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Evolution in Film

The first thing I thought when I discovered this album was, hey, another Paul Kelly album! You know! The guy from Australia who had a band called The Messengers? Guess what? This isn't him. Guess what else? After hearing it, I don't care! This Paul Kelly writes music for films and commercials. I didn't think I necessarily cared for music written for commercials or films. Well, I do now! Actually, I did before but had never really thought of Philip Glass in those terms--- at least, before Koyaanisqatsi. And while I don't believe Robert Fripp produced music for commercials (I'm doing some heavy assuming here), he certainly laid down atmospheric background for a number of projects which could easily correlate to film.

While Kelly trips down some of the same avenues as has Glass and Fripp, he is no copycat. He writes for the cinema, at least on Evolution in Film, and makes no bones about it. Don't think soundtrack, though. His music, as crucial as it can be, is as dramatic as it is musical and for a reason. In my day, we called it 'setting a mood.' God knows what they call it these days, but it is one hell of a lot more impressive than what used to pass for ?incidental? music.

Here's a test. You're sitting in a theater watching a movie. Let's say it's an action movie. Let's say it's a car chase. Two souped-up monsters speeding through an industrial area full of construction, obstacles, people. The gears are grinding, the tires are squealing (even if there is nothing to squeal on), the sweat running in rivulets down greased arms and faces. I know guys who when they see such scenes almost twist the wheel themselves, feet planted against the floor alternately gassing and braking. Do they notice the music? Sure they do. Well, sort of. It isn't just the action that has you revved up. It is everything, music included. Try imagining that scene with just the sound effects. Not quite the same, is it?

Another test. A plane is flying over the morning desert ever so slowly as the sun rises. The shadows are long behind the hills and the world is just beginning to wake behind rolling credits. You are lulled into a dreamscape, a setting, with the soft floating music a mantra. Or maybe someone is in a car, driving somewhere for a purpose. Closeups of shifting eyes and hands on the wheel and longshots of the car alone on a long empty highway give you a feeling that something will happen and happen soon. But without the throbbing and pulsing music, you wouldn't understand that there is impending doom over that next rise. That's how important is music to film these days.

Paul Kelly knows what music is. He knows that it can be a setup, a climax or an anticlimax. He knows the value of music applied to other media. More than that, he knows music. Not at all unlike a classical composer or even the rock band which plays beyond the fringe, he creates music for a reason. It doesn't have to be a background for a movie or an ad for coffee or a car brand. Paul Kelly creates moods. He creates highs and lows which tug on our emotions and fears. He makes us happy and brings us down with simple theme and variation, although it is hardly simple or every musician out there would be doing it.

I use two examples when I try to explain the value of music as soundtrack: Michael Kamen and Mark Isham. Kamen came out of the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, later shortened to New York Rock Ensemble, a rock band which drew from a variety of sources, not the least of which was classical and jazz. After the band dissolved, Kamen put out a solo album or two, worked with a raft of well-thought-of musicians such as Roger Waters and David Gilmour, and then found life in film. Frequency, The Dead Zone and X-Men are only three of a myriad of films he scored or helped score. I found Isham through an album he worked on as a sideman, Cam Newton's Welcome Aliens. Newton was in the last vestiges of one of my all-time favorite Oregon bands, Sojac (post-Notary Sojac) and pulled in a number of excellent local musicians to record what I believe is one of the most creative ?jazz? albums of its time (I use parentheses because when you listen closely, it hardly falls within the limits of the genre at that time). Isham and Patrick O'Hearn were asked to contribute and shortly afterward joined with Peter Maunu to form Group 87. From there, Isham gravitated toward film work, scoring films such as Never Cry Wolf, A River Runs Through It, Blade and Crossing Over, to mention only a few.

I mention those two because I have now found a third. While Paul Kelly does not yet have the track record of Kamen or Isham, there is no doubt in my mind that should he choose to follow that path and the music gods are kind, he will have.

Evolution In Film is a find for anyone who studies or loves the multimedia effects of music, who understands music as much for what it means as for how it sounds. You only have to look at the titles of the tracks to get an idea of what lies within--- The Waking, Kill, Quiet Battle, Collide, Turmoil, Mourn. They tell you all you need to know. But you will not know until you listen.

Music comes in many forms for many reasons. Chalk this one up for the film buff, the 'experimental music' fan or even the odd 'incidental music' freak. And remember the name: Paul Kelly. Not the Australian guy, as good as he is.....

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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