Unfinished Spaces is a film that documents the creation and subsequent decay of the National Schools of Art in Havana, Cuba in the 1960s. Commissioned by Fidel Castro, three architects designed a radical series of buildings that reflected the sense of optimism and the opportunity of change during the early years of the Revolution. However, as the actual realities began to set in, construction of the schools was halted and the architects, together with their designs, fell out of favour with the established political climate. Film-makers Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray’s documentary follows the three original architects as they return to Cuba at the invitation of Fidel Castro 40 years after their dream projects were halted, in order to attempt to restore the school.
The music for Unfinished Spaces is composed by Giancarlo Vulcano, a composer of independent projects who has been co-music director for the comedy 30 Rock for the last five years. Over the last two years, Vulcano has collaborated with the directors to give the film a score for a small ensemble of musicians (string quartet, trumpet, saxophone, percussion (from Cuban percussionist Dafnis Prieto) and additional guitar and synths (played by the composer himself)). In his score, there are two distinct aspects. On the one hand there’s music that embodies the Cuban life at the time of the Revolution (optimistic, light-hearted, etc). There is also a more orchestral score that is quite modernistic in style and reflects the schools’ radical architectural design. But it also reflects the decay of the buildings over the years and their symbol of a wasted opportunity.
It is the orchestral music that makes up the majority of the score. There’s very little in the way of romantic string melodies here. The music is very bare for the most part, very structured (e.g., pizzicato strings are used frequently in the score). The cues tend to have the various instruments being used in a very structural (architectural?) fashion, being added layer upon layer as the cue progresses. Tracks such as “Planos” and “Special Period” highlight this technique well: pizzicato strings are used as a framework over which different instruments are then added (piano, trumpet, saxophone) to generate the finished product. The use of saxophones, as well as the minimalist slant of using building-blocks in the form of small motifs (and variations of these motifs), all leads to a very Michael Nyman/Philip Glass feel to several of the tracks (“Lo Ideal del Campesino”, “Pisar Tierra”, “Cuba Is Free”). This can be a bit distracting to the listener.
Five of Vulcano’s cues for Unfinished Spaces feature Cuban-influenced rhythms and inject a bit of lighter relief from the modernistic score. Dafnis Prieto’s use of percussion is the foundation for these playful tracks and Vulcano adds piano (“Me Siento Bien Aquí”, “At The Country Club”), saxophone (“At The Country Club”, “Something Different”) and strings (“Escuela de Gottardi”) to give very listenable pieces of music. “Todavía Nos Queremos” brings all these elements together in a very satisfying penultimate track. Mention should also go to “You Take It Or You Leave It”. Here, Prieto’s use of the drum kit sounds almost improvised, jazzy, leaving the listener breathless with his playing.
As with a lot of scores for documentary films, Vulcano’s music for Unfinished Spaces is more a series of ideas that are stated at the outset of the track and either repeated, or built upon and modified as the cue progresses. A connecting thread between the cues is seen more in the re-appearance of musical techniques such as the pizzicato strings or specific musical ideas (such as the spare trumpet motif heard in cues such as “Lo Ideal del Campesino”, “Planos”, “The Best In The World” – which I tended not to like). These aspects of the score, together with the inclusion of several Cuban-influenced tracks, makes Unfinished Spaces an interesting and mostly enjoyable album and well worth tracking down either at the usual online digital download stores or on CD through the label’s website (www.distantsecondrecords.com).
Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.
- Unfinished Spaces (0:58)
- Me Siento Bien Aquí (1:16)
- You Take It Or You Leave It (3:02)
- Lo Ideal del Campesino (2:33)
- Planos (1:35)
- Muy Poca Suerte (1:50)
- At The Country Club (2:31)
- The Best In The World (3:04)
- El Arquitecto de Fidel (1:57)
- Pisar Tierra (2:19)
- Un Viejito Maravilloso (1:12)
- Papaya (0:55)
- No More Ballet (1:29)
- Something Different (1:57)
- Escuela de Gottardi (1:44)
- Pasamos por Muchas Cosas (1:54)
- No Era Fácil (1:58)
- Special Period (2:29)
- Todavía Nos Queremos (4:49)
- Cuba Is Free (2:20)
Running Time: 42:03
Distant Second Records (2011)