WHAT YOU DON’T SEE – Wilhelm Stegmeier

What You Don’t See (Was du nicht siehst) is a coming-of-age drama about a 17-year-old boy who goes on holiday with is mother and her new boyfriend. The boy is struggling to come to terms with his father’s suicide. He’s introverted but becomes fascinated with a young extrovert couple who are in a neighbouring house. Directed by first-time director, Wolfgang Fischer, the film wasn’t particularly well received by critics when it was released in 2011.

The score is composed by German composer, Wilhelm Stegmeier, who has used a small ensemble to create a melancholic score based around a couple of short musical ideas. A children’s choir is the most memorable feature of Stegmeier’s score, delivering a short phrase of notes with a clarity that’s mesmerising. Other main elements include a small string section and the use of a verrophone – an instrument consisting of a series of tuned glass tubes – with the latter providing the score with a distinctly eerie feel. These three musical ideas appear to reflect certain aspects of the film’s narrative: for example, the choral passages (including solo soprano) appear predominantly in the middle portion of the score. Each of the 3 different elements interplay with one another in different combinations and with different emphases throughout the album’s running time.

The score opens with a slow, deliberate and somewhat gloomy theme (“Main Titels”) that sets out the tone for the score as a whole. “Strand”, the following track, maintains this feel but we now hear more prominently the eerie verrophone. The strings then take a back seat and the score now becomes an interplay between the soprano/choir and the verrophone, presumably as the interaction between the young protagonists begins to dominate the movie’s narrative. The strings as a major component again appear towards the end of the score and this time there’s more than the gloominess pervading the score; a sense of determination or resolution has become apparent. A piano also appears at one point playing a sad statement of the thematic material heard at the opening of the score (“Rauch (Film-Version)”). It would be interesting to hear the significance of this in the movie itself. One particularly interesting point of the album is that it seems to give an insight into the scoring process. In the track “Bathroom” we hear the choir giving a strong rendition of the wordless motif and its variations. Then we hear an alternate version of the cue but this time the composer uses verrophone and piano to give a completely different feel to the piece, seemingly trying a couple of different approached to the same scene.

Most of the What You Don’t See is made up of short musical fragments that appear and are repeated with or without variation. A lot of the tracks are under one minute in length and this, together with the use of short repeated motifs, does sometimes make for a frustrating listen. But this frustration is tempered by the excellent choral work from the Berlin Girls Choir. What You Don’t See isn’t going to appeal much to anyone with a penchant for a score with bold and intricate thematic material. However, for those who are interested in how a composer takes a few musical ideas and plays with them over the course of an album are in for an enjoyable half-hour. (Original review by Alan Rogers)

The album can be purchased on Bandcamp.

Rating: ***½/*****

  1. Main Titels (1:37)
  2. Strand (0:56)
  3. The House (0:59)
  4. Anton (1:18)
  5. Bunker (0:45)
  6. Mushrooms (2:00)
  7. Rausch (Film-Version) (2:33)
  8. Fly (1:38)
  9. Stalker (0:49)
  10. Anton Strand (0:43)
  11. Anton/Katja (0:47)
  12. Katja (1:48)
  13. Bathroom (1:22)
  14. Bathroom (Alternative Track) (1:06)
  15. Rausch (2:31)
  16. Swimming Pool (0:49)
  17. Dog (1:22)
  18. Dog (Alternative Track) (1:55)
  19. Katja and Anton (1:49)
  20. Endtitels (2:55)

Running Time: 29:29

Wilhelm Stegmeier (2019)

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