Classical Music Review: New Releases

The Insider  × Music from the Motion Picture.  Composers Gerrard, Bourke; Revell; Santaolalla; Massive Attack. Columbia/Sony CK 69918.

Although director Michael Mann has been typed as a crime genre specialist, his projects manage to be absolutely unique.  Strikingly visualized, deeply atmospheric, and character-driven, they're also classic and completely contemporary in subject matter and point of view.  His films, Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Heat (1995), and this one, are noirs because his people often find themselves pitted against unknowable forces.  And who but Mann could find dimension and poetic depth in our relentlessly superficial world?

The principal composers on The Insider, Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke, use the sound resources of the modern studio -- synths, sampling, electronic alteration -- with acoustic instruments to get something unknowable.  Gerrard is a founding member of the Australian transcultural group Dead Can Dance and a remarkably expressive singer, and her partner here, Pieter Bourke, is a singer-keyboardist-percussionist-remixer.  Their work blurs distinctions between genres -- elements of pop, alternative rock, world beat, ambient and classical (medieval, Renaissance, and contemporary, especially minimalist techniques) are blended together.

The opening cut, "Tempest," thought culled from one of their albums, is a perfect accompaniment to the main title sequence in which a blindfolded Lowell Bergman is driven to a 60 Minutes interview with a Lebanese sheikh, because it throws us into a strange new world: a song and dance in an Arabic mode with keening vocals, finger cymbals, hand drums and other percussion as well as what sounds like an oud (North African lute) over a driving beat.  Another striking cut, "Sacrifice," comes from one of their CDs too, and depicts Dr. Jeffrey Wigand's anguish -- he'll blow the whistle on the tobacco industry -- and solitude, with voices floating over a bare synth percussion.  The other cues the pair composed directly for the film are just as effective and moving, especially the slowly layered "Subordinate," and the very spacious "Liquid Moon" with its forbidding modulation and eerie changes in texture.

New Zealand born film composer Greme Revell (born in 1955) has used arresting sonorities in scores for thrillers like Dead Calm (1989).  His extremely effective music here is based on and complementary to that of Gerrard and Bourke.  But cues like "Palladino Montage," a mini fugue with extremely dry attacks, seem more in his own voice (Revell and many other film composers are the subject of a Billboard book by Jon Burlingame to be published in Summer 2000).  Mann has also used pieces by three other composer-performers, Gustavo Santaolalla, Jan Garbarek, and the UK trip-hop band Massive Attack, which point up the drama and enhance the meditative spell this picture casts.  The Insider is a major accomplishment from all concerned.  Its soundtrack should make the distinctive work of all these artists better known.

Michael McDonagh
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