WALKING ON WATER: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
You can say a great deal with just a few piano chords. If you choose the right chords. The piano has the least distinction and the most versatility of all timbres. It is pure and elegant; brimming with harmonic potential for even the solo player; and ultimately providing a challenge to the listener to extrapolate tonal character from the mood of the music.
On this soundtrack, Sydney composer Antony Partos finds just the right mood, with just the right chords. These are played simply, economically; elaborated with no more than a few passing double stops and barely a hint of an arpeggio. The mind is given time to wander, to ponder, to tiptoe across a pond of possibilities.
Although I haven’t seen the film as yet, the synopsis suggests perilous territory for a composer. It would be easy to reach for maudlin melodies, but Partos selects a more controlled sensibility. With the straightforward piano motif as anchor, a whole array of strings, acoustic guitar, uncluttered bass and drums and assorted lush samples prevent any risk of the score sinking into minimalist ambience.
Partos’ production is exquisite. Every sound, every tonality deserves its place. Even while the atmosphere closes in, even with the spectre of death and grief in the background, the instrumentation continues to breathe.
There is no better example of this than in the soundtrack’s title song. The top end is all bell-like and reverberant; the bass warm and powerful; the drums tight and full of presence; and Sarah McGregor’s vocal as clear as if it were shoved ridiculously forward though it actually sits perfectly in the mix.
McGregor sings with restrained emotion. Her phrasing on both the title track, and an abridged version of The Church’s Under The Milky Way, possesses a refined elegance. There is not a hint of sentimentality, but her precise diction and musicality allow lyrics and melody to speak for themselves.
Australian cinema often produces traditional orchestral scores and nostalgic rock soundtracks that are world class. It is more uncommon for it to deliver this kind of contemporary cosmopolitan score. Reflecting universal themes, the classical expertise shaping the soundtrack’s arrangements are augmented by a highly modernistic sound design – exemplified by the fact that a couple of techno-oriented tracks pound away quite comfortably in the midst of incidental cues.
Most impressively, Partos manages to evoke a sombre atmosphere without allowing his score to ever feel weighed down. Lying somewhere between the pensive and the elegiac his music echoes the ambiguities of life; and stepping lightly across a fluid surface guides us to a place of reflection.
Published September 26, 2002