MYSTERIOUS SKIN – Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd

Original Review by Alan Rogers

Mysterious Skin is a recent independently-produced movie that explores the effect of childhood sexual abuse suffered by two boys and the consequences of their experiences in later life. Director Gregg Araki is keen to acknowledge the extent to which Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd’s ambient-style score adds to the overall nature of the movie; stating in the liner notes that he feels that the score is the “heart and soul” of the movie, with the movie’s “dreamy feel” coming directly from the music. Scottish-born guitarist/producer Guthrie, co-founder of The Cocteau Twins, and American avant-garde, minimalist composer/pianist Budd have collaborated to produce a score that has received widespread critical acclaim with the music being described as “meditative”, “ambient”, “sparse” and “hypnotic”.

Spread over fifteen tracks, the freedom given to the composers in producing this score is clear for they have composed a very personal score, free from any obvious influences and based around dreamy guitar chords, manipulated keyboards and percussion. Much of the score features repetition of small phrases – particularly on guitar – that induces an almost hypnotic trance in the listener (the early cue “Snowfall” is a good example). The use of a low-key synth “wash” that suffuses through cues such as “Neil’s Farewell” and “Childhood Lost” emphasises the ambient nature of the score. unfortunately though, as a listening experience, having listened to the first three or four tracks there’s not much more that’s new in the rest of the CD; cues with titles such as “Neil’s Farewell”, “Halloween” and “Brian’s Nightmare/The Unknown, Part One” all sound pretty similar even though the cue titles suggest that there’s going to a bit more musical variation. To be fair though, this criticism highlights the score’s role in the movie of providing an ever-present mood to the on-screen developments and it is these developments that provide the differentiating colour and variety to the emotional environment established by the music. Guthrie and Budd’s score provides forty-five minutes of ambient and hypnotic music that, when pushed to compare with other scores throws up scores such as Brain Transeau’s Monster and Howard Shore’s Crash.

Independent movies are providing fruitful opportunities for composers and the freedom to experiment with both styles and sounds. As a result, many innovative scores are being composed. Labels such as Commotion Records are emerging as being instrumental in providing an avenue for a wider audience the opportunity to hear these efforts. However, sometimes, with increased innovation comes a more difficult listening experience. As background music for a rainy day this may be the CD of choice, but there’s just not the variation required in this score to make it a worthwhile listen and my interest dwindled after about ten minutes.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  1. Neil’s Theme (2:14)
  2. The Memories Returning (2:08)
  3. Snowfall (6:30)
  4. Neil’s Farewell (2:31)
  5. Childhood Lost (2:38)
  6. Halloween (3:18)
  7. A Silhouette Approaches (2:28)
  8. Goodbye To Wendy (2:46)
  9. Brian’s Nightmare / The Unknown, Part One (4:04)
  10. Twilight (3:46)
  11. The Unknown, Part Two (2:11)
  12. The Discovery (2:27)
  13. Loitering (3:38)
  14. The Writing On The Wall (1:50)
  15. One True Love (2:31)

Running Time: 45:00

Commotion Records (2005)


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