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Howard Shore: Crash Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1996) October 18, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Howard Shore: Crash

Howard Shore: Crash

Howard Shore’s soundtrack for Crash, the David Cronenberg movie based on the J.G. Ballard novel, is of my favourite movie soundtracks ever, and one of very few that wouldn’t sound out of place played between albums by, say, Robert Fripp and Robin Guthrie.

The main instrument is electric guitar, but it’s not rock music at all. In many of the tracks, reverbed guitar is the only noticeable instrument. The fourth track begins with a woodwind, creating a more contemplative tone; the fifth features some strings and prepared piano as the music becomes more discordant. The ninth features ominous noise and percussion, sounding like isolationist ambient music, and the tenth primarily features strings, with the album expanding its musical palette beyond guitars as it progresses, but never leaving them behind. And, thanks in no small part to the opening titles theme, the guitars are what come to mind when I think of this soundtrack. It’s textured and experimental enough to suggest avant garde music or postrock, but it still has melodic motifs. It’s not aural wallpaper. And not only does it work in the context of the film and on CD, it worked wonderfully as a live performance, too.

In 1998, the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa held its second “Generations XYZ New Music Festival.” The first event was Crash: The Music of Howard Shore. Shore conducted a group of musicians in a newly arranged version of the music composed for the film. Following that, there was a discussion on scoring for movies, featuring both Shore and David Cronenberg, which lasted maybe 40 minutes. And then a showing of Crash.

The musicians included six electric guitar players, three harpists, and flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, and keyboard. Quoting from Robert Markow’s notes in the program:

The concert suite… brings together approximately fifteen musical sequences from the film arranged in chronological order lasting about three-quarters of an hour. The ensemble consists of essentially three timbral groups: guitars and harps, percussion, and woodwinds. ‘The piece is about harps,’ says Shore, and the three harps do indeed constitute the focus of the score. The guitar writing is derived from the harp music, and in a sense the three harps function as a single unit, with the harps acting at times like bass guitars. (The two episodes in the film employing a fifty-piece string orchestra have been arranged for guitars for tonight’s performance.) The percussion consists of metal sculpture, tuned gongs, prepared piano, and miscellaneous everyday metal objects. Woodwinds… are used as solo voices.

The harps may be the focus, but in the music as played the guitars dominated. They were loud, but clear and precise. Quite enjoyable.

The Shore/Cronenberg discussion had some good moments, but the moderator asked a few too many silly questions, and eventually the discussion was derailed by an audience member who wanted to get into a discussion about Cronenberg’s philosophy.

The concert was supposed to be recorded for CBC Radio’s Two New Hours program, but it never aired. It’s a shame; I was hoping to tape it. I would have loved to supplement the soundtrack CD with this alternate version.

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