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EXISTENZ – Howard Shore

existenzOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

David Cronenberg inspires Howard Shore to compose some of his best and most memorable movie music. Through such notable works as The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly and Crash, Cronenberg had always allowed Shore plenty of room to manoeuvre and stretch his musical muscles. eXistenZ is probably the most approachable and, from a soundtrack fan’s perspective, enjoyable work that has resulted from their collaboration to date. An original science fiction tale, eXistenZ is a film which again merges humanity and technology and blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as the designer of a virtual reality video game played through a genetically modified organism known as a “Game Pod”, which inserts an umbilical cord into a special socket inserted into the base of the player’s spinal column and taps into the player’s mind. When the game’s first demonstration goes wrong, Leigh and her bodyguard Jude Law are forced to run for their from various violent factions, all of whom want to stop eXistenZ from becoming a reality.

Although it is strangely attractive, this is not to say that eXistenZ lacks depth or complexity – none of Shore’s scores do. But this one happens to be both deep and complex, and be thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. Whereas many of Shore’s earlier scores tended to be rather abrasive and “difficult” to listen to, eXistenZ is smooth and flowing and completely tonal, marking a welcome change from his familiar style. One of the most fascinating things about eXistenz is the way in which Shore has manipulated the dynamics of his orchestra to give it a slightly unusual overall sound. By arranging the layout of the orchestra in a different, but highly specific way, and by recording it so that certain instruments sound louder or softer than usual, Shore has managed to make his score sound uniquely fresh and contemporary.

Shore himself says that “the score is really all about perception and perspective of sound” and that he “played around with the idea of what people’s perspective of music is, and the reality of how instruments relate to each other”. This intriguing premise, coupled with electronic and occasional choral embellishments, makes eXistenZ a constantly surprising listen. Superficially, eXistenZ seems to be rather one-tone and monotonous, with nothing obvious to separate one cue from another, but in actual fact there is layer upon layer of stuff going on, although this is not immediately apparent. The core of the score is an echoing four-note motif, first heard first in “MetaFlesh Game-Pods”, which is stretched around and manipulated to form the structural basis of many of the score’s cues. It is afforded two particularly memorable renditions later in “Trout Farm”, a marvellously vibrant cue which allows the orchestra to rise to quite large proportions, and in the surprisingly lyrical “Hypoallergenic Weapons”, where the motif is accentuated by a bed of darkly romantic strings.

Instrumental solos and performance techniques define many of the other cues, like the electric guitars and theremin in “Reality Bleed Through Effect”, the ominously quiet horns and shrill, ascending strings in “Pop Your Spine With A Little Hydro Gun”, the unnerving humming chorus in “A Genuine Game Urge”, the rumbling, low-end pianos in “Traumatized Nervous System”, and the increasingly loud and disturbing “An Element of Psychosis”.

While eXistenZ does not really go any way towards breaking new ground in purely compositional terms, the music is nevertheless strangely enticing and hypnotic. It is a score which you want to keep on listening to and, although the payoff never truly comes, you get the constant feeling that something amazing is about to happen just around the corner. In terms of design and creativity, eXistenZ is one of the most interesting scores you are likely to hear all year – as could be said for the movie itself.

Rating: ****

Buy the eXistenZ soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • eXiztenZ by Antenna (3:06)
  • MetaFlesh Game-Pods (3:04)
  • Reality Bleed Through Effect (1:55)
  • UmbyCord (1:13)
  • Organic Pod Technology (1:32)
  • Pop Your Spine With a Little Hydro-Gun (2:06)
  • A Genuine Game Urge (1:26)
  • Insect Boards (2:05)
  • Original Marway Tissue Architecture (1:00)
  • Viral Ecstasy (4:12)
  • Trout Farm (1:24)
  • Genius in a Game-Pod (0:52)
  • What’s So Special About The Special (2:27)
  • Hypoallergenic Weapons (3:49)
  • An Element of Psychosis (4:00)
  • Traumatized Nervous System (5:49)
  • Anti-eXistenZialists (3:27)
  • Industrial Espionage Happens (0:57)
  • TranscendenZ by PilgrImage (1:43)
  • It Neural-Surged (3:12)

Running Time: 46 minutes 38 seconds

RCA Victor 09026-63478-2 (1999)

Music composed, conducted and orchestrated by Howard Shore. Featured musical soloist Lydia Kavina. Recorded by Dick Lewzey. Mixed by Howard Shore and Robert Cotnoir. Edited by Suzana Peric. Mastered by Ted Jensen. Album produced by Howard Shore and Suzana Peric.

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