CD: Blackwood (2014)

July 10, 2015 | By


Blackwood2014Score: Excellent

Label: Lakeshore Records

Released:  May 18, 2015

Tracks / Album Length:  15 tracks /58 mins.

Composer: Lorne Balfe

Special Notes:  n/a




For this ghost tale, Lorne Balfe conjures his inner Philip Glass and has a lot of fun with spiraling, elliptical minimalist patterns and thematic material.

Whereas the opening cues are reduction material, performed with light organ and gentle piano, things get dark fast at the end of “Exploring the Woods” with cloudy tones and a thunderclap. Balfe soon wades into murkier waters where all sorts of atmospheric sounds ease in. “Meeting Jack” is short and lovely for the mere sensation of taking steps into a dark, still pool of water and watching each gentle ripple trail off until its completely out of sight in the surrounding darkness, whereas “A Masked Boy” is all shades of high and low notes, with a pulsing beat reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

The ghost of Herrmann may also reside in that cue’s finale (the winding down pulse and alternating high notes on woodwinds placed over thick strings), but modernism also creeps between the low woodwinds in “Worry,” as Balfe brings in heavy brass stabs and bass-heavy thuds. The cue’s resolution is all snarling, spiraling figures on strings reminiscent of The Ring (2002), where minimalist thematic material is churned out by angry celli.

The Glassian organ keys (a la Candyman) return in “An Explanation,” and the cue’s a perfect example of the broad emotional spectrum Balfe invests within the score. A good chunk of the album’s final tracks range between 6-9 minutes, making Blackwood a bit of a musical poem, wherein musical elements occasionally spin out of control, and colliding material might fling out small bits of aural shrapnel.

A great example is “An Explanation” that starts slow with sustained material before Balfe brings in the score’s most addictive element: a crazy pirouette with a skipping pattern, as a fiddler plays madman to gently swelling chords to the left side of the stereo image. A harp brings in a locked ticking motif, and the cue closes with an assortment of grungy string vibrato and trailing tones.

The score’s most radical element is a heavy exhalation of wordless chorals that appear in “Four Chimes,” but while the cue initially begins as a liturgical statement, it quickly develops into a pulsing action cue, with the motor coming from a great amalgam of Celtic drum, a subtle flanging effect, and grinding cello. Each element is placed in precise areas of the stereo image so the gentle chorals can slowly approach from front and gradually trail closer to the left-right sides, enveloping the listener. The pirouetting fiddle returns for a brief period before warm chords close the cue, accompanied by heavy percussion thunderclaps.

The score ends with “Candenza” featuring a demented fiddle before a main theme restatement (“Blackwood”) recalls the full orchestra, and shifting groups of various strings create waves of striking warm colours. The choral theme breaks off with a warmness that’s slightly evocative of Alfred Newman’s high strings before faint chorals and percussion quickly bring the score to a firm and decisive close.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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