ORPHANS & KINGDOMS – Giovanni Rotondo

Original Review by Alan RogersOrphans and Kingdoms

Orphans & Kingdoms is a New Zealand drama written and directed by Paolo Rotondo. Three troubled teenagers break into a holiday home to taste a life much removed from their usual experiences. When the businessman homeowner returns the kids attack him and making him a hostage in his own home. However, as a series of flashbacks slowly reveal, the man has demons to keep hidden and the presence of the teenagers act as a catalyst to bringing old wounds to the surface. The score is composed Italian-born composer and orchestrator Giovanni Rotondo, whose recent works include music for the documentary film, Ilaria Alpi: L’Ultimo Viaggio and the TV drama Il Giudice Meschino.

“Alone” opens the album and we hear acoustic guitar play an attractive melodic line made up of a base motif that is given a number of pleasing variations. Breathy shakuhachi and mandolin gives an interesting texture to a hesitant bridging passage before a boy’s voice then adds a dreamy feel. This single track sums up a number of devices Rotondo uses throughout the remainder of the score. As with “Alone”, “Sweet” is another early example of how the composer takes an idea and builds the cue via a series of musical variations using a limited palette of instruments. A primary tool from the composer is the use of music to establish textures with emotional resonance rather than to follow the on-screen action. From reading the film’s synopsis as well as other material, it’s clear that using music to support the interactions between characters rather than driving the film by mirroring the action scene-by-scene is what’s required. Another recurring tool, is the use of instruments such as shakuhachi and erhu; instruments most associated with the establishment of geographical location. Again, reading background for the film, the use of these instruments in this way doesn’t seem particularly related to the storyline (in terms of implying geography). The aforementioned shakuhachi, ocarina and erhu all appear in the score but their usage is very subtle. The shakuhachi is heard at the commencement of a number of tracks (e.g., “Alone”, “Scotty”, “Danger”) and occasional tones from erhu (e.g., “Alone”, “Bad Kids”, “Goodnight”) colour the score. Used only occasionally, these instruments seem to feature only for the quality of their tones rather than for any required geographical signposting.

As well as the acoustic guitar, piano (played by the composer) features significantly in the score. After the dark and mysterious opening to “Scotty”, solo piano plays a motif that has a distinctly hesitant quality about it. It’s a motif where the silences between the individual notes seem to have equal weight in conveying feeling. This technique is particularly noticeable in track 4, “Worries”. It’s a motif that seems to be particularly important in some way and appears in a number of different guises. It undergoes subtle transformation in tracks such as “Father & Daughter”, where the motif is played by guitar and the base motif undergoes some subtle changes in its construction. And the motif seemed to turn up in more places the more often I listened to the score (e.g., “Alone”).

Other noteworthy tracks include “Dreams”, the longest track on the album. The breathy shakuhachi returns and low sustained strings – as well as dissonant, higher register strings – give the score its first period of outright tension. The dreamy, innocent vocals heard earlier in the score return but now there’s the presence of a second voice that has a distinctly more threatening feel to it. The two voices engage in some sort of two-way conflict that’s not really resolved. It’s a very eerie passage. The track ends with dreamy pizzicato strings alternating with a celeste-type motif. “Bad Kids”, a track unlike any other featured in the score, features strong urban-styled percussion rhythms as well as various synth textures. Ocarina and erhu are added into the mix also. Acoustic and electric guitar, together with piano, create an effective level of increasing tension as “Drugs” progresses. Again, as with a significant portion of the score, subtlety is used so that there’s not that much change in the dynamic of the track but the tension is significantly ramped up. “Kingdoms & Orphans” (a bonus track not featured in the film), brings the album to a close, drawing together a lot of the main elements heard in the score.

Orphans & Kingdoms is a “slow burner” score; one that grows with increasing listens. The initial listen was slightly underwhelming due to the emphasis on creating tracks based upon textures (via repeated motifs) and because of my lack of understanding of the seemingly misplaced use of distinct instruments such as shakuhachi and erhu. However, as mentioned earlier, repeated listens result in a better appreciation of the subtleties of the score – driven by the character-driven story – and features of the score I’d missed early on reveal themselves. I do find the use of instruments such as the shakuhachi and erhu draws me out of the score somewhat but that’s purely because these colours are featured so much in film music but usually to signal geographical location. The composer does limit their use to occasional and subtle moments, making the out-of-place feeling significantly less than it could have been. Although I prefer the composer’s Il Giudice Meschino over Orphans & Kingdoms, this latter score is a significant departure from his previous style, and it’s certainly a score worth investigating. The requirement of a more restrained approach for this film does reward the listener who is prepared to make time and focus on the various ideas contained within.

Orphans & Kingdoms is released on iTunes in Italy on 5 April, 2016 and will be available in other areas shortly.

Rating: **½

  1. Alone (2:42)
  2. Scotty (2:58)
  3. Sweet (2:03)
  4. Worries (2:19)
  5. Bad Kids (2:38)
  6. Father & Daughter (2:55)
  7. Dreams (5:05)
  8. The House (2:02)
  9. Drugs (3:26)
  10. Danger (1:02)
  11. Goodnight (1:22)
  12. Kingdoms & Orphans (3:00)

Running Time: 31:38

Giovanni Rotondo (2016)

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