For most people with ears, the arrival of a new Clint Mansell score is an event worth celebrating, so we were all as happy as Gerty when news of a new collaboration between the the Wolverhampton wonder and director Duncan Jones got out in the form of Netflix science fiction tale MUTE. However, while the film was released in February the anticipated and expected soundtrack was not, and hopes were forever dashed. Until last week that is, when Mr. Mansell himself uploaded an album of music to Soundcloud. Its title: “Shhhhh!”
In cinema, music has always been key to ensuring the viewer invests in the past, future, or alien world they’re being introduced to, which is especially common in science fiction. Whether your story is set on Mars, Tatooine, Arrakis, or indeed in the Berlin of 2035, the culture and history is unspokenly represented by music, and with MUTE Mansell has created an evocative world full of seduction and danger, but also beauty; after all, at its core MUTE is indeed a love story. Leo’s search for the missing Naadirah is motivated by his love for her, subversively reframed as a neo-noir where the role of Leo would traditionally be a woman. Narratively the score begins in a tender mode, ethereal melodies floating before she disappears and Leo’s journey drives the score into a world of violence and corruption.
The neo-noir flavour is influenced by various sources picked by the composer, and undoubtedly some also unconsciously. The first is appropriately Berlin itself, a city devastated first by war and second by the erection of the wall, but which developed a new culture from music and cinema, with kosmische musik and Krautrock supplying a new unique canvas and space for artists to inhabit. Many of Mansell’s stated influences come from there and other parts of Germany, including Popol Vuh (who themselves scored many of the films of Werner Herzog), the films of Wim Wenders, and Einstürzende Neubauten, the latter certainly appropriate given the use in MUTE of the Tubulum, a bespoke percussion instrument constructed and performed by Canadian artist Jerry (a fascinating interview with Jerry can be found here).
What these myriad influences have birthed is a powerful score that effortlessly sounds like a scale in the evolution or hierarchy of the music of the dystopia while not displaying any direct similarities. Of course the vague cloud of elements are here as a matter of influence and genre; the curiosity and brutality of Gottfried Huppertz’s METROPOLIS, the laconic contemplation of Vangelis’ BLADE RUNNER, but Mansell’s work is fresh, brooding, and foreboding for sure, with a portentous choir and the familiar drones of inevitability, but also the sheer wonder and beauty you can extract from Leo’s love, not only for Naadirah but later for Josie.
MUTE was a personal project for not only director Jones, whose father David Bowie recorded some of his greatest work in Berlin, but also Mansell, perhaps unexpectedly due to the tale of Leo’s search for his lost love relating to his own life and previous tragedy, as sadly his partner Heather Joy had passed away in 2014. “We talked about all sorts of different things that were going on in the film,” Mansell told Edith Bowman on her Soundtracking podcast earlier this year, “you know there’s like elements of film noir in there, obviously sci-fi, and then you’ve got this romance and this heartbroken loss. You can only draw on your own experiences and you can’t help but find yourself in a place where you can relate, it’s something you can kind of tap into.”
To those who are fans of Mansell there are obvious stylistic echoes here, understandably MUTE feels like a relation of THE FOUNTAIN. Both share an emotional journey of exploration and a desperate search, have an inimitable sense of wonder, and an inexorable feeling of catharsis. Both are absolutely essential pieces of art that operate by their own parameters outside of their primary function as a film score. And both are masterpieces.
Thanks to Charlie for taking the time to write this ace piece on Clint’s MUTE score for us. For those that are not aware of Charlie’s extensive writing on film scores, I suggest you check out his site. And give him a follow over on Twitter too!
And massive thanks of course to Clint for making Shhhhh! available for us all to listen too. Now, time to head back over to Netflix and watch MUTE again I think 🙂
Clint Mansell MUTE LP Mock Up by Eileen Steinbach. Will a physical release be forthcoming soon? We can only wait and hope. In the meantime, get yer stream on.