July 2004

BT - Music From and Inspired By the Film "Monster"
DTS Entertainment 1112
Released: 2004

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Hollywood composers are starting to get stale. With the exception of standout scores by composers Howard Shore, James Newton Howard, and upstart Marco Beltrami, there are few soundtracks that pique my interest. In the course of a year, one or two unique efforts distinguish themselves amid an assortment of overused cues and similar-sounding themes. Last year’s soundtrack for the harrowing Monster was one of these efforts.

Written and performed by Electronica Composer/Producer Brian "BT" Transeau, Music from and Inspired by the Film "Monster" has more soul and epic grandeur than its pop ambient roots would suggest. It’s more Brian Eno than William Orbit, more Bernard Hermann than Jerry Goldsmith. It’s a score than can stand on its own and, like the cream of its ilk, allow a listener to relive the emotional effect of the film without the need for visual reinforcement. A few over-repetitive synthesizer loops are the only flaws in this otherwise brilliant effort.

Launching from an arresting, yet simple four-note, piano-driven motif, BT orchestrates the disturbing roller coaster that defines psychopath Aileen Wuornos’s life and the southern atmosphere of Florida. The music is reminiscent of better electronic scores from composers like Asche and Spencer (Monster’s Ball) and Edward Shearmur (K-Pax). It confidently moves from a dissonant rock'n roll assault that underlines each murder to fragile ambient textures and melodies that give weight to the tenuous and ultimately heartbreaking relationship between Aileen and her lover, Selby. It’s hard not to get choked up listening to this soundtrack. "Ferris Wheel", in particular had me on the brink of tears. It defines the entire narrative by summing up what Aileen desperately desires: unconditional love and commitment after being victimized by a horrific childhood.

The DTS DVD surround mix is a fantastic example of multichannel done right. Produced by BT, the mix is spacious, dynamic and layered and made me forget the outside world for its generous 115 minute running time. Where other record companies would try to maximize profits by releasing independent multichannel and stereo releases, DTS Entertainment goes all out and includes both formats in one package, although the CD does not contain all the material included on the surround disc. It doesn’t mean that the stereo version is slapped together. The two-channel recording, while not as enveloping as the DTS mix, is quite good. Excellent lateral imaging coupled with judicious use of spatial processing gives the CD an involving sense of depth.

My positive experience with this music has prompted me to order up some of BT’s other pop efforts. I hope this talent will be given a chance to breathe new life into an industry that is teetering dangerously close to the mundane.