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Comments about the soundtrack for Electric Shadows (Zhao Jiping)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Josh Gould   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, July 20, 2008, at 7:50 p.m.
• IP Address:

(The following donated review by Josh Gould was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in July, 2008)

Electric Shadows: Film Music by Zhao Jiping: (Conducted by Hu Bing Xu) It is rare that I enjoy a film music compilation to the degree that I enjoy Zhao Jiping's music. There is a certain quiet beauty within all the tracks. Many are quiet and contemplative; others may soar to enormous heights of orchestral beauty as the whole orchestra performs lyrical, haunting themes. Zhao Jiping has written scores for many acclaimed Chinese films; unfortunately, I have seen none of them. Nevertheless, it is his music that I am primarily concerned with. "Music is an important way of laying bare a film's soul," Zhao says. If that is any indication, the films are likely very beautiful.

Among the traditional Chinese instruments that Zhao uses, in addition to a Western orchestra, is the erh-hu (a two-string bowed fiddle), often called a Chinese violin, p'i-p'a (a lute played vertically) and banhu (a Chinese string instrument). Combined with his reserved orchestrations, Zhao's music takes on a very ethereal, rich texture. Many cues are made up only of soft strings, some percussion, and flute or erh-hu solos. These tracks are deeply moving, nevertheless, and when the entire orchestra appears, the effect is that much more powerful.

The album begins with two selections from To Live. Both cues feature a dark, optimistic theme alternately played on the erh-hu and a synthesizer. This is one of the rare cases where the usage of electronics is beneficial rather than detrimental to the music. The next two cues are from Sunbird. "Two Trees" begins quietly, but eventually gives way to a playful vocal accompanied by a wide variety of percussion, followed by woodwinds and then strings. The following cue, "Spirit of the Peacock," takes a more melancholy tone as the whole orchestra performs. Interestingly, at one point a progression found also in the main theme of Laputa: Castle in the Sky and in "The Oath" from the score of Final Fantasy VIII appears. I assume that it must be common to Oriental music. The next selection, from Ju Dou, is one of the quieter tracks on the CD, and while not as interesting as some others, still is fairly enjoyable. Farewell My Concubine is also generally quiet, but containing many moments of exquisite string motifs. Some listeners may be startled at first to hear the use of loud cymbals throughout the two cues. (These particular cymbals are in fact Chinese crash cymbals, as they differ somewhat from the usual Western version.)

The most powerful cues are from a film called Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker. "On the Yellow River: Unflinching Love" features the most powerful music on the CD. The full orchestra combines with the traditional instruments to produce a marvelous effect. The strings reach numerous great swells as they play an especially poignant love theme. Raise the Red Lantern comprises some of the stranger music on the CD, especially some downright bizarre choral parts in "Fate." However, a female chorus provides great refinement and beauty to the album's conclusion.

Some people may not like this CD. They may find it too quiet at times, and action lovers will find little to satisfy their appetites here. Nevertheless, they should give it a chance. Zhao Jiping is an excellent composer and his music reflects this. He was the only composer from an Asian country to attend the Second International Discussion Forum on Film Music in 1995. Listen to this CD and you will be moved. Some tracks you may not find very interesting, but others you cannot help enjoy. At the very least, you should enjoy the extensive liner notes. *****

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