Given their output, it’s certainly tempting to write about the shared aesthetic philosophy of Nick Cave
and Warren Ellis
as film composers, but that's actually beside the point. In fact, what’s most remarkable about White Lunar
, the double-disc collaborative retrospective compilation from film scores by the pair, is how utterly “small” and atmospheric the work is, especially considering that three of these films cover very large visual landscapes. Two are Westerns: The Proposition -- which Cave
also wrote the screenplay for and set in the Australian Outback -- and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The third of these large-landscape movies is The Road, based on the post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy. Disc one is comprised of the selections from the scores of these films, while disc two contains music from The Girls of Phnom Penh and The English Surgeon, as well as assorted unissued tracks from the duo's vaults. Each disc is compiled to stand on its own. Disc one does so in a way that is quietly spooky and powerful despite the minimal approach of the few instruments employed: violin, piano, bass, guitars, some atmospheric keyboards, etc. Whether one has seen the films orchestrated here hardly matters. The aural impressions are of loneliness, solitude, vast stretches of emptiness, and physical as well as emotional desolation. There are a couple of vocal tracks on disc one, mainly the traditional “Happy Land,” which was totally rearranged -- as all good folks songs should be -- by Cave
, and “The Rider 2,” which is vastly different from its instrumental counterpart that's here. This disc alone is worth the purchase price; it stands as a testament to a working method that is based on instinct and careful attention paid to interior space as well as microscopic details in composition and mixing. Disc two is bookended with cues from The Girls of Phnom Penh. The approach here is even more minimal and a shade more dissonant. The use of keyboards is a bit more prevalent but not in an intrusive way. It feels both emotionally distraught and physically foreboding despite the quiet nature of the score. Tracks from the vaults and The English Surgeon are alternated in between, a few from each, then repeated before the disc ends. The vault tunes are little more than bits of ideas, articulated enough so that something else might be built upon them. The music from The English Surgeon, if not more lush, is more melodic and emotionally resonant of melancholy, dread, and even tenderness. Ultimately, this is a fascinating, provocative, and thoroughly enjoyable document on its own, though one would be well advised to pick up the individual scores for the films on disc one as well.