March 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Ty UNWIN Vets in the Wild    produced by the composer BBC WMSF 6018-2 [64:40]

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Once upon a time there were documentaries and soap operas, and the former had nothing to do with the latter. Then a new beast emerged to roam the televisual landscape. The 'docusoap' was cheaper, less demanding and more popular. It soon made the 'quality, serious documentary' seem like a very dull and old fashioned animal indeed; though a few can still be observed, timidly appearing out of peak hours, or tucked away on BBC2 and C4, where they hope to evade extinction. Meanwhile, the 'docusoap' flourishes, television for ordinary people to come home from doing their ordinary jobs, and watch other ordinary people doing their ordinary jobs. Inevitably, some of the ordinary people videoed doing their ordinary jobs became popular in their own right, going on to become television presenters, famous simply for being famous for becoming famous by appearing in a 'docusoap'. Thus we have Vets in the Wild, an African wildlife 'documentary' designed to showcase the appealing personalities and photogenic looks of Trude Mostue and Steve Leonard, two young vets the BBC have followed being ordinary from student days. Without them Vets in the Wild would not exist. It is instant television, cute and fluffy as a kitten, but rather more disposable.

And here is the problem with the music as an album. The score is the work of a young composer by the name of Ty Unwin, and he is clearly very talented. Unfortunately, given the nature of the series, he has not been given much money with which to produce the score. As a consequence he has produced an almost entirely sample-based work. He had previously composed the score for Born to be Wild, another documentary set in Africa by the same producer, and the working relationship was apparently such that a very interactive method of score creation was developed.

Unwin wrote several themes, and from these chose those which would be developed for Vets in the Wild. Then he created a series of complete musical pieces, to which the TV show could be edited. The process was then refined, with much to-and-fro between footage and music, music sometimes written to edited sequence, sometimes video being edited to score. The generous view is that this is the same sort of interactive collaboration enjoyed by Prokofiev and Eisenstein enjoyed on Alexander Nevsky, or Williams and Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET. The less generous view, that Unwin was forced to take the old and cheap TV method of creating a series of library tracks from which the producer could take selections. Reading between the lines of the booklet notes, the reality probably lays somewhere between the two.

The plus side is that the music appears in 12 quite lengthy and well-developed pieces. The negative side of the equation is that the music, being built from samples, often sounds too clinical. Some sounds are deliberately synthetic, others attempt to replicate real instruments. The synthetic sounds are fine, as, astonishingly are the sampled voices. Where the album sometimes falls down is in the sampled 'real' instrumentation - the percussion and piano in the opening 'Sun East' are particularly poor. Mixed in with sound-effects and layered in short extracts behind voice-over, the music is less noticeable, and works well. When exposed to CD the digital precision of the sound over extended sequences begins to become irritatingly domestic, ironic when it is intended to capture the dynamic, vibrant excitement of a Western perception of the untamed wilds of Africa. It is doubly a shame, because the writing itself is often most melodically attractive.

There are real strings on one track, and some appealing vocals by Dawn Foxall on a third of the disc, but it would have been a much more rewarding release had these tracks simply been the demo, the penultimate stage before going to a real orchestra. As it is, the album is a slightly uncomfortable hybrid, pitched somewhere between an electronic concept album and a conventional score release. The sound has as much in common with Mike Oldfield and Vangelis, as with a more traditional score. Unfortunately, it does not have the quality of those artists best work. It is, like the show from which it springs, undemanding, pleasantly diverting, and all too disposable. I do though look forward to hearing what Ty Unwin might produce with a decent budget, as he clearly has the talent: here he works comparative wonders on the most limited of resources.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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