Review by Brad Green:
The pulse strides as steadily as a ponderous pixie or a tiptoeing giant. Up and down march
Michael Nyman’s strings, relentlessly yet ambiguously, in regular four and eight
beats that make emphasis an art-form. It has been the Nyman trademark since the earliest
Peter Greenaway films, where the solid musical figures provided ballast and framework for
Greenaway’s highly pictorial, cinematic vision.
Although he is now most recognised for his score for The Piano, Nyman’s signature
soundtracks became a feature of almost a dozen Greenaway films, until director and
composer split over the use of the music in Prospero’s Books. The fact is that Nyman
often didn’t prepare scores for Greenaway in the traditional way; they weren’t
usually a series of perfectly synchronised cues, just themes that Greenaway pasted against
his images as he saw fit. Sometimes the soundtracks even drew from previous Nyman
compositions, unrelated to the particular film. Which makes it less surprising that
Nyman’s music forms magnificent partnerships with very different filmmakers to
Greenaway; and without requiring a significant shift in the composer’s style.
Director Michael Winterbottom does share one particular attribute with Greenaway. Both of
them are masters of mise en scene. Winterbottom’s scenic landscapes are as much a
work of art as Greenaway’s most intricate set pieces. The nuances of Nyman’s
music are the perfect compliment to such powerful imagery. The predictability of his
rhythms affords us to the chance to revel in sublime chord changes and lyrical motifs.
Nyman has a very British sense of controlled emotion. His melodies follow a measured arc
of sentiment, and instead of poking out from his rhythmic beds they fold neatly over the
surface. They are short and accessible; one here is even reminiscent of the Genesis pop
hit Land Of Confusion. And you won’t find more precision in orchestral voicings; each
instrument articulates its own melodic contour, yet knits seamlessly into the tonal
The result is hypnotising. The pulse continues on its mesmeric way and the melodic lines
entrance us with their coiled, potential energy. For we are not to expect dramatic
climaxes from the man who coined the term “minimalism”. Nyman’s scores, and
this one is no exception, soar on the back of no excess and fine refinement. It is a
little glib to state that that the less the Michael Nyman orchestra play, the more they
say; but with a stripped down version – the Michael Nyman “Band” –
touring Australia in early 2002, audiences should hang on every note.