Michael Nyman - Composer in Progress
Director: Silvia Beck
Picture format 16:9 NTSC; Sound format LPCM stereo; Subtitles GB, DE, FR,
ES, IT; Region Code 0 (worldwide)
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101483 [52:00]
Michael Nyman is one of those figures I discovered in the 1970s, when he was
then an “experimental” composer. One of his early recordings was on Obscure,
a label run by Brian Eno. I followed his work for several years, notably on
an early cassette called Recent English Experimental Music (listed
as the oldest release on the discography page of his
website), then on From Brussels With Love, a compilation from the
now-defunct Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule, and through his
soundtracks for short and long films by Peter Greenaway.
Nyman has since had a success that has brought him into the mainstream. His
breakthrough was his soundtrack for Peter Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s
Contract, where Nyman created a fusion of 17th century English music (notably
Purcell) and minimalism that hit a nerve at the time. Nyman continued composing,
including scores for other Greenaway films, until his big hit, in 1993, with
his soundtrack for Jane Campion’s film The Piano, which has sold more
than 3 million copies. Nyman’s fusion of minimal and classical, together with
often strong rhythmic structures, makes his music among the most accessible
of the minimalists.
This documentary presents a brief overview of Nyman’s music and career, with
a pretty standard structure. Interviews with the composer, interviews with
musicians who play in his ensemble, short excerpts of performances, clips
of the composer in various countries, and so on. The film is competent and
moves along at a nice pace; the 52 minutes pass quickly. But, like most such
documentaries, it barely scratches the surface of a career as long as Nyman’s.
It also lacks any longer performances, which would allow viewers the better
to grasp Nyman’s music. It turns out that there is a second edition of this
documentary in a 2-DVD set, which does contain a short concert; if you’re
interested, look for that version instead.
This is a good way to get a glimpse of one of the most interesting composers
of the last few decades, and one who has always made music his own way, performing
with his own ensemble: the Michael Nyman Band, a group of a dozen musicians.
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville
This documentary doesn’t go very deep but gives a nice glimpse of the career
and music of one of the most interesting of contemporary composers.