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
shouldnt 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