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Soundtrack review: Look & see: A portrait of Wendell Berry (Kerry Muzzey – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Look & see: A portrait of Wendell Berry (Kerry Muzzey – 2017)

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“Look & see: A portrait of Wendell Berry” revolves around the divergent stories of several residents of Henry County, Kentucky who each face difficult choices that will dramatically reshape their relationship with the land and their community. In 1965, Wendell Berry returned home to Henry County, where he bought a small farm house and began a life of farming, writing and teaching. This lifelong relationship with the land and community would come to form the core of his prolific writings. In the span of a generation, the agrarian virtues of simplicity, land stewardship, sustainable farming, local economies and rootedness to place have been replaced by a capital-intensive model of industrial agriculture characterized by machine labor, chemical fertilizers, soil erosion and debt – all of which have frayed the fabric of rural communities. Writing from a long wooden desk beneath a forty-paned window, Berry has watched this struggle unfold, becoming one of its most passionate and eloquent voices in defence of agrarian life. The score was written by Kerry Muzzey.

The score opens up with a beautiful and gentle Americana piece where the piano and the strings walk hand in hand on a dusty countryside road. “Look & see” is a documentary but realised as a story about the relationship about life and creation or about expressing normal life events through creation so the composer wasn’t limited by the usual documentary restrains; he brought his own creative freedom into the mix. His brand of Americana feels like it brings in the music the conflict between industrialisation and old school agrarian life as a quiet and reflective piano motif that I instantly love mixes with a slightly more electronic sound. This duality is present in the beginning of the score and it works like a charm. I listen to “The centre cannot hold” and applaud how imaginative the composer is and how well he puts together the slow burning piano that acts as the fertile and eternal land with the more alert sound of the violin section and the sharper sound of the country strings played a bit differently.

The piano is the musical instrument that can express the widest range of emotions under the right hands. The black and white keys pressed and touched differently can make a solo piano cue tell complex stories and paint rich textural canvases. “The unsettling of America” just leaves me speechless as I listen, enjoy and feel. A cue like this one is puzzling to me because it makes me feel so much and so personal that it’s hard for me to express it in writing. The piano backbone of “Look & see” actually does that to me; I become like a child who is watching mesmerised a kaleidoscope of colours enfold in front of his eyes. Seasons pass and as autumn and winter come in the story the music gets sadder and more melancholic.

The intimate feeling of a chamber orchestra delights me in “Forty panes”. That eternal piano motif that is my favourite theme from “Look & see” is joined every now and then by a single cello, so alone I can hear the creaking of the bow on the chords in a fascinating dialogue where the piano speaks constantly and the cello only gives very short and specific answers at precise moments. One again I imagine a kid who does’t understand speaking yet and who is watching two adults discuss; he has no idea what they are saying but the rhythm of the conversation and the sound of the voices and the words still fascinate him. Maybe it’s a child who is watching his parents debate whether life for them still makes sense in that place or the emptiness is too much and they need to move; one of the parents has stronger arguments while the other one makes feeble attempts to change his mind. Something changed in their world, something got lost and some things don’t make sense anymore.

I didn’t even know how much I missed listening to cues made only of piano and cello; I had no idea how much I wanted to hear a score like this until “Look & see” laid out its soul in front of me. I am listening to the most beautiful old school orchestral score I have heard in ages. My love for classical music meets my love for film music and my ears are like the earth after a draught, soaking up the rain drops. A classically trained composer, a classical music composer writes differently that a film music composer and this score is an orchestral music album that transcends film music. I just wish I could hear it live somewhere.

When I listen to music, to instrumental music, I live a story separated from the one the respective music was written for; I hear the old school piano play and I imagine something beautiful which has lost part of what made it burst with life. I live many lives while listening to “Look & see” and time just stops. This is what listening to music is all about; this is how well Kerry Muzzey communicates through his music or this is how ready I was to be a recipient for what he had to say. Either way, even after 900 words, I am still speechless. And the end of it all, I just feel gratitude to the composer for making me feel all this. I am not ashamed to admit I got teary eyed by the time “Broken people” came on. I don’t need to live in Henry County or go through the struggle. I know. “Look & see” leaves a haunting echo long after it’s over and all I can say is “thank you”.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 73 / 73

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
A View of His Own Choosing
Daughter
The Center Cannot Hold
The Unsettling of America
There Was an Economy Here
Main Street USA
Forty Panes
Losing Precious Things
Winter
Four Cellos
Snow
Snow (Piano Solo)
Wendell
The Vision
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Broken People
Bend but Not Break (Kerry Muzzey & The Candlepark Stars)
When I Am Old and Gray (Cinematic Joy Mix) (Kerry Muzzey & The Candlepark Stars)

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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