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Soundtrack review: Babylon Berlin (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Babylon Berlin (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer – 2017)

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“Babylon Berlin” is a German period drama television series which premiered on 13 October 2017 on Sky 1, a German-language entertainment channel broadcast by Sky Deutschland. The first series is made up of eight episodes and is set in the Berlin of the 1920s.It is based on novels by Volker Kutscher, the plots of which span from 1929 to 1934. The protagonist is police inspector Gereon Rath, who has been transferred from the city of Cologne to the capital. The music was written by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer (he is also one of the directors of the show), a team of composers who brought one of my favourite scores of 2016, “A hologram for the king”.

I was curious how a score for a German period drama could sound; I am familiar with English or French period drama music but this is something new. The composers ease me in with one dark opening minute that can freak me out no matter the year. I guess these are the opening credits as the first real cue, “Eine frau in Berlin” is an insane and frantic bolero that I enjoy with a wide smile on my face. It builds up on that bolero flute, around it into an action cue to remember. The next cue “Hetzjagd” goes into another experimental but exciting combination this time of techno and 30s jazz. The sounds are simple but so effective, I love what the composers do with them. I feel as if I am watching popcorn being made and from boring little corn seeds explode various sizes of white, fluffy and tasty popcorns. Or maybe I am watching a couple of musicians racing each other at an insane pace, each of them holding a weird instruments in hand. The music is fast paced, almost comedic in sound, and makes me think of jazz improvisations where smoke comes out of the instruments.

Things cool down in “Dunkles Babel” but once again there is a combination of modern and period in the sound with a seductive motif dancing with a menacing piano motif. There’s always something in the music that keeps me on the edge, guessing, and I want to hear all of it, I am curious about each next cue. Heck I am curious about the next motif as cues themselves hide surprises like a romantic string motif in “Nachtlied” or the way “Praezision” conquers me with a suspenseful piano texture, minimalistic yet lively which creates a mood of mystery I want to explore and solve. Maybe you will love the religious chanting in the middle of “Berliner luft” or the way it immediately morphs into a trembling strings affair before the improvisation takes it once again into a whole different place. This is how “Babylon Berlin” works and it works very well.

“Babylon Berlin” is one of the most innovative scores I heard this year; Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer used very few sounds and instruments but combined them in fascinating ways both as sound and as pace. Both modern and retro, this score kept me interested from start to finish for a very rewarding standalone listening experience.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 29 / 59

Album excellence: 49%

Highlights:
Hetzjagd (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)
Dunkles Babel (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)
Berliner Luft (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)
Praezision (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)
Leierkasten (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)
Space Out (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)
Zu Asche, Zu Staub (Psycho Nikoros) [Finale Season 2] (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer)

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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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