January 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

 Debbie WISEMAN Warriors Soundtrack to the BBC television film conducted by, and featuring piano solos by the composer BBC WMSF 60192 [45:32]

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Here is the contradiction: men trained for war, under orders to keep the peace. The enormously powerful BBC drama Warriors follows a British battalion of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 1992 (it is actually one of two recent BBC dramas produced to mark a century of conflict, the other being All the King's Men). Their fellow soldiers, those sent to Northern Ireland, think of Bosnia as a soft option. Warriors shows it was anything but, to be ordered to not intervene to save the lives of people you know are going to be massacred, people you have in some cases come to know, even to love, but always, even if total strangers, human beings. Thus Warriors is about the gulf between war and peace, and about the purgatory between. It is also, through the soldier's relationships with wives and sisters and girlfriends and grandmothers, and with the women they meet in Bosnia, about the gulf between men and women. Almost entirely, men cause the violence, the women endure, and towards the end of the drama, bring new life into the world. The unaccredited artist who designed the cover of the CD latched onto this theme: a woman, warm, in colour, looking at a man, cold, in black and white, who is looking away from her, at us, or at nothing. Alienated, lost in a personal hell amidst a collective one.

Without music, Warriors would be such a dark, documentary-like portrait of hopelessness and despair in the face of human evil as to be all but unwatchable. In such a drama the choice of music becomes vitally important. Director Peter Kosminsky chose wisely in selecting Debbie Wiseman as composer for the film - they had previously worked together on The Dying of the Light. Her music provides the humanity the soldiers gradually sacrifice in order to cope in a nightmare reality. It is never melodramatic, always understated, a lament, yet filled with such beauty as to be inherently optimistic. If beauty can still exist, then so can hope, and while the film ends, schematically, in the depths of despair, Wiseman's eloquent music suggests that order can yet be resolved out of chaos, that redemption begins at the darkest moment of the long night of the soul.

The first 15 minutes of the film is set in England, and shows the soldiers off-duty, at home with family or out on the town. Apart from a brief title, there is no score, only source music. Then the battalion is in Bosnia, a patrol is driving slowly though the streets of a city. We, with the soldiers, have been transported to an alien world. The music, 'Arrival in Vitez', records this with understated intensity. The men are alone, overwhelmed, in a world of deprivation, a harsh city of tower blocks and sporadic violence, yet they are safe, protected by their UN status while around them is death. They are stunned, and the music reflects the enormity of the transition.

I asked Debbie Wiseman about her about her approach to the score, and this is what she said:

I was left completely emotionally exhausted after I first saw "Warriors". Such a powerful piece needed careful scoring and after many discussions with the director Peter Kosminsky we agreed that the sadness of the piece shouldn’t be over-sentimentalised in the music. I composed a central theme which was woven through the film, using ethnic voices and flutes, strings and percussion. It was intended to sound as naturalistic and effortless as everything else in the film - almost like a Bosnian folk song that could have been heard by the soldiers while they were there.

It is these voices, this song, which is the real stroke of brilliance, so obvious, that like all great scores, it seems inevitable, after the fact. The first time I heard a sound like this was on Kate Bush's Sensual World (1989). Bush used a trio of Bulgarian female traditional singers on several tracks, and the result was extraordinary, certainly in pop music at that time. Here there are four voices, Mary Carawe, Helen Hampton, Mae McKenna and Nicole Tibbels. From the recorded sound one would not know that they were British, (Mary Carawe has recently appeared on several Chandos releases, while singer-songwriter Mae McKenna has at least one solo album to her credit which is stylistically more Celtic than central-European). Here the quartet sound entirely appropriate to the setting, and the recording makes the voices distant, detached, their emotional power implicit more than dynamically explicit. The women mourn, while all around the world collapses.

The music is used sparsely, there is just 45 minutes of score in a drama lasting 174 minutes. It is music of grave, austere beauty, solemn, sombre, reverential. Spare and unflamboyant, this score says exactly what needs to be said to shine a light in the darkness. In the stark string textures, and the resigned yet infinitely expressive sound of the voice or the wooden flute, there is something of the spiritual quality of the music of Avo Part, of the clean, elevated sound obtained by recordings on the ECM New Music label. It is appropriate, as if this music has been purified in the flames of conflict, and survived, refined.

Each of the 17 tracks is perfectly crafted, such that the album flows as a single work, if not in form, then in function, a requiem. Wiseman's themes are simply heartbreaking in their tranquil sadness, and as such, singling out individual pieces is less effective than considering the score as a whole. That said, the piano solos of 'Nothing to Say' and the final 'Far From Home' (played by Debbie Wiseman herself) express more than writing about them ever can, while the vocal sequences capture the endurance of war more powerfully than Oliver Stone ever achieved with his appropriation of Barber's Adagio for Strings for Platoon. Warriors is a very fine film, something we have to a very large degree to thank Debbie Wiseman for. Equally, the soundtrack release is an exceptional album, one of those rare discs to be recommended without reservation.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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