Birmingham Symphony Hall
March 23rd 2016
This was a low key affair, intimate like a night club gig yet held in one of the best symphony halls in the UK. The start time was pushed back by 30 minutes, no intermission and it will end at 9.30pm. A small set piece was laid out: fullest of drum kits, numerous keyboards, 4 chairs for violins and cello ready for the The Kronos Quartet, 2 guitars, piano and the obligatory Apple laptops. High up was a not too large screen but big enough for the 3 quarter filled hall.
Short, to the point introduction by the cellist and with lack of fanfare, a black jeaned, t-shirted and bespectacled Clint Mansell strode onto centre stage. After rapturous welcome applause Mansell said it had been 11 years since he had been home in Birmingham. Even though he now lives in L.A. it was comforting to find he had not lost any of his home accent. Without any ado he said this is ‘Noah’ which kick started huge speakers into action. It was exciting and I immediately vowed to revisit this score when I got home.
It was accompanied by random scenes on the screen that were designed to displace – a stag in the night. A child’s eyes. Fox in a den, a watery eye. Mansell talked about how scoring had change his life and told us all ‘don’t be afraid of change’ and then introduced the next piece of music which not only launched his film music career but was also the directorial debut of Darren Aronofsky – the 1998 film Pi. The video images became stronger including ants and snakes. Mansell played the synth, rocking back and forth gently. He later went on to play electric guitar.
Mansell was very friendly and shared his journey towards scoring recalling an hilarious story about when ‘he got a call from Madonna’ to score a movie she had just made. He genuinely seemed to be in awe of meeting her and how his career was moving. He then introduced his music to Moon  likening it to the isolation you could feel in sprawling Los Angeles. Visuals here were vast land and skyscapes.
I should note that he simply introduced each piece by the title of the film and not specific tracks the next one being the recently released High-Rise, a score I am already in love with so it was very cool to listen to some of it live. More chat and this time it was about a film which had a pre-release at the Mac [Birmingham] which went on to change the course of his life – another Aronofsky film, Requiem For Dream. This produced some whoops and cheers from the audience, Lux Aeterna being somewhat of a Mansell anthem. Live it was fierce and edgy, bursting out of the speakers.
Further evidence if him not loosing his roots was his reference to all the places he had played when in the groups Eden and Pop Will Eat Itself, including the Villa Leisure Centre. It was clear by the audience reaction that he had some die-hard fans from those days in the hall. Next was Black Swan with it’s serene beginning spiraling into electronic confusion, loved it!
All too quickly he was thanking us all for coming and with that he played out with Death Is The Road To Awe from The Fountain . During the course of the concert he mentioned twice that people may not’get his’ music. To me if you push aside the traditional routes of film soundtrack scoring, let go and totally immerse yourself in the Mansell sound you will not be disappointed. Live and loud it was truly a thrilling experience.
P.S. Mansell turned down the Madonna film.
Having got sucked in not by the actual film trailer but a teaser which is an advertisement to encourage you to go and live in the self sustained High-Rise, I then watched the trailer proper which is using Tangerine Dream as it’s back music. It seemed to suit the isolation I felt when looking at the soundtrack’s minimalist artwork. I was eager to listen.
Reading director Ben Wheatley’s swear ridden, true heart talk writing on his contacting, meeting and working with composer Clint Mansell in the CD’s sleeve notes and then the appreciative, fan fed response from Mansell – fan on fan .. I was more eager to listen.
J.G Ballard’s book set in a dystonia future telling of a high rise of embedded class structure where humans face their base, primal instincts has been in the making for over 30 years. At one time Nicolas Roeg was to direct and also David Cronenberg. And here we are last with Ben Wheatley at the helm and I am eager to see it.
The score opens with Critical Mass, a fanfare of violins with a ‘pioneer’ feel to it. It brags of success and ends on an eerie tone that almost tags straight onto the following track Silent Corridors featuring a lone whistler – whistling in soundtracks has always freaked me out. If used over menacing music it highlights that the whistler is unhinged, in a ‘happy/carefree’ world of their own whilst the music is shouting something horrible is happening.
The World Beyond The High-Rise is a beautiful cue with a 3 note leitmotif which somehow manages to portray hope in an off-kilter world. It also has a tenderness about it. I played it three times before I could move on. The Circle of Women hitches back on to the opening track, which both have a feel of Aaron Copland in them.
Built, Not For Man, But For Man’s Absence has a pulse to it, not an urgency but a steady pulse perhaps symbolising the lifeline of the High-rise itself, this is used in several tracks. The malice which comes through in Danger In The Streets Of The Sky would fit a 1940’s film noir movie perfectly. It’s sudden, discordant brass notes displace and disturb – this is one of the best cues. Strike that as there isn’t a flawed track on this score!
A Royal Flying School soars then broods with Mansell’s legendary use of ‘strange’ instruments and is taken over by dominant percussion. And as for the closing track Blood Garden – there are so many genre ‘bytes’ which meld together here. Again I listened three times in a row with pure fascination.
It’s always a challenge to use the written word to describe how something sounds and no more so than in reviewing this superb score which truly has to be experienced. Cinematic in scope and beautifully orchestrated, I can’t do it justice and can only say that this year has to deliver something astonishing for me not to mark this as my ‘Best Score’. In many ways it’s not just how it sounds but what it conjures up and the Ballard world it is inhabiting.
“The soundtrack sounded incredible in the cinema, ” I was very f**king happy indeed…Revel in the sound of a bombastic and hubristic 70s that was doomed to failure…Enjoy.”
1. Critical Mass
2. Silent Corridors
3. The World Beyond The High-Rise
4. The Vertical City
5. The Circle Of Women
6. “Built, Not For Man, But For Man’s Absence”
7. Danger In The Streets Of The Sky
8. “Somehow The High-Rise Played Into The Hands Of The Most Petty Impulse”
9. Cine-Camera Cinema
10. A Royal Flying School
11. The Evening’s Entertainment
12. Blood Garden
Label: Silva Screen