Philip Glass

Animals in Love [Original Score]

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Film music has been a staple of the career of Philip Glass, who is as much a collaborative multimedia artist as he is a composer in the traditional sense. Glass' chosen minimalist vocabulary has been best suited to subjects that are either self-consciously unreal, like the 1998 film The Truman Show, or which present deliberate distortions of reality for visual or emotional effect, such as the hypnotic documentary Koyaanisqatsi from 1982. In his score for Laurent Charbonnier's 2007 documentary Les Animaux amoureux (Animals in Love), Glass attempts to adapt his deliberately formulaic music to courtship and bonding in the animal world.

There are signs in the score that Glass has indeed tried to tailor his music to the requirements of a nature documentary. "The Battle," for instance (presumably a depiction of competitive rivalry), opens in a comically aggressive rock-influenced style that evokes the arena-scale vamping of Queen. Even though it eventually settles into more generic Glassian textures, it at least is a nod toward the depictive nature of the subject at hand. "The Kangaroos," similarly, has a playful, cheeky spirit embodied by reed instruments played with a dirty sound more often associated with jazz. "Insects and Whales" has a martial snare drum that evokes armies of marching ants, and "The Birth of the Fawn," with its almost lyrical trombone solo (for Glass it's rhapsodic) in occasional duet with a flute seems soft, indeed almost loving.

Just as often, though, as is the case with the opening "Swans take Flight" and much of the intervening score, Animals in Love sounds like standard-issue Glass: chamber music with a heavy emphasis on winds, harp, and pitched percussion, and a constant focus on musical texture above all, with only a nodding acknowledgment of melody, line, or rhythmic flexibility. It is unrelentingly mechanistic music that awkwardly shoehorns the courtship and nurturing behaviors of living creatures into formulaic patterns that seem like aural moiré pattern, or the linear "visualizations" offered by digital media players. It gives one something to listen to, and a not unpleasant something, but something unrelated to the primary experience it is meant to accompany.

One of the reasons for Glass' sustained success is the synergy between his style and the nature of contemporary life, which is saturated with electronics, machinery, and above all, structure. There can be grandeur to his music when internalized. But for a film that is (based on the liner of this album) devoted to the intricate behaviors of living creatures, it seems out of place as often as it seems appropriate.

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