Imagine browsing through the latest digital releases at your favourite online store, absent-mindedly clicking through album after album of film/TV scores you’ve never heard of, written by composers that you haven’t come across before. Then you upon a score that stops you in your tracks and, in a moment, your attention has been grabbed and you are immediately focused on the next 30 seconds (the usual length of the online store’s audio clip for those who don’t frequent online music stores for digital releases). Eric Babak’s music for Die Eylandt Recherche is great example of just such an experience. It is immediately arresting.
Described as a “mystery documentary” or, perhaps more accurately a “mockumentary”, Die Eylandt Recherche (The Eylandt Investigation) is a German-made film that tells the story of an investigation to uncover the truth behind claims that a German family held captive three individuals in their cellar for several decades after World War II. The investigation uncovers evidence to suggest that the captives may have been of alien origin. Featuring interviews with so-called experts, archival footage, shots of apparently true newspaper clippings and official documents, as well as fly-on-the-wall documentary-styled sequences of journalists’ investigations, the film did not receive a particularly positive reception upon release in 2008. Despite a strong pre-release campaign involving the production of a significant online and print presence for the film (via blogs, forums, newsletters and a book). A low budget, poor acting, and a second-rate script were all cited as a reason for its negative reception.
Belgian composer Eric Babak’s score is of a completely different quality. It gets off to a great start with the fantastic “Secretum Meum”, a portentous powerhouse of a track featuring male and female choir who work alongside strong, ominous strings and percussion to deliver an exciting theme that forms the basis of the score. The Russian State Symphony Cinema Orchestra and (particularly) the Choir of the State Academic Choral Chapel of Russia weave in and out of one another sustaining a piece of music that is strong enough to play as a concert piece. A variation on this theme continues in the second track, “Dorma Exoinos” (a variation theme associated with the eponymous character, Josefine Eylandt). Choir and orchestra again feature strongly but the tempo is held back somewhat and now the music takes on a more reflective tone.
The majority of the remainder of the score features straight variations on “Secretum Meum” and “Dorma Exoinos”, including orchestra- and choir-only versions of the latter (the choir-only version of “Dorma Exoinos” – Track 17 – stands up particularly well on its own). The album is not all theme variations. Tracks such as “Mr. Singer’s Tragedy” and “Behind The Thin Wall” offer some respite from the numerous versions of the theme, with strings, wailing voices and rumbling electronic tones introducing atmospheric segments. But statements of “Dorma Exoinos” aren’t too far away from even these more ambient tracks. For me, two versions of “Josefine Eylandt’s House” are the “bad apples” of the score – even the greatest scores can have a few. Suffixed with the qualifiers “Clubmix/Radiomix by JCA”, these are a couple of electro-pop-styled ambient tracks that seem completely out of place on the album (save for some sampled choir and a version of the ubiquitous “Dorma Exoinos”) and are best forgotten.
Babak’s score for Die Eylandt Recherche contains some of the most powerful choir and orchestra music I have heard in quite a while. Both “Secretum Meum” and “Dorma Exoinos” have been getting numerous repeat plays since I came across the album in April 2012. But, I have always wondered how such a strong piece of music would fit into a film: it could be so strong that it is just too over-the-top in ANY film. And my worries were compounded when I discovered that the score had been written for a film that played as a documentary! Having watched the film I am not so sure that Babak’s music does, in fact, fits. Predominantly playing under the voice-over narration (at least initially), the classical feel to the score does add a bit of portent to the dialogue and the low-level mixing of the music does lessen the effect of the bombast of the choir and orchestra. However, the whole feel of the music is somewhat out of place. And it feels completely inappropriate when Babak’s dramatic music moves from being a backdrop to the narration to serving as an underscore to the journalist investigation segments of the film. That just doesn’t work at all. Perhaps the film-makers wanted the film to be over-the-top, taking a dig at this style of film and asked for a score that would also be too extreme for the film genre? Or perhaps the whole project was so badly imagined that the music is just inappropriate. It’s difficult to know from watching the film as it’s in a different language from my own. (There are a couple of English-speaking interviewees who seem to be such wooden caricatures and obvious stereotypes that it is still difficult to decide between parody or just poor film-making.)
How the score works in the film and how inappropriate it seems as a score for a film of this type raises a dilemma. Babak has composed a cracking piece of music but I don’t think that it works particularly well as a film score. Should I recommend it on the basis of the music itself rather than dismissing it as a poor film score? For me, Eric Babak’s score for Die Eylandt Recherche contains music that demands to be listened to again and again. The fact that most people are unlikely to have seen or will want to see the film makes the discussion on how well it works in the film largely irrelevant here. Therefore, Die Eylandt Recherche is heartily recommended. At the time of writing the album is available at a variety of online stores as well as in CD format.
Audio samples can be found HERE.
- Secretum Meum (3:55)
- Dorma Exoinos (2:32)
- Dorma Exoinos (Instrumental) (2:15)
- Habitare Arca (1:47)
- Exoinos (Original Intro Sequence) (0:31)
- Something Unexpected (0:44)
- Josefine’s Letters (1:02)
- Mr. Singer Is Taking Action (0:55)
- Mr. Singer’s Tragedy (1:25)
- Another Try To Get In Contact (0:34)
- Behind The Thin Wall (1:53)
- Not The End (1:02)
- Do You Believe? (0:31)
- What’s The Truth? (1:20)
- Josefine Eylandt’s House (Clubmix By JCA) (6:14)
- Josefine Eylandt’s House (Radiomix By JCA) (2:43)
- Dorma Exoinos (Choir a Cappella) (2:09)
- Something May Be Hidden (0:18)
Running Time: 31:57
Babak Music LC (2008)