, Drone

Reminds me of: BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Blizaro, Wendy Carlos, John Carpenter, Sinoia Caves, Werewolves in Siberia

Release Date: January 2, 2013


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