Unlike the original experimental scores composed for the short films by the Brothers Quay, Christopher Slaski's music for The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is a more pleasing, albeit quixotic collection of original cues, classical adaptation (Vivaldi's “Nisi Dominus” is used as the film's main theme), and adaptations of Trevor Duncan's stock music (branded “The Unwanted Suite”).
The Quay Brothers' animated works are bizarre in their plotting, weird characters, and brilliantly obsessive bits of grotesque characters and spinning/spiraling/threaded objects.
That quality is readily evident in “1 st Automaton,” which brings back the score's vocal incantations, accompanied by rust-tinged strings and a slow, undulating bass line, recalling a bit of Christopher Komeda's eerie Rosemary's Baby music. Way more terrifying is the echo-enhanced “4 th Automaton,” which adds chilling knocks that pepper the distant background and suddenly appear centimeters from your neck. The stereo and surround-like imaging is really unsettling, and this isn't a cue to be played late at night when you're alone.
“Assumpta Attempts the Seduction of Felisberto” repeats the slow, cool jazz ambiance of “Sexuality and Sensuality,” and it's a cue that adapts the Vivaldi theme for a silky pairing of string bass and light electric guitar. A variation of the slight melody (which recalls elements of Alex North's score for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) also reappears in “Assumpta and Felisberto Enjoy the Sunset” via acoustic guitar, though like a number of the album's cues, the length is often restricted to around a minute. (The theme does get a lovely gilded Renaissance arrangement in “The Opera and the Earthquake,” which uses a small chamber orchestra plus female vocalist in a nearly 6 min. cue.)
Vintage mono recordings of Trevor Duncan's Unwanted Suite close out the CD (along with another vocal cut from Slaski's stereo score), and make for some marvelously atmospheric listening. Performed by small orchestra with moody jazz ambiance from solo and interwoven woodwinds, the suite's first two cues (“The Boy”) more or less plays with a 6-note theme, whereas two cues for “The Girl” initially introduces a new theme that's later interwoven between sparse quotations of “The Boy” theme.
“The Girl” was also adapted by Slaski in both versions of the “Love Theme,” played again played on harp during the first half. It's one of the album's highlights, though some jazz fans might find the melody eerily familiar, particularly in Slaski's sharp arrangement: there isn't a reference on the album's liner notes, but it bears a striking similarity to Gato Barbieri's main theme for Last Tango In Paris.
It's beautifully rendered on harp, and the cue shifts to another cool jazz version of “Sexuality and Sensuality,” with metal brushes shimmering on cymbals, but the similarities between the Duncan and Barbieri themes really stand out. (Maybe Tango's director Bernardo Bertolucci had a temp track prior to engaging Barbieri and Oliver Nelson?)
This album marks MovieScore Media's debut CD release (distributed exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment), though it's also available as a downloadable MP3 album from iTunes and MovieScore Media.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan