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"What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil? Perhaps more dreadfully, what happens if our dreams shuffle off before us? When there are no things in heaven and earth dreamt of in a philosophy save for the next hit of toxic chemicals to keep reality at bay.

I have not yet seen the film, but by all accounts it's a brilliant and harrowing assay of the downward spiral precipitated by drug-addiction. And the soundtrack arrives with an enormous reputation. For mine, it's an enormous disappointment.

Composer Clint Mansell garnered reverential acclaim for his work on Pi (also a collaboration with Requiem director Darren Aronofsky), and no-one seems prepared to truncate the diameter of his halo. Here, his squarely pulsing string figures are reminiscent as a concept of Michael Nyman's scores for Peter Greenaway, but with approximately 3.1416 percent of the effect.

Tonally, the music is interesting. A string quartet melded with techno-electronica is a fascinating palette. Sadly, Mansell hardly dips his compositional brush into more but the blandest tints. This soundtrack is an enticing aural framework with a blank canvass inside.

Which means it simply doesn't work divorced from visual context. A life bereft of dreams is hopelessly dull. So are soundtracks like this bereft of specific images. If its aim is to render in sound a trudge towards an awful inevitability it succeeds. As underscore it probably creates the right milieu. Alone, its recurring phrases, jarring minimalism and heavy reliance on experimental timbres are as easy to sit through as an extended recording of a jackhammer.

Kronos Quartet do produce an impressive sound. Thick harmonic beds and mordantly incisive stocatto interweave with samples of scratches, scrapes and ominous rustling. The curiosity value suffices for a while, but not for long. There are all styles of art that are harrowing and riveting. This music is harrowing and tedious. Or perhaps harrowing because it's so tedious.

Two marvellously chaotic and all too brief sax & percussion-rich extravagances from The Moonrats (with vocal cameo from Aronofsky) at least interrupt the predictability. They are vivid concoctions of oxymoronic sound: sublime dissonance, smooth syncopation and seemingly familiar melodic surprises.

Then all too late, Meltdown, the antepenultimate cue featuring erratic tempo shifts and a coda that mimics its title, suggests the not only experimental but also entertaining score that might have been. What a shame.

There's no denying that as the backdrop of a descent into devastation this soundtrack does create an appropriate ambience. Like glorified muzak for a one-way elevator to the abyss."
Brad Green

Published: February 8, 2001

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See Alistair Harkness' interview with director DARREN ARONOFSKY

TITLE: Requiem For A Dream

ID: 7559-79611-2
Nonesuch Records

COMPOSER: Clint Mansell

FEATURED PERFORMERS: Kronos Quartet (David Harrinton, violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola; Jennifer Culp, cello)


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