Movie in my mind

There’s a reason why it’s called “incidental music”.

However much composers would love their work to stand on its own — to be “absolute” — film scores are always subserviant to the film. In some case, the restraints of a cue, let alone fast turn-around times, give composers little room to flesh out ideas.

Wayne Horvitz recognizes this fact.

Beautiful though the pieces on Horvitz’s collection Film Music 1998-2001 may be, they can’t escape the sense there’s something else determining their course.

Film Music 1998-2001, Horvitz’s first release on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, collects six different scores, five of which are jumbled amongst each other, the fifth presented as a suite.

Unlike Zorn’s own Film Works series which present the scores as complete works, Horvitz’s collection attempts to downplay the incidental nature of the music.

At first, it doesn’t succeed. Had Horvitz grouped the scores together, it would have been evident the Seattle-based improviser took wildly different approaches to each project.

Horvitz’s music for an untitled film by Gus Van Sant goes for found sounds, whereas Design and Deconstruction, written for the Experience Music Project, feels more like a lost President session with a DJ. A set of demos, on the other hand, clearly show an influence of his enigmatic 4+1 Ensemble.

His scores for Bellagio and Chihuly Over Venice explore a wide terrain of styles, but even their combined unifying power doesn’t mask the fact there are six autonomous works being passed off as two.

After a few listens, the picture changes. Film Music 1998-2001 sounds more like a Naked City album minus the manic bi-polar cycles.

A few more listens, and it becomes clear: the music is already incidental; why not program it in such a way that pieces of those distinct works form the score of an imaginary film in the listeners head?

It’s also admirable to hear Horvitz’s wildly divergent compositional styles on one disc, like having Zony Mash, Pigpen and 4+1 Ensemble switching off between tracks.

Thankfully, Horvitz sees fit not to mix up the most classically-minded score, simply titled Music Conceived for Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, with the rest of the album. Though evidently not used in film, the work was premeried as a suite by the Seattle Chamber Players.

It may be difficult to sit through Film Music 1998-2001 and buy the idea that it’s an album onto itself, but think of it as a film score to a film not yet made, and it’s hard to hear it any other way.