ARMADILLO – Uno Helmersson


Original Review by Alan Rogers

Janus Metz’s Danish language documentary film Armadillo was met with critical acclaim when released in 2010. This “fly-on-the-wall” documentary follows a group of Danish soldiers during their tour in the Helmand Province region of Afghanistan. Swedish-born composer Uno Helmersson (who has worked on numerous projects with Johan Söderqvist) has composed music for a number of short films and documentaries and with his score for Armadillo he chooses to give the dramatic images a minimal, dark and ambient score that is full of tension but which is, in the final analysis, of limited interest as a stand-alone listening experience.

Composers who write music for documentaries have a difficult job as the music serves a different purpose compared with a dramatic, narrative film of fiction. And the day-to-day life of a soldier tends to be one of extended periods of the mundane and inactivity, interspersed with tension-filled patrols and the prospect that, at any moment, a situation can (literally) explode in front of them. Unfortunately, Helmersson’s score mimics these soldiers’ experiences in that the music for the film is full of ambient music and soundscapes that I find not particularly interesting after a while. Strings (the score is played by members of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra) feature heavily in this score, with long lines heightening the tension. Part of this string-based ambience is a repeating, meandering string motif that reminds me of Philip Glass (“Camp Armadillo” and “Home To Denmark”). This ostinato pattern immediately sets up a sense of tension and uncertainty. Partnering the orchestral music (in equal measure) is processed sounds (including processing of recorded instruments). This soundscape must play an effective role in supporting the tension on-screen, but tends to make the album drag on a bit. The soundscape heard in “The Watchtower” is reminiscent of Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien³ but, unlike Goldenthal’s excellent score, there’s not much respite from this ambience and this means that interest in the score does begin to wane. 

There are instances where the score does become more animated. “Enemy Forces” features a heartbeat-like synth beat that, in any other score would probably go unnoticed, but here is worth mentioning because of the music that has gone before it. In an interview featured at maintitles.net, Helmersson describes the presence of one theme within the score. Played on the cello (by Anna Dager), the appearance of this theme gives the score some emotional clout (“Home To Camp”), but it features in the score only occasionally.

Armadillo is a score that, I would imagine, is the ideal musical accompaniment for a war documentary film. But it is a difficult one to enjoy as a stand-alone listen. It’s far too long (running to almost an hour in length) and could do with being cut down to half the length. This would allow cues such as “Home To Camp” or tracks that have a bit of more than just ambience (e.g., a sense of geographical belonging in “Flying To Afghanistan”) to be heard rather than being lost in amongst the soundscape. Armadillo is available at most online retailers as a digital download.

Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.

Rating: *½

  1. The Parade (1:51)
  2. The Airport (1:48)
  3. Flying To Afghanistan (1:20)
  4. Camp Armadillo (1:13)
  5. Rules of Engagement (1:12)
  6. First Patrol (1:32)
  7. First Patrol (CD Version) (3:22)
  8. Night At Armadillo (3:06)
  9. The Watchtower (1:36)
  10. Second Patrol (1:09)
  11. Enemy Forces (2:34)
  12. Home To Camp (1:55)
  13. Time Passes (0:39)
  14. Udfeldt Hurt (3:28)
  15. Pumping Iron (2:38)
  16. Searching Enemies (2:11)
  17. Dead Girl (1:45)
  18. Wounded Soldiers (3:05)
  19. Warfaces (1:24)
  20. Before Shooting (1:47)
  21. Wounded (2:20)
  22. Helicopter (1:13)
  23. Talibans Killed (1:59)
  24. Motorcycles (0:59)
  25. Fucked Up Land (1:57)
  26. Fucked Up Land (Alternate Version) (1:57)
  27. Swimming (1:14)
  28. Home To Denmark (5:36)

Running Time: 56:58

Helmer (2011)

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