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The Signal (Nima Fakhrara)

July 2, 2014

cover_TheSignalTHE SIGNAL

Nima Fakhrara, 2014, Varese Sarabande
22 tracks, 49:37

“The Signal” is a sci-fi thriller with a slick but minimalistic electronic score by Nima Fakhrara. For many filmmusic fans this may very well be their first introduction to this young composer.
Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour: the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. The trio find themselves drawn to an eerily isolated area. Suddenly everything goes dark. When one of the students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites of “The Giver” and “Maleficent”), regains consciousness, he is in a waking nightmare…

The film is directed by William Eubank for whom this is his second directorial credit, after “Love” from 2011. He’s got a further dozen credits as cinematographer. The sparse electronic score is by LA-based composer Nima Fakhrara. He studied various instruments in his native Iran; and he obtained a degree in composition studies from California State University Northridge. His interests and additional studies include ethnomusicology, anthropology, and how to construct instruments. For “The Signal” he build several instruments himself to create a unique sound.

What does it sound like?

It is a moody, broody and ambient little score, though maby not as unique as the above description may have had you believe. It’s a synthesised soundscape with accents for a home-build steel marimba. Warm synthesizer pads fade in and out like waves crashing onto a beach. Closest comparisons will be the more subdued works of Jeff Rona and particularly Cliff Martinez. There’s also a constantly bubbling bass line, reminiscent of Alexandre Desplat sans the orchestra.

Opening track “Good Luck” introduces a theme for piano. It’s a simple little thing based on a three-note motif. The piano is played softly and is backed by mysterious synth pads. It’s quite ‘typical’ in that respect, but it’s pretty and it’s effective. I recurs later in “Hallway Roll”.

That cue (“Hallway Roll”) also introduces another motif. Something altogether more intangible. It’s a (mostly) rising motif that feels a little random, but isn’t. Very much like, oh I dunno… a signal? It’s repeated several times throughout the score, usually on a metallic sounded instrument (presumably one of Fahkrara’s hand-made ones).

Virtually all cues are accompanied by a deep pulsing bass. It’s an effective way to create an unnerving atmosphere, as it hits you right in the stomach, but it does make for a somewhat oppressing listening experience. Whilst the first half of the album features fairly smooth synth pads, the second half introduces some edgier sounds. “Jonah” is a fast-paced cue that resembles “Synchrotone” from Hans Zimmer’s “Black Hawk Down” soundtrack.

The album concludes with “2.3.5.41”, an electro and dub-step remix of Bach’s “Prelude in C Major”. Make of that what you will, but the style and sound do fit in well with Fahkrara’s score.

Is it any good?

Fakhrara has produced a slick, minimalistic electronic score. It’s atmospheric and mesmerizing at best, yet a little underwhelming. The subtle melodies, bubbly bass lines and slowly evolving soundscapes may not be to everyone’s taste. Those with an interesting for electronic minimalism, bordering on sound-design may find some merit here. Others may frankly find it boring. It crosses into Cliff Martinez’s territory, though is generally more subdued than even his scores. Only occasionally, towards the end, does “The Signal” offer anything in terms of action and excitement. The front cover actually represents the music very well (or vice versa). It’s very stylish and precise; cool and intriguing… but also a little bit pale and anonymous.

Rating [2.5/5]

Tracklisting

1. Good Luck (2:42)
2. Get The Pony (1:30)
3. Penly Ln. (2:07)
4. Clocks (1:14)
5. 4, 5, 6 (:51)
6. Hallway Roll (4:48)
7. Agitate (1:16)
8. Wake Up (3:01)
9. Door Kick (1:54)
10. Your Protection (1:27)
11. Hailey (1:19)
12. What’s Wrong With You (1:00)
13. Road (:56)
14. Reunion (1:46)
15. Visitor Center (4:28)
16. Check Point (1:21)
17. Jonah (2:31)
18. Goodbye (4:37)
19. I Am Sorry (2:35)
20. Nomad (1:32)
21. The End (2:48)
22. 2.3.5.41 (Performed by Free The Robots & Nima Fakhrara featuring William Grundler) (3:47)

 

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