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SOMERSAULT: SOUNDTRACK

Review by Brad Green:
Listening to ambient music can be like staring at the clouds. It can seem to hang in the air like a dull mass, or you can perceive in it whatever weird and wonderful shapes you will. For instance, Heidiís Theme the opening motif of this AFI award-winning soundtrack is built around a simple chimes melody. I could say that it sounds remarkably like my doorbell. Or that it evokes delicate rain, each tear of liquid glass emitting a tinkling sigh as it shatters on the earth. You can apprehend this music at any point on the spectrum from dreary to poetic, and whisk from one end to the other with a simple nudge of your state of mind. 

The band behind the music are the Australian electro-rock outfit Decoder Ring. They havenít been around for long and itís a fine effort to take AFI honours with their soundtrack debut -- albeit that the AFI ceremony was seemingly usurped this year by a trophy giveaway to anyone remotely involved in the Somersault project (at least three awards for Best Catering wasnít it?). Decoder Ring have collected critical acclaim and considerable airplay since their formation in 2001, and to their credit the music here sounds crafted to the purpose rather than a band album with cinematic tweaking. On the other hand, ambience is the genre of choice for those unwilling or lacking the skills to create a unique soundscape for a film.

Wistfulness pervades the music. The filmís narrative revolves around a teenager who has runaway to snowy mountains at a time of confusion in her life. The soundtrack describes not so much her inner turmoil as the setting in which she tries to resolve it. The opening chimes herald an album full of delicate minimalism, with reverb and empty space as foundations of the arrangements. The chimes are joined in the first track by glockenspiel, and throughout the score we get bells and music box effects and sundry metallic percussion, all made fragile and reflective with the reverb, echoing in every direction like the tiny fragments of an exploded raindrop. Various accompaniments add detail to the atmosphere. Strings in stolid chords bring a soft whiteness to a cue entitled Snowflake. Acoustic guitar is backed by accordion, with a chromatic ascending pattern in its harmonies, to take us to the rarified atmosphere of Alpine Way. 

Very occasionally the ambience is punctuated with a sense of angst or urgency. Edgy guitars are propelled by strict cymbals in the cue Rough Sex. Higher Higher features a bass line straight from an old school funk workout. 

A couple of dreamy songs are realised with a youthful female voice, ethereal to the point of sounding disembodied. She seems to be floating into a fog or hypnotised by a steady rhythm of snow or rainfall. Contemplative. Pensive. The cynical side of me might say, drowned in pathetic fallacy. But in its best moments the ambience is indeed less about the sound of nature than the sound of pondering nature. The music is neither brilliant nor innovative but it does provide a pliant canvass for the imagination. You can drift from one feeling to another within repetitive bars of the same cue. Like lying on your back staring at the sky, closing and re-opening your eyes, and seeing a new face in the same cloud. 

Published December 23, 2004

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REVIEWS

TITLE: Somersault
ID: 33727 003622
MUSIC BY: Decoder Ring
TRACKS: 15







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