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I must admit Iím partial to do-it-all creative types. Perhaps itís an admiration for talent; perhaps itís a suspicion that a single vision can produce a higher art; or perhaps itís just that for a critic it makes it real easy to know where to point the praise . . . or lay the blame.

Happily, itís all laurels here for writer/director/composer, Alejandro AmenŠbar. Most actors will tell you that the average director comes with an in-built God-complex, so it probably wonít surprise the thespian brigade to find one in the form of a Trinity.

Taking on the first two roles is commonplace, so itís AmenŠbarís music that comes under the microscope. Such omnipresence, such dissolution of artistic demarcation, could easily be either blessing or blight on the creatorís own creation. Yet AmenŠbarís score isnít only suitable for his film, it is a superb work in its own right.

Horror/thriller soundtracks arenít immediately suggestive of great entertainment in themselves. What are you going to get? A lot of understated, unsettling ambience with a few clanging jolts that have no relevance except to support visual surprises? Ah, how easily our expectations are stifled by the plodding purveyors of a genre. AmenŠbar, on the other hand, has an expansive take. The mood here is a throwback to classic Gothic creepiness, and it is quietly, compellingly and masterfully evoked by his score.

For some reason denizens of Other Worlds seem to have a great sensitivity to Earthly locality. Over in the USA they spook us out with Elf-Man-styled epic choruses and manic, cascading strings. Back in England, haunting is more mannered, though every bit as menacing. And AmenŠbarís spectral sensibility is spot on. From the opening cueís melodic woodwinds we are seduced with ambiguity. It isnít the psychological ambiguity of The Turn Of The Screw; but it has that same sense of something sinister lurking in the midst of an idyllic countryside and its grand old manors. The screw is twisted sharp to the supernatural here, with that finely tuned perception that the scariest notions lay just a notch away from innocence and imagination.

This orchestral work is full of rich timbres from solo instruments and small sections. It is the antithesis of the big bombastic Hollywood sound. AmenŠbar demonstrates a wonderful talent for short, captivating phrases that melt into each other, evolving by degrees. Instead of big, repetitive motifs to hook us in, there is an intricate web of melodic development to tweak our innermost fears. Close your eyes and you will be caught up in a sense of the surreal, but donít be fooled into categorising this as The Seventh Sense. AmenŠbarís score isnít innovative but it has a distinctive characteristic, most evident in the effectiveness of its restraint. Not the restraint of minimalist melodies, but the measured pacing of violin-led dramatic cues and the deft use of space in the instrumentation.

To top it all off AmenŠbarís liner notes display a charming humility. (Whereas I would have suspected it required a big head to wear his three creative hats.) "I just feel sorry for my flatmates, who have had to suffer my less than inspired moments," he writes. Any composer knows that the vicissitudes of creation arenít always pretty, but itís the final result that counts. I trust AmenŠbarís flatmates got a copy of this soundtrack. If so, theyíve been so thoroughly compensated that they should be doing AmenŠbarís housework for a year. Unless, of course, they listened to it with the curtains drawn. In which case his only remaining flatmates are doubtless the ghosts of their jitters.
Brad Green

Published May 2, 2002

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TITLE: The Others

ID: SK 89705

Sony Classical

COMPOSER: Alejandro AmenŠbar

CONDUCTOR: Claudio Ianni

PERFORMED BY: The London Session Orchestra


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