Music in documentaries has become stronger and more prevalent in recent years, probably because of the rise of TV channels etc that constantly commission and air such grand films nowadays. There has I think always been a kind of snobbery within the ranks of film music collectors when it comes to TV music and documentary film scores. And it was not until more recently that these soundtracks have become more accepted and included under the same umbrella as music for motion pictures. Just before Christmas in 2019 we saw the release of a 5 CD set entitled ART FILM MUSIC, which was a collection of music for documentaries that were all about art as in Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. I think that this was the first time that such a set has been issued, showcasing the work of one composer, Remo Anzovino, and his music for documentaries. Amongst the new releases this January from Movie Score Media are the scores for two documentaries, ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS and HEARTBOUND, which both have music by Swedish born composer Uno Helmersson, who’s other works for cinema include the affecting soundtrack for THE LION WOMAN, BOBBI JENE and MAGNUS. The composer has an evident gift for creating lingering melodies, but also is able to turn his hand to writing and developing passages of music that maybe are not entirely melodic, but are filled with textures and colours that the composer cleverly weaves into the more melodious section of the scores. Thus, elevating and underlining darker or more dramatic scenarios of the movie but at the same time allowing the thematic qualities of the score to shine through. Listening to ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS, is an entertaining experience, as we hear the composer introduce fragments of themes that at times do not fully develop yet remain haunting. The opening cue THE UNDERTAKER’S WALTZ is a bittersweet affair, performed by strings and solo violin, this combination of instrumentation introducing the cue and slowly carrying it forward, purveying an understated but effective apprehensive atmosphere. The score is a mix of electronics and symphonic, the symphonic however seems to be restricted to various solo performances, with the electronic section having the biggest share of the work. The composer makes effective use of the synthetic elements within the score, shaping and fashioning a tense and at times unsettling and sinister sounding work. He also utilises well percussive elements and fuses these with various sounds and a kind of jagged and biting style, which is brooding and dark. Its certainly a score that has various levels of darkness and unsettling factors, but the music is affecting and strangely alluring in places.
The second score for a documentary film by Helmersson is HEARTBOUND which is completely different stylistically from ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS, in fact it’s a good thing that we have two scores released at the same time by the same composer, because this just reinforces what I and others have already said about Helmersson, and that is he is a talented and interesting composer who is able to easily adapt and work on all subject matters. As dark and foreboding as ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS is, so HEARTBOUND is in my opinion light and engaging, yes there are a few cues that are more robust in places, but overall HEARTBOUND is an enchanting work, the composer again introducing hints of themes which in many cases do not fully develop, but this is not a criticism in fact it is a ingenious way to use thematic material, tantalising and tempting the listener, grabbing their attention and inviting them in to savour what is on offer, the delicacy and fragility of this score are its qualities. The track DOG DYING is heartfelt and wonderfully emotive, the composer achieving this via a meandering piano solo that repeats the same combination of notes but creates a lasting and highly emotive composition, that tugs at the heart strings, the same can be said for the cue THE FUNERAL, which features solo violin and I have to say reminded me somewhat of the qualities of THE LARK ASCENDING, by Vaughn Williams, it gets right to the soul and is a stunning piece. These two scores are so different, that if you were to listen to them one would probably not realise, they were both the work of the same composer. Both are most definitely worth a listen.