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MP3: Max Manus (2008)
Review Rating:   Excellent
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January 20, 2009

Tracks / Album Length:

19 tracks / 45:14


Composer: Trond Bjerknes

Special Notes:

Available as a downloadable MP3 album.
Comments :    

Trond Bjerknes’s score for this epic Norwegian WWII film is a low-key, gripping score that offers a fine mix of action and sombre suspense cues with a heavy emphasis on strings and vibrato-rich tones. Bjerknes integrates subtle, atmospheric electronics, mostly to deepen the bass dynamics in cues like “Donau Attack,” or create a shimmering effect in “Burning the Archive,” but the real emphasis is on unresolved harmonics, dragged out tones, and a near-absence of any melodies.

A rare exception is “Liquidations,” which introduces a piano and a short melodic fragment, but the brief cue quickly morphs into another harsh piece with a tense finale. “Tikken and Max” pairs solo piano with violin for a tender, slightly Barryesque theme that flows like a lullaby. A fragment of the melody also appears in the ambient “Execution,” before being obliterated by a searing wave of agitated strings.

Max Manus (2008) has pockets of propulsive cues, but the use of percussion – electronic or organic – is fairly brief, if not impressionistic. The long track “Limpets on Aker” concludes with thickening percussion hits, and beautiful layers of sustained strings and harshly bowed celli, whereas staccato wooden sticks follow a swelling string intro in the cue “Control Post.” Here Bjerknes adds sharply bowed celli and discrete piano in a syncopated dance, and sweetens the 7-note motif with a glassy-metallic tonal echo that bleeds from right-to-left channels. It’s a simple cue through which the composer reveals his solid skill in crafting rhythms and variations using a very limited orchestral palette.

Once could argue the composer took a slight nod from Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho (1960) and crafted a “black & white” score using primarily strings, but one suspects the reasoning for emphasizing strings so heavily in Max Manus are the rich textures he’s able to mine, and the psychological effect of restricting the use of brass, percussion, or woodwinds.

By keeping the for focus on a grim, ‘panchromatic’ sound in the score’s first third, any grain of melody or warm tones has a greater impact on audiences; the gradual shift towards melody near the end, as in the concluding “Max Manus” with solo piano, gives us a bit of closure. The “End Credits” quotes the prior theme, but in a more tragic guise, with full waves of beautifully intersecting groups of strings.

The deceptive simplicity of Bjerknes’s writing gives the score its power. One only wishes the cues weren’t so brief, as Bjerknes’s could craft a gripping symphony from this artful work.


© 2009 Mark R. Hasan

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