Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
rob + = email

2011 March 14 • Monday

The Japan Society in New York City has started a disaster relief fund. You can donate online here. I can't think of anything else to say.

Now back to our regular programming.

The 156th Soundtrack of the Week is Howard Shore's Crash.

This is the 1996 Crash, David Cronenberg's adaptation of J. G. Ballard's novel, not the Crash that won Academy Awards.

With the exception of The Dead Zone, Howard Shore has scored every Cronenberg movie since 1979's The Brood. Shore even turned Cronenberg's movie of The Fly into an opera.

Crash isn't my favorite Cronenberg movie, though it's the last one I enjoyed watching. It is one of my favorite soundtracks, though, and one of my favorite albums for rainy days and glum moods.

The first thing in its favor is the ensemble: six electric guitars (called electronic guitars in the liner notes), three harps, three woodwinds and two percussionists. The music was electronically manipulated after the recording, giving Shore unusual freedom.

The first track, "Crash", sets the tone and establishes the musical theme of the movie. Electric guitars create swirling atmospheres out of which individual guitarists lash out with assertive phrases. It's slightly reminiscent of some of Fred Frith's guitar quartet music, or the interplay between Marc Ribot and Robert Quine on Ikue Mori's Painted Desert.

"CineTerra" is similar but sparser and less threatening. It includes subtle and effective use of odd-sounding percussion.

"Mechanism of Occupant Ejection" returns to the "Crash" theme with the addition of some otherwordly wails from the percussion, or electronic manipulation or both.

"Mirror Image" begins with flute and harp and is almost pastoral. The sheen of reverb and a slightly metallic gloss to the sound subvert this idea, and eventually the electric guitars return and take us back to the unnatural world of the film.

"Where's the Car?" is the first track that sounds like some, but not all, of the guitarists are using distortion. There was an overdriven quality to some of the guitar lines on "Crash" but the opening guitar notes of this cue snarl loudly. Some inventive electronic manipulation takes the music into outer space for the last minute.

"Sexual Logic" is similar to "CineTerra" but sparser. Eventually a haunting melody is played by the flute.

"Road Research Laboratory" features the guitars and percussion. It sounds like there's been some manipulation of these instruments, but it's hard to tell how much.

"Mansfield Crash" is a return to the "Crash" theme, but with an atmopshere of greater dread established by the ominous sounds that support the guitar parts. Bits of this reminded me of Bill Frisell around the time of the Power Tools band.

The first half of "Chromium Bower" doesn't feature any recognizable instrument. It could be guitar or harp or percussion or almost any combination of instruments that have been electronically transformed into unearthly sounds. Halfway through a flute comes in with a quiet and minimalist part. It ends with electronic noise that sounds like things breaking.

"A Benevolent Psychopathology" introduces a string orchestra, swelling in a manner similar to the electric guitars. As you might expect, it sounds more like Howard Shore's other soundtrack work than anything else on the album. It's great underscore with an Akira Ifukube quality to it at times.

"Two Semi-Metallic Human Beings" begins with a clarinet that soon gets absorbed by the musical atmopshere. The string orchestra seeps in here and there, again echoing the electric guitars from the theme. The percussion is a key player here, playing dark, chime-like tones.

"Triton" starts out with what sounds like somebody playing the inside of a piano, but perhaps it's a manipulated harp. The electric guitars are back with their familiar swirling, mesmerizing lines.

"Accident… Accident…" sounds like a blend of the guitars and the string orchestra both with and without electronic distortion. It has a druggy and queasy sort of sound.

"A Crushed Convertible" has some quiet background noise and some echoing, minimalist guitar playing upfront.

"Prophecy Is Dirty and Ragged" is the longest piece on the record, and begins as a reprise of "Accident… Accident…". Two minutes in, the string orchestra, without a discernible electronic presence, plays some urgent suspense music. This gradually becomes more lyrical, then tapers off into something similar to "A Benevolent Psychology".

I love this record. I'm curious to see the movie again and find out how I react to it fifteen years after its release.