Most film music CDs serve as a literal souvenir of the movie itself, evoking memories of beloved moments and scenes. Michael Brook has done his share of cinema scoring for a quality list of flicks: Albino Alligator, Heat, Affliction, and a host of others equally worthy. His own music could easily be described as cinematic, but rather than in a background sense, at its best it is as emotionally stirring as the best filmic experiences. There are moments on the largely instrumental RockPaperScissors that move one in much the same way as a great film--directly touching the heart and soul while bypassing the brain.
One thing that raises RockPaperScissors to this level is that the ambient guitarist has chosen to collaborate with musicians from countries whose music is emotional without being melodramatic or cloying--a Bulgarian choir, a Lebanese violinist, and an Armenian percussionist. And when he does employ individual vocals, he picks singers with distinctive voices and a sense of intense but modulated emotion: Lisa Germano ("Want"), Paul Buchanan of the group The Blue Nile (the title tune), and the odd but compelling Ben Christophers ("Pasadena Pt. 1" & "Pasadena Pt. 2").
Like a great film, Brook's compositions are episodic but with a strong sense of story arc and continuity of vision. They are capable of shifting from choral singing through rock passages to orchestral interludes, with no concession to pop conventions but with each section adding to the building mood. "Darker Room" contains long samples of Sir Richard Burton reading from Dylan Thomas' "Under Milkwood," with the music rising dramatically along with the late actor's voice; a technique no doubt garnered from Brook's movie-scoring experience. Whether the Thomas lines about "starless and bible black" are a tongue-in-cheek reference to King Crimson is anybody's guess, but Brook's work, for all its ambition, never suffers from the pretension of some art-rock. (Crimson are actually less guilty of this than most.) The composer's background in rooted music (he produced singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who also appears here posthumously), and a sense of funk keep things well-grounded.
Movie music rarely works optimally without the accompanying images. Cinematic music evokes its own images, and emotions--no pictures necessary. RockPaperScissors does not require a screen to show you a world worth visiting.
[photos on this page, M.B. with Shira Myrow, are stills from a video at Michael's site, "The making of RockPaperScissors"]
a very interesting M.B. fansite: slowbreakdown.com