In places ambient to the point of non-existence, Michael Brook's score for
Paul Schrader's Affliction may be just what the director ordered,
but offers little to hold the attention as an album. Paul Schrader provided
the screenplays for the two last films scored by Bernard Herrmann Taxi
Driver, and the vastly under-rated Vertigo homage,
Obsession. Both benefited enormously from superb musical scores. Indeed,
Obsession is graced by one of the finest film scores ever written.
Yet while there was always an intensely human emotional fire at the heart
of Herrmann's musical darkness, since Schrader has become a director he has
sought the most minimally uninvolving of scores, from American Gigolo,
through Blue Collar to Affliction. Such music may support the
film, but fails to add the extra dimension a great score can, to the extend
that Schrader's films so often seem lifeless, detached, clinical.
Affliction is a bleak character drama of a life unravelling against the snowbound
landscape of rural New Hampshire, and the score reflects this stark drama
in cold, emotionally drained soundscapes which are solemn, sober and unforgiving.
Tempo and mood barely change, as Brook mixes string quartet, guitars, French
horn, percussion, bass and electronics into a chill portrait of a disintegrating
world. Melody is far away, and often little seems to be happening, for this
is a score of minimal affect, where atmospheric textures are all. There are
places where an electronic drone is all that is required, while elsewhere
a steel guitar picks out the skeleton of a theme, the string quartet offer
a chill lament, or sampled strings simply exist - a backdrop to the most
pared-down of cinematic visions.
Michael Brook, perhaps most famed for inventing the 'infinite guitar' (which
is featured here) is an acclaimed musician/composer in the territory between
modern jazz and ambient/experimental music, and has worked with Brian Eno
and The Pogues, as well as providing music for The Captive, Heat and
Albino Alligator. He is obviously skilled at what he does, but this
disc's rightful home is perhaps as post-modern elevator music for a company
marketing itself at the cutting edge of contemporary culture.
Gary S. Dalkin