As Printed in The Lumberjack on Nov. 26, 2008
by Gary Sundt
It is not often that The Lumberjack has the opportunity to review a movie soundtrack. In fact, to my knowledge, it’s never actually happened before. But it was upon listening to Jon Brion’s haunting score to Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, that I, who normally acts as film critic, decided to jump over and play music critic.
The album, which is entirely instrumental except the final three tracks, begins with a truly bizarre if not remarkably jaunty tune, appropriately titled “Tacky Entrance Music.” In an odd way, the song’s cheerful piano and resounding trumpet acts as misdirection, as the soundtrack to Synecdoche, New York is a melancholy composition made up of mostly somber piano and low draws on the violin. Brion’s music seems to reflect the almost certain realization that comes with intelligence: life can be depressing, even in its victories.
The following tracks seem to consider a more driving and obsessive force; in particular “Forward Motion,” uses an insistent low violin against a curious high violin to indicate a search, seemingly without end. The song, like many on the Synecdoche, New York soundtrack, ends with a dropping off of the music, as if something was given up in the subject’s life. The score is of course reflecting the events in the movie, and seems to tell a story as it goes on.
The word “synecdoche” refers to a part as it relates to the whole, or the whole as it relates to the part. Kaufman’s film is one about the world’s impact on a man, and the man’s impact on the world. And so it is appropriate that every song on the film’s soundtrack fits into the grand scheme of the album, each offering its own individual impact into the overall work. Listening to the CD can be compared to realizing the grand spectrum of human emotion (if all those emotions are all, in some way, downtrodden).
I originally downloaded the soundtrack to Synecdoche, New York, for two of the vocal tracks, “Little People” and “Song for Caden,” which were written by Kaufman and Brion and performed by jazz vocalist Deanne Storey. However, upon listening to the entire work, I can’t help but feel that all the tracks on this album are remarkable, whether or not you have seen the film (and I haven’t yet).
Most film scores only work in complement to the film they are created for, and very rarely do they make for good independent listening. The soundtrack to Synecdoche, New York is one of those rarities, and is a striking addition to the already impressive library of Brion, one of cinema’s modern master composers.