CRASH – Howard Shore

Original review by Alan Rogers

Howard Shore’s score to David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 movie Crash is a very difficult listen. Based upon J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel of the same name, Cronenberg’s movie explores another extreme of human behaviour; in this case, the human fascination with death and the tendency to eroticise danger. In the movie, James (James Spader) and Catherine Ballard’s (Deborah Kara Unger) sex life is reduced to recounting tales of mutual infidelity. Then, after being involved in a head-on collision James Ballard finds himself increasingly associating with a “cult” of car crash fetishists. The rest of the movie is a series car crashes (or their aftermath) juxtaposed with sex scenes, all in an effort to provide a “cautionary tale of industrial society’s tendency to dull the human senses.”

Shore has taken the opportunity to experiment with his music. In the liner notes he explains that “…75% of the score was composed while 25% was mutated after the music was recorded”. His approach here is to focus on the emotions, or more specifically, the lack of emotions being played out on-screen. Six electric guitars, 3 orchestral harps, 3 woodwinds and 2 percussionists make up the bulk of the score. The ensemble provides a very metallic, almost industrial sound that presents very little in the way of thematic material. Rather, there are motifs that recur throughout the score resulting is the generation of soundscapes within which the on-screen characters play out their lives. There are very few occasions where the music reflects any on-screen “action”. The music is impersonal, with electric guitars forever moving monotonously forward; monotonous, but yet arousing (“Crash”, “Mansfield Crash”, “Accident…Accident…”). Woodwinds are sparingly used and tend to appear during the more intimate (organic?) moments (e.g., “Mechanisms of Occupant Ejection”, “Mirror Image”). A small string orchestra appears twice in the score (e.g., “Prophecy is Dirty and Ragged”) and both times it appears that the characters on-screen may actually care for one another – but, it may only be skin deep.

This is a very isolating score; it doesn’t really invite the listener into the music. It performs very well on-screen but for many people the approach Shore has taken will mean that the music itself is not very appealing. I think that the various soloists show a high degree of discipline in the way they play their respective parts – always being careful not to impart too much emotion into the score. And the end result? A score that can be greatly admired rather than enjoyed and, for me at least, produces a great sense of bleakness. For anyone who comes to Howard Shore’s work via his mammoth Lord of the Rings scores, this will be (as with several of Shore’s previous scores) difficult going. But, ultimately, it is a rewarding listen.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  1. Crash (3:36)
  2. CineTerra (1:04)
  3. Mechanism of Occupant Ejection (2:05)
  4. Mirror Image (3:24)
  5. Where’s The Car? (2:39)
  6. Sexual Logic (4:07)
  7. Road Research Laboratory (2:12)
  8. Mansfield Crash (3:37)
  9. Chromium Bower (3:38)
  10. A Benevolent Psychopathology (2:22)
  11. Two Semi-Metallic Human Beings (2:22)
  12. Triton (2:45)
  13. Accident…Accident… (2:59)
  14. A Crushed Convertible (1:55)
  15. Prophecy Is Dirty and Ragged (5:48)

Running Time: 44:36

Milan Records (1996)

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