Hopkins is a composer with a subtle yet sublime vision.
Paul Clarke 2010-11-22
The pre-release publicity for Gareth Edwards’ film Monsters has talked up the fact that the British director has created a sci-fi spectacular on a shoestring, using all his knowledge gleaned making special effects for TV documentaries like Space Race. Similarly, although his soundtrack composer Jon Hopkins has made three independent albums – 2001’s Opalescent, 2004’s Contact Note and 2009’s Insides – his name is also found in the production credits of bigger blockbusters like Coldplay’s Viva La Vida… and Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea. But where Eno’s recent album saw him editing together the results of improvised sessions with Hopkins, here it’s Hopkins in the director’s chair, electronically processing strings arranged by composer Davide Rossi. It’s also a chance for him to sink his teeth into his first solo soundtrack, after cutting them (alongside Eno again) scoring Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.
The pitch for Monsters is that it’s District 9 meets Lost in Translation, which evokes an extraterrestrial crustacean having a midlife crisis in a Tokyo hotel as much as a love story between a man and woman fleeing aliens through an infected zone in Mexico. But, judged on the soundtrack alone, what Monsters would most seem to share with Lost in Translation is that this is a film in which suggestion is everything. For this is evanescent and allusive music; even Attack is more disorientating than aggressive, slowly encircling the listener with ominous drones rather than the full-frontal electronic assault that characterised parts of Insides. In fact, many of the track titles could describe not just the scenes they score but the qualities of the music itself; the piano piece Campfire flickering with touches of Michael Nyman, Spores floating along on an ambient zephyr. The tense strings on Underwater occasionally brings to mind Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ soundtrack to The Road whilst the influence of Monsters’ music supervisor and Big Chill-affiliated artist Lol Hammond can be sensed in Candles’ synthetic melodies.
But if there’s one thing that this soundtrack does bring into clear focus, it’s that Hopkins is a composer with a subtle yet sublime vision.