January 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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House of Sand and Fog  
Music by James Horner
  Available On: Varèse Sarabande VSD-6532 ;
Running Time: 69:46
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house of sand and fog

Once again a Horner soundtrack album arrives with a generous amount of music; or rather over-generous because its relative lack of variety, especially in its largely unremitting mournfulness and relentlessly slow tempi, it rapidly becomes tedious. Moreover, all is atmosphere with very little substantial as a strongly stated theme. Alas, this score qualifies for the category 'OK for the film, but not OK as a listening experience'. Take, for instance, the track, 'Parallel Lives, Parallel Loves' which is little more than long held bass chords supporting slowly unfurling piano scales and simple patterns that soon tire the ear.

House of Sand and Fog is heavily biased towards the strings. Tracks with titles like 'The Waves of the Caspian Sea' and 'A Return to the Caspian and to the Iran of Gold' suggest Middle European musical influences. The opening 'An Older Life' is an enigmatical mix of lower strings, synth swirlings and finger bells with wordless feminine chorus intoning long-held chords presumably to denote the Iranian influence. 'Waves of the Caspian Sea' is a gently swaying, undulating string study with heavy bass treads (later heard in other parts of the score with percussive piano and choral figures reminiscent of those used in Titanic); and tolling bells hint at tragic loss. This is one of the strongest tracks in the score and there is even the hint of a theme developing. It is followed by a study in cool remoteness, 'Old Photos, New Memories' beginning with a sad piano solo, before middle strings add some warmth. 'This is no longer our house' adds some interesting effects with pronounced exotica in the shape of some very curious lower string pizzicato figures in Eastern rhythms with percussion and finger bell colourings.

The longest track (15 minutes), 'The Shooting, Payment for Our Sins' has some interesting material with more pointed drama and slightly faster tempi, to hold the ear. The basic material already stated is developed and the 'liturgical' atmosphere is quite marked with some Copland-like music that suggests middle-America. (The film's story concerns a vicious dispute over the ownership of a Californian coastal bungalow between the original owner, a young girl who had the bungalow seized by Pacific County and the Iranian immigrant family who then acquired it when it was put up for sale)

Disappointing Horner. A tedious, repetitive score, except for a few novel effects. Horner is treading water.

Ian Lace

*** 3

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