American director/editor Eliot Rausch’s short film, Limbo, tells the story of three “undocumented” students who live in East Los Angeles. As part of a “social experiment”, each student were given a hand-held video camera for three months in 2012 and asked document their lives. Rausch then edited the footage down to make this twenty minute documentary. What we see is how each student balances their lives between trying to get an education (they want to become either a lawyer or a journalist) and working to support the rights of illegal immigrants (in one particular sequence it’s noted that their best way to avoid being deported is to to get involved rather than to shy away from the spotlight and remain anonymous). Within this there’s also the small matter of surviving from day-to-day on the fringes of society. Composer A. Taylor was asked to score Limbo after the director heard the music he had provided for a church communion.
Taylor’s score is very guitar-driven. He uses both acoustic and electric guitar to emphasise the Mexican origins of the immigrants and to add – when required – a forward dynamic to the score. The opening track, “Act I: The Introductions”, contains most of the elements that go to make up the score: acoustic guitar that provides the energy to the images at the beginning of the film, as well as giving a Latino emphasis (e.g., here associated with the mother of one of the students). This initial cue also features various synth ambiences that gives the score a constant aural presence in the film (there is very little of the film that has no musical underscore). And we also hear a string motif that seems to be associated whenever there is reference to community (whether family or the wider community). The latter half of “Act IV: Prayer & Study” is another example of where this string motif is heard.
For me, the heart of the score lies within the seven minutes of tracks four and five, “Act IV: Prayer & Study” and “Act V: The Dreamers”, respectively. In the former, acoustic guitar emphasises family and its roots via the strong use of the Latino style. The strong bond of family and their drive to succeed is stressed by use of guitar rhythm that underpins the melodic line of the track. At this point, the music is a particularly strong support for the images of the students’ struggle for day-to-day survival and longer-term success (e.g., preparing bread in a tiny kitchen to sell to make money or studying at college). Following on from this cue, after an initial passage for solo acoustic guitar, the majority of “Act V: The Dreamers” builds carefully to a two-part crescendo (using guitar, piano and wordless vocals). For the first crescendo, the journalism student talks of their common goal of standing up for all those who are “undocumented” (i.e., paperless illegal immigrants) and Taylor’s music adds a noble quality. The second, even greater crescendo, sees an act of civil disobedience (in the form of a sit-in). The final cue, “Act VI: In Limbo”, then provides a satisfying conclusion to the 20-minute score, bringing together all the elements used by the composer and emphasising that the students’ struggle – to gain legal status – is a continuing one but that they have the strength to succeed and will endure.
Adam Taylor’s music for Limbo is an enjoyable listen as a stand-alone listening experience and is an effective documentary score, for the most part, in that it supports the images by stressing the values of the film’s participants and their drive to succeed. As already mentioned, it manages to do this without being too intrusive – a quality to the composer’s music was learnt when providing music for prayer and reflective study periods in church. However, there is one point in the score where the music did become quite intrusive: the music moved away from being a documentary score and had the qualities more associated with a score for a dramatic film. During the latter half of “Act V: The Dreamers”, the students are forcibly removed from the offices of lawyers involved immigration law enforcement. As the students emerge from the building to a waiting crowd of supporters, Taylor emphasises the moment though the second crescendo of the music (mentioned earlier). Although the reinforcement of a documentary film-maker’s point-of-view or emotional state of the film’s subject is one of the many roles of music of this type, I felt that the use of such an obvious device such as a musical crescendo seemed too unsubtle and, somehow, too manipulative when heard within the context of the music written for the rest of the film. I thought that that scene would have been better served by having less musical theatrics and focusing more on the image. But this is only an isolated complaint. Taylor’s score for Limbo is a score that has contributed significantly to the film’s success and the music has been well received, as evidenced by the influx of new project opportunities as detailed at the composer’s website (http://386music.com/). The music for Limbo is recommended particularly for it’s enjoyable emphasis on guitar and is available to purchase as a digital download at the composer’s Bandcamp page. Eliot Rausch’s film can be viewed in full HERE.
The score can be listened to in full HERE.
- Act I: The Introductions (3:31)
- Act II: Lonely Guitars (3:29)
- Act III: Moving Frames (1:58)
- Act IV: Prayer & Study (4:15)
- Act V: The Dreamers (3:16)
- Act VI: In Limbo (3:29)
Running Time: 19:59