Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mozart in a Go-Kart

I love Edgar Wright's new movie, Baby Driver. The plot's a familiar tale of a getaway driver who falls in love and wants to escape his life of crime, but what elevates the movie into the stratosphere is its use of music. Ansel Elgort's title character, Baby, has tinnitus and keeps his iPod running as much as possible, with a tune to suit every mood and situation, and throughout the movie Wright cuts the action - not just the set-piece chase sequences, pretty much everything - to fit the music. The soundtrack includes most of what's used in the movie, and it's a great blend of rock, soul, R&B and jazz.

And no classical.

But why would there be? Don't get me wrong - this isn't a moan about people not appreciating classical music. Classical does get used well in some movies and TV, but its link to criminality tends to be confined to a character trait of a detective (Morse, Wallander) or a cold-blooded killer: think of Hannibal Lecter's love of the Goldberg variations, or Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann in Conspiracy, listening to Schubert's quintet after organising the Final Solution. When used to accompany action, it tends towards naffness like the use of the 1812 Overture as the climax to that Jeff Bridges/Tommy Lee Jones things-exploding movie Blown Away.

So having enjoyed Baby Driver a couple of times, I got to thinking: You could never use classical music in a movie like that. But what if you could?

And thus was born "Mozart in a Go-Kart" (a line from the movie): my foolhardy attempt to create, track by track, a classical "equivalent" of the Baby Driver soundtrack. It's in the form of a Spotify playlist, available via the web player here, or you can listen below:

It started off as a totally ridiculous idea, of course, but a few things immediately presented themselves. Blur's Intermission, for instance, is a cheesy instrumental that simply repeats itself, speeding up to a high-powered climax - which is a pretty good description of Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King. Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, while undoubtedly more of a cliché than The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Bellbottoms which begins the movie, shares that track's sense of massive anticipation as it begins. And Tequila? Bernstein's Mambo, natch.

There are quite a few bits of the original soundtrack that are instrumentals - such as a Dave Brubeck piece drowning out Kevin Spacey while he's laying out the plan for a heist - but the crucial thing here in trying to find a classical match is the notion of pulse. A quote from Steve Reich that I'm prepared to trot out at any opportunity is this: "Brahms is a great composer... but I don't want to hear a note of it, not now, not later, not ever. Same thing for Mahler, Wagner, Sibelius. If it all disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't even know. If you don't follow that discipline of a fixed beat, I'm not interested." And when it comes to finding classical music that somehow "feels" like tracks such as Egyptian Reggae or Bongolia, Reich's right: you need that ever-present pulse, pushing things forward, not the more complex, less rhythmically inclined music that dominates what the wider public knows as "classical". As a result, I found that all the Baby Driver instrumentals would be replaced by Baroque music or new(ish) music. (Which occasionally allowed me to cheat a bit, because some of the modern stuff has a jazz or R&B influence...)

The other big obstacle to be faced was sex. Classical music just doesn't do sex. Oh, sure, there's plenty of love and romance, and Tristan und Isolde is basically just a three-and-a-half hour orgasm, but I think we can all agree that, however much they may share the same general philosophical premise, O soave fanciulla isn't Be my baby. So in the end, for the vocal tracks that follow Baby and Debora's love story, I had to wing it a bit more. Greensleeves has nothing lyrically to do with T. Rex's Debora, but Joel Frederiksen's version has what felt to me like a suitable groove. The movie's closer, Simon & Garfunkel's Baby Driver lacks both streams and water-nymphs, but given where it falls in the narrative sequence, Schubert's Wohin? is surprisingly appropriate. I'm quite pleased with Gretchen am Spinnrade as a substitute for Nowhere to Run. And I'm also proud of noting that Nessun dorma! is thematically similar to Never, Never Gonna Give You Up, while simultaneously Big Lucy is morphologically similar to the Walrus of Love.

As for my replacing Beck's Debra ("Ain't no use in wastin' no time gettin' to know each other / You know the deal / Cause only you got a thing / That I just got to get with") with Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, well yes, that is a bit cheeky, but I mean come on, we all know that most of the religious music ever written is just love songs with theological lyrics. Also, I offer no apology for swapping The Young MC for a bloke singing into a tuba. It just had to happen.

In conclusion, let us be clear: It is not possible to create a movie like Baby Driver using only classical music in its soundtrack. But if it were possible, then "Mozart in a Go-Kart" might be what it would sound like.

You're welcome!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nereffid's Best Albums of 2016

No, I don't blog much anymore, but this is a tradition I must keep going.
I reckon I heard 192 new albums in 2016, and few were disappointing. I have a good idea what I'm going to like, so it's easy to avoid what I probably won't enjoy. As before, everything's slotted into 11 categories, though in a slight change I've altered "Living composer" to "Contemporary", the category covering basically my lifetime.












Although it's been a splendid year all round - hence my desire to provide images for all the albums rather than merely listing the runners-up - it's been different from other years in that there isn't a single album (or handful of albums) that stands as the obvious best. So I've decided on a more symbolic choice this time: Lara Downes's "America Again" is my album of the year because Fuck Donald Trump. Here's a collection of piano music recorded by an African-American woman of Jamaican and Jewish parentage; the composers featured are immigrants, or people of colour, or women; and the concept was inspired by the Charleston church murders and Downes's reading of Langston Hughes, particularly his 1938 "Let America Be America Again" (go read it!), whose final words - "make America again!" - now unfortunately carry pre-echoes of Orange Benito's campaign slogan. It's a superb mix of pieces and a worthy winner - but given the new regime's contempt for the arts (and so much else), I suppose any classical album is a fuck-you. But let's move on.

The Labels
The 55 nominees encompass 38 labels, or 36 if we count Warner/Erato and DG/Decca as one each. Naxos got 4 nominations, the most of any label. The 11 winners were all from different labels, and some small labels did well, with wins for Blue Griffin and Capella de Ministrers's own label.

The Repertoire
Perhaps the rise of the smaller labels simply reflects the continued drift of these awards into obscure territories as I continue exploring. The win for Petrenko's Tchaikovsky kind of stands out as a success for mainstream classical. Occasionally I'm tempted by a recording of material I already have, but at this stage my attitude is why repeat? - unless the new release offers what looks to be a much more appealing performance than the one I have. And those obscurities are well deserving of greater attention.

The End
So that was 2016. Will we reconvene a year from now? I hope so, though work now means I have much less time for listening. Perhaps I'll have to be more selective. Perhaps this will be the year eMusic finally collapses and my source of cheap legal downloads disappears. Whatever happens, classical music still seems to be going strong.