Monday, September 26, 2011

House of Dancing Water Soundtrack - Review

If I based reviews on cover art, this would get 5/5.
The House of Dancing Water soundtrack was sneakily released in June to little fanfare, and since no one has written a review yet I thought I might as well.

I'd been eagerly waiting for The House of Dancing Water soundtrack since the shows opening last September. Directed by Franco Dragone, the multi-million dollar water show is dubbed the "worlds most spectacular extravaganza", but I was most enthusiastic to see that Benoît Jutras was once again collaborating with a show. Jutras' masterful method of composing music usually includes beautiful piano melodies, synthesised strings, samplings and usually a random erhu somewhere. This is pretty much the case with The House of Dancing Water but the soundtrack falls short on some of his previous offerings.

For this soundtrack, Jutras also seems to have taken influence from every single show he has ever written for, and just thrown it into here. The sound drips of Le Reve, Borderline, Francesco Il Musical, and every single score contribution to Cirque du Soleil. For his new material, parallels can lead to some Hollywood composers including Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. This soundtrack is solid, but overall it's very generic background music, stamped with Jutras' typical minimalist vocals and piano, or heavily synthesised instruments that draw a lot of similarities between his previous work.

The pinnacle of the album is 'Swans', which is a vibrant and romantic paean of otherworldly beauty that swells between the simplicity of piano and guitar before culminating in a spine-tingling finale involving the choir and orchestra. 'Chandelier' subtly builds tension before developing into a harsh synthesised and rock tune with enough string arpeggios to make you dizzy. 'Boat' is a rhythmically driven mixture of dramatic male choir and epic string arraignments which gives a shout out to Pirates of the Caribbean, and the cheeky and flamboyant mixture of brass and pizzicato strings piece 'Fountain Dance' just screams Nightmare Before Christmas. 'Pyramids' is also worth a mention, the most original piece on the album, a waltz with a flurry of pizzicato strings which intersect each other and mix wonderfully with the male singer and his harmonies.

Beyond that the pieces are pretty boring, generic, and don't really develop at all. There seems to be a lot of Jutras' signature 'action' (read: chaotic and boring) music, which Jutras has taken the liberty of looping instruments endlessly before throwing in a motif here and there. Most of them ('Pagode', 'Flags', 'Journey', 'War') sound like inferior drafts that were thrown out from his other shows with similar scenes. Others are just stamped with his usual minimalist sound where nothing really happens ('Prisoners', 'Wabo' - by the way, who named these tracks? They're almost as bad as Sexy Web-). It leads you wanting to skip a significant portion of the album. The ending is a bizarre and surreal experience which basically sounds like it was ripped straight out of Nintendo's Mario Party.

My main issue with The House of Dancing Water is its main motif. The tune is beautiful, vibrant, and distinctly draws on Asian tonalities, and is memorable thanks to it making an appearance on half a dozen or more tracks in a variety of incarnations. However, the theme has already been included in three other Jutras albums, two of them commercially available. One is Robert Lepage's 2003 film The Far Side of the Moon, the other being the 2005 production Le Reve. I adore this melody, but its extremely disappointing that Jutras couldn't bother to come up with new material - the opening track 'Dancing Water' is actually a straight rip of 'Samurai' from the Le Reve album with some skittering percussion tacked on at the end - it's not even a new arrangement. Hopefully this is the last time it makes an appearance in any Jutras show.

Overall, I like the soundtrack but I don't love a huge amount of it. The score has its moments, most notably with the gorgeous 'Swans', and a few other pieces, but the whole album is just to blasé being generic background music, under the guise of Jutras' typical minimalist vocals and piano, or crazy chaotic work that I usually stay clear of when I listen to Jutras' work. The major disappointment here is the once again recycled main theme. If you're an avid Jutras fan, go ahead and make the purchase, you'll find things to like. But if you're not, I'd recommend you take a look at Le Reve or Quidam first so when you tackle this mess you can shift through and find the gold.

'The House of Dancing Water' soundtrack by Benoit Jutras was released June 10th, 2011. Australia can download the soundtrack from iTunes for $16.99.


Bonus! Here was our initial reaction to the Mario Party like finale piece.
[talking about the finale track 'In Joy' ]
(14:40:05) lunawaif: #16 is....ugh.
(14:40:55) lunawaif: Christmas music? cheesy entertainment themes? marching band jazz improv?
(14:42:37) sfogviper: FUCKING CHRIST WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!​!!!!!!!
(14:44:35) MSam: LOL
(14:45:50) sfogviper: NOW IT"S GONE TO THE CARRIBBEAN
(14:46:00) sfogviper: OMG IT DOES SOUND MARIO
(14:46:40) lunawaif: I rest my case...whatever the fuck it was.
(14:47:49) sfogviper: DELETED

Saturday, September 24, 2011



Actually, I've had an epiphany that I want to finish my degree, get a first class honours, then do a PhD at QUT to discuss the importance of music in performance. It's like I have direction in life now!

And I want to help write an article that defines drama terms - including cyclical narratives. David Morton, you hear me? Let's write on cyclical narratives in 5 years or something. K, go.

ETA: I also want to learn how to sing 'Suzanne' by Leonard Cohen in French, while playing the cello.

Crossbow Productions - No Exit

I'd been looking forward to catching Caroline Heim's production of No Exit since April this year. Having studied No Exit, I first heard from Dr. Heim that it would be coming up from Sydney for a one-night season I was pretty excited. It was a long way off but the wait was totally worth it. This new translation by Crossbow Productions of the original French text in conjunction with live music and modern staging was a fantastic experience.

No Exit takes place in hell, where three damned souls are confined to one room in punishment for eternity. The room is inhabited by a dead journalist named Joseph Garcin, a dead post-office clerk Inez Serrano, and dead socialite named Estelle Rigault. Throughout the piece they discover their crimes they are serving punishment for, reaching deep into concepts of existentialism and uncovering that hell isn't just location, it can be other things. Like people. There, I said it. HELL IS OTHERRR PEOPLEEEEEEEE.

But in all seriousness, this production was excellent - the worst thing about it was that it was in The Loft. The major characters were executed flawlessly, meticulously detailed in their portrayals - the chemistry between the principal cast was electric and couldn't have been better. Peter Cossar and Hannah Lynch-Blosse were fantastic in their roles, Cossar portraying a character balancing his self-resentment and his cowardice while vainly attempting to retain the image of his masculinity. Lynch-Blosse's role of Estelle was wonderfully grotesque, possessive and constantly blaming others in her selfish attempt to maintain her own image. Caroline Heim's performance of Inez was simply a tour-de-force, and was by far the best aspect. She was conniving, relentless, chiding and callous all at once. Throwing her head back and screaming with laughter was an action that unbelievably chilling and never got tired. Richard Fryberg played the Valet, and although the Valet has little stage time it felt like he was rushing the characters into the room and was impatient with them - I've always viewed the Valet as a crafty guy who enjoys his work. Regardless, the cast was simply perfect for their roles and time literally flew when watching them.

One of the new elements of the new adaptation that was really exciting was the use of music. Christian Heim composed, and performs with his son Ben Heim, tedious rhythmic based motifs that emerge when the respective characters reminisce on their pasts. The music adds another dimension to the performance, and its impressive how the rhythmic design of each song is so distinct to each character. There seemed to be a bit of off timing between the two musicians at the start, but I can't tell if that was to represent the obscure and absurd nature of the piece. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, the only time I thought it wasn't effective was at the end, when it over-powered Heim's flippant response to Lynch-Blosse's trying to stab her. The line's a cracker, and I did manage to hear it, and I knew it from when I studied the piece so I still found it amusing, but it was drowned among the music. I expect it was just the generally bad acoustics of The Loft. Overall the custom score was a genuinely innovative twist on the staging of the play, it was a pleasure to have the stage action complimented by such an effective soundscape.

The new translation was a little crass in some places, but overall its very provoking, a particular scene which I didn't realise when I studied the play was a realisation "One always dies too soon--or too late", where Inez realises that life must be lived happy, but we always insist to find ways that make life miserable. The language isn't dumbed down, but its somehow much less esoteric and easier to engage with to craft new meanings (coincidentally I used Dr. Heim's thesis on audience engagement in my last assignment). I'm still not sure of the meaning of some new aspects. Why was the painting there instead of the disgusting traditional statue, why was the Valet taking photos? I wish more people had come to see it so I could discuss. Overall the text retained its nasty but witty nature, and it thoroughly enjoyable.

All in all, I can't believe this show only ran for one day in Brisbane - it was much better than some of Brisbane's major offerings this year. The new translation of No Exit, accompanied by the atmospheric music working with the excellent acting made time fly and I really enjoyed myself - I'm so glad I managed to see it live. Thank you to Crossbow Productions for generously allowing us a preview show, and it will be a delight to catch their next production - whatever it may be.

Brisbane Festival - Steampowered

Being a Cirque du Soleil aficionado, I thought it was about time I gave other circuses a go. I saw Circus Oz's Steampowered last night at QPAC, and I thought it was pretty decent. The very talented troupe perform a plethora of acts with their multi-disciplinary skills which are fantastic, but I couldn't get into the show because of the music, design, and the frequent comedy.

Since it's a circus, it makes the most sense to look at the acts first. The disciples on display were worldclass quality, and it was utterly inspiring to see that the troupe were so talented in handling dozens of feats. The best acts were the hola-hoops, static trapeze of two performers, a duo trapeze with two women with the emcee telling us some facts which felt like feminist propaganda, and Chinese pole which I assume represented cogs in an engine. I enjoyed most of the acts, but even the best of them had their flow interrupted too often by comedy. I can appreciate the necessity of comedy in a family-oriented show, but in some cases it was really jarring and I just wanted them to get on with it. My favourite was the static trapeze, a lovely intimate act that was accompanied by a really witty song, and had just the right balance of comedy and skill to begin with. Over the course of the act the male trapeze artist develops a ripped seam in his pants, which unfortunately led to the troupe making a huge deal out of it, stopping the act, and provoking this really inane humour to force on us. Likewise, there was a great hola-hoops act which was interrupted far to often, so the artist would look either bewildered, or offer an audience member some flowers - I thought the design was clever but the execution too way too long for the sake of comedy. She comes back in the second act and manages to spin with around 7 hoops which was great, but that was a huge buildup you have to get through to enjoy the acts. In a stroke of misfortune, plenty of the acts that were complied were among some of my least favourite (rolabola, artistic bicycle) so that didn't help much. The troupe clearly have talented but it seemed like they could have improved without so much comedy.

The comedy when not interrupting acts was really funny. The opening of the second act involved the emcee walking around the stage bemoaning how the power was gone and how we would be stuck together, but then cheerfully painted an image of a post-apocalyptic world going on outside while we were safe watching the group. That was followed by a REALLY clever acro-sport act where they portrayed the political climate in Australia. It was simply perfect. Besides the emcee there were two women, one who presented shpeels on safety and the other, 'Fantasia Fitness' a narcissistic promoter of her own material whose various mishaps end with an awkward silence followed by '...I meant to do that'. Really clever stuff.

What originally attracted me to see Circus Oz was the appeal that Steampowered had a distinct influence of steampunk, a beautiful pseudo-Victorian fantasy style which has me fascinated. Cirque have utilised steampunk in a few of their shows (Zed, Zarkana), and the result has been beautiful. Of course it's not fair for me to compare Circus Oz to Cirque du Soleil, but it's inevitable - Circus Oz had some nice features on stage, but aethestics in steampunk are everything, and I found that the design was too sporadic. I wanted the stage stuffed with clocks and gears, when in reality the backstage was occupied by a fantastic drumkit, but then grates on the wall with projections of gears. Basically I just expected too much of the design, so it's no one's fault except for mine.

Music was too loud and a bit too rhythmic, and in sucession a bit too tuneless, for me to get into. Hats off to the troupe, who also perform in the brassy overture and finale. There were a few songs which the emcee presented - she had a vibrant and commanding voice and most of the songs were pretty good, although the last one was a bit of a mindfuck when the lyrics involved such gems as 'englargening', 'penetrating', and 'expanding'. But in the end no-one cares except me.

All in all I enjoyed it, but hyped myself up for it way too much since I expected more from the design. I liked the acts but they were interrupted too often by comedy and there were a few feats that I really loathe. The comedy when not interrupting the acts was solid and genuinely funny, and the music was okay but too loud and brash for me. My friends seemed to enjoy it, and it's over 9000 times better than Ovo, which will be spreading its shit on our shores next July-ish. I'd recommend it if you're looking for something to see in the Brisbane Festival and haven't already gone to see anything, since now Rhinoceros in Love has finished. It's hard not to be impressed by the talent this troupe has.

Tickets for Circus Oz's 'Steampowered' range from $25 to $45, and is showing from 21st to 25th of September, 2011 at QPAC Playhouse. Book by visiting the Brisbane Festival Website or visiting the Circus Oz Website.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just for the record

I am eternally grateful to Thom for getting off at Albion and offering to stay to me while I felt sick. He is a cool dude.

On another note, if Anne Hathaway is cast as Fantine in the Les Mis movie, I might well cry. Anne Hathaway is listed as Fantine on IMDb. I'm not sure if that makes it in any way official or anything, but how dreadful. We can take solace that she dies within the first 30 minutes, but judging from her singing in prior movies, and her recent parody of On My Own at the Oscars, her timbre is too sweet, youthful, and high for the role of Fantine. She may be the right age, but her demeanour and voice are far too youthful for Fantine, and I know we're just going to end up with another unsuited belty performance similar to Madalena Alberto. At this stage I would be happy to see her in any other role.

If she is indeed in the role, I resent the fact that she spewed out a boring parody of the piece and Jackman just insisted she get the role. Laaaame. I'll get over it eventually, but in the end they really could have done so much better.

That is all. Expect a review of Doc Heim's wonderful adaptation of Huis Clos sometime soon!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Brisbane Festival - What's Wrong With Gregor Post?

I stole this image from the Brisbane Festival website.
What's Wrong With Gregor Post? I have no fucking idea - aspergers? ADHD? Too much time on the shrooms? I couldn't really answer the question, but it was pretty solid entertainment for fifty minutes that's crammed full of political in-correctness, and at such a small price you don't really have anything to lose by going to watch it. You're also supporting the Brisbane Festival and local artists. So yaaaay.

What's Wrong With Gregor Post? is a show about the titular character recounting some of his fabulous globe-trotting escapades. Through some tricky conventions and unbelievable stories, aided by some kind of narrator, Post communicates various tales of his travels that are remarkable to the extent that its started to question whether they happened at all. What's Wrong With Gregor Post? is a delicious black comedy that revolves around the power of imagination. Possibly.

I enjoyed it like a movie - it was light, snappy entertainment, but it just didn't manage to immerse me into the dramatic world (or meaning, until after), and I found my mind wandering an awful lot, pondering the mysteries of the universe but primarily reflecting my boring personal life. However, Post's adventures, which are told episodically, have bizarre and unpredictable twists which never fail to entertain. I'm pretty sure other patrons of the show were pissed off since I kept on laughing at pretty much everything, but to be honest any speech that involve the words 'moist' and 'dense' in the same sentence are a fucking win. The script was full of snappy throw-away comments that were hilariously crass and surely would have sent some monocles flying.

The setting and lighting were nice and simple. The set itself was simple, but crammed full of objects including lights, signs and furniture which expanded for Post's adventures which filled and flourished the minimalist stage (the rest you can fill in with your imagination. AHAHAHAHAHAHHAAAAAAAAAA! <- what a pun). The music, which combined lots of pop  music extracts with (what I think was) an original score was utilised really well, setting and assisting the mood in an unobtrusive manner.

I almost liked the Metro Arts theatre, but the fact that we could hear all the music blaring from the coffee shop outside, including 'Lines on Palms' by Josh Pyke, which in turn reminded me of Bree, made me froth wildly with unconditional, incandescent rage.

I made sure to buy Benjamin Coconut-Smashing Schostakowski - I call him that without his knowledge, seeing as he doesn't actually know who I am - a drink afterwards, partly to thank him for the quirky piece he put on for us, but also out of guilt at the fact I rocked up the Metro with Thom and Othelia somewhat inebriated after downing a bunch of beers to obliterate any memories or emotions about my lack of love life (although, writing shit like this all the time, I'm pretty sure people - myself included - agree I do deserve it).

Schostakowski is a talented guy, I really enjoyed What's Wrong With Gregor Post? but I just didn't find it exceptionally thought provoking or ground-breaking. But who the fuck cares - it's got awesome dry humour, it's not prudish and it's inherently entertaining. By the way, this isn't a review, I'm way too drunk for this to be a review. Yay Ben!

Tickets for Benjamin Coconut-Smashing Schostakowski's 'What's Wrong With Gregor Post?' range from $15 to $20, and is showing from 8th to 11th of September, 2011 at Metro Arts Theatre. Book by visiting the Brisbane Festival Website or by calling FoxTix on 1300 111 369 .

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Best Soundtrack of 2011

I know I've missed the boat by five years on this one, but this is such a fantastic album, I want people to know how much I enjoy it. The score for 'The Banquet' is simply stunning. Tan Dun's score is transportive, an avant-garde hybrid of classical and traditional styles driven by explosive rhythms and vivid melodies.

Loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet, 'The Banquet' is full of epic and evocative motifs that present themselves, then emerge and re-create themselves across the score while occasionally fusing with other themes - like all excellent soundtracks should. The whole score floats together with impeccable confluence, each piece leading onto the next movement so seamlessly it's like listening to one complete soundscape.

The main theme of The Banquet is the magnificent 'Only for Love', a tune that opens the soundtrack as a ballad (sung by Jane Zhang) with a beautiful melody that layers, starting with a choir, then adding the piano, vocals and an orchestra. The melody is simple, but extremely effective and memorable, effortlessly transitioning and weaving between the score on differing instruments to create various moods - its most impressive incarnations is the closing the album, with a climax of instruments, it concludes with a whirlwind of exhilarating beauty. 'Longing in Silence' is the second principal melody, first presented by the piano and orchestra ('Waiting') as an entrancing, low-key and mellow piece, and is later presented as two vocal pieces which are beautiful pieces that include impressive vocals from both Zhou Xun and Teng Ko Erh while utilising a minimalist style of traditional Chinese instrumentation.

The score is also full of miniature motifs, including the 'Punished Souls' theme which is a foreboding, but oddly romantic tune with sporadic percussion, fluttering strings and the imperialist humming of the choir. 'Desire' sounds like a commercial jingle written to advertise diamonds, and a variation on the percussive sequences are featured without distraction on 'Play Within the Play'.  'In The Bamboo Forest', the principal battle theme, is a tour-de-force, with Manchurian pianist Lang Lang banging the fuck out of the keys with such impeccable precision and animation that it's almost as if you're sitting in the concert hall to listen to him. 'Sword Dance' is a fantastic reprise that captures the vivacious nature of the original piece but also incorporates the 'Only for Love' theme, and results one of the album's many highlights.

This is hands down my favourite album of 2011. There's nothing to fault here in Tan Dun's score for 'The Banquet'. It runs the gamut of theatrical emotion, producing beautiful, fierce, and emotive tunes, presented by a luscious orchestra, the striking percussion ensemble, and accompanied by impressive soloists. Totally recommended for the soundtrack, orchestral, or oriental enthusiast.

I just wish I could have afforded to buy the original Japanese edition with this resplendent cover...
I have no idea why this is $50, and all other editions are $20ish.