Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Ryuichi Sakamoto 'The Sheltering Sky' OST (1990)

''The Sheltering Sky is a 1949 novel by Paul Bowles. The story centers on Port and Kit Moresby, a married couple originally from New York who travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner. The journey, initially an attempt by Port and Kit to resolve their marital difficulties, is quickly made fraught by the travelers' ignorance of the dangers that surround them. Time magazine included the novel in its 'TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005'.''

This is eminent maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack for the 1990 film adaptation starring John 'John' Malkovich. I've never seen this movie, so it's says something for the power of the music that I can enjoy the soundtrack without having any nostalgic connection to the images - it stands on it's own. In truth Sakamoto's orchestral score takes up about about two thirds of the album, the rest is Arabic music (traditional or otherwise), old swing, vintage French chanson - all stuff relevant to the film's setting and a perfect complement to the record. There are two so-so tracks by producer/arranger Richard Horowitz which are literally background music (albeit with some interesting field recordings of Morrocan women's voices from the 50's thrown in).

The meat of the record is of course in Sakamoto's compositions, which are amongst the best he's ever pulled off with an orchestra. One thing it's important to remember is that he has always had parallel careers - one as a modern classical composer and arranger of film scores, the other as a progressive electronic artist with an international bent -and he's somehow nary put a foot wrong in either field. This is quite an accomplishment considering ol' Sakky's been averaging, at least, an album a year since 1978.
So 'The Sheltering Sky' theme is all well and good, grandiose and sweeping as any of the great main themes of cinema, but it's the variations and expressive pieces within the score that are fascinating. Given what is (apparently) the content of the film it's hardly surprising that the music is by turns sorrowful and tender, dark and disturbing. The London Symphony never mucks about (nor should they with their union rates) and they realise the impressionistic Sakamoto score here beautifully. A couple of characteristic Sakamoto piano solos crop up too, this rendition of 'the Sheltering Sky' being one of his classic pieces.
On the whole then: the two 'sides' of the album - one romantic, the other an ethic pick n' mix - present an emotional spectrum you don't find on record all that often.
Get this is you are a soundtrack aficionado, a Sakamoto fan or if you are just looking for something out of the ordinary... In which case the first two conditions will soon apply to you.