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Review by Brad Green:
Innovative. Experimental. Ambitious. But is it any good?

This is one of those scores that is defined by its determined eclecticism. When youíre partial to variety, like I am, you must be vigilant against being too easily impressed by sonic montage. Even in this age of postmodern liberalism, only so many composers are brave enough to mix and match and attempt to fashion new structure. Thus those that do earn brownie points for effort, no matter. The further issue is one of congruity. Thatís what separates the class from the contrived and the progressive from the pretentious. Whatever the quality of components, stick them together without structure and you can end up with the voice of a mutant chimera.

Gregson-Williams plunges headlong into boundary blurring here. The engaging pastiche of Chicken Runís patterned parodies was chook-feed compared to this self-imposed challenge. All manner of world music influences, of exotic scales and oriental instrumentation are serried with driving techno beats, atmospheric sampling and traditional orchestral composition. Itís a perilous venture, but the wonderful thing is that the composer pieces these elements together into a complete and spectacular jigsaw puzzle.

Cues such as Red Shirt begin with sequenced rhythms and sampled ambience, only to stretch seamlessly into traditional symphonic fabric. The strings rise and fall, the melody becomes romantic for a moment, the timpani enter to charge the drama and we think we are back in familiar scoreland Ė until the next cue kicks off with a high energy dose of electronica.

Electronic scoring is familiar territory for Gregson-Williams, and for those who find the aggressive drive of plastic percussion uninviting there are moments in this score when the pump and thud might seem like itís about to grind you down. But each time the composer ameliorates such fears with a segue to a Middle Eastern flute or a beautiful, transcendent choral passage.

Similarly, for those who balk at the thought of non-western modulations, the ethnic influences make for far easier listening than say the equally ambitious, but more extreme Moroccan flavours of Howard Shoreís score for The Cell.

Buried in all the experimentation are moments of genuine thematic romanticism. The short, but lovely, piano motif of Muirís In The Hot Seat and Youíre Going To Miss It could easily be cornerstones of a more traditional approach, but here the listener must be on the alert, for any distraction will lead to the latter cue title.

There is no formula as to why this all works save for the Gregson-Williamsí sensibility. It is his taste and timing that gives the score a sense of logic. Unbridled eclecticism is a dangerous game, but this innovative soundtrack is a winner.

Published February 28, 2002

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TITLE: Spy Game

ID: 44001 61902

COMPOSER/CONDUCTOR: Harry Gregson-Williams


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