Cirque du Soleil: Ka
Release Date: 2005
|14.||If I Could Reach Your Heart||3:33|
|15.||We've Been Waiting So Long||3:28|
|16.||Reach For Me Now||3:48|
|Total Album Time:||57:36|
|by Jonathan Jarry
on October 22nd, 2005
One of the perks of reviewing scores is that, once in a while, something completely unexpected lands on your desk. This is something which you would never in a hundred years have picked up at the music store and you look at it as if it might sprout tentacles at any moment. And the person who put it on your desk tells you, "Trust me, you're gonna like this."
You make one of those faces and then you pop it in your stereo and it blows you away.
René Dupéré's music for the latest Cirque du Soleil spectacle, Kà, didn't exactly blow me away but it certainly went beyond any expectation I might have had and I found myself genuinely liking this eclectic assembly of dynamic and emotional pieces. The album had two things working against it in my mind: first, it was circus music (not in the Entry of the Gladiators way, but in the cheap pop rhythms over cheesy vocals and synth string lines kind of way) and, second, the composer was French Canadian. Having grown up on French Canadian television programming and the occasional Québécois film, I was all too aware of a weird lack of talent in my community for genuine orchestral scores. It seemed that all a French Canadian composer could do was write boring electronic underscores and rock band song-like pieces. Hence, René Dupéré's talent is completely unexpected and is comforting in that it shows that Canadian composers can write music as dramatic as their European counterparts and as energetic as their American colleagues.
The album opens with the last song of the show, "O Makunde", the melody of which is delicately introduced by an exotic flute over ceremonial drums and dreamy synths. A female vocalist then takes it away in an African-flavored pseudo-language. This is the kind of Cirque du Soleil music that usually leaves me cold, but I must say that "O Makunde" grew on me with its serene melody for vocalist, choir, and violins. "Pageant" opens with dynamic, Media Ventures-esque string/brass chops and percussion before introducing an energetic song accompanied by the accordion. The presence of a 40+ member choir is a welcome addition to the typical Cirque du Soleil sound, giving the music gravitas and a much-appreciated organic component. "Koudamare" is yet another African-flavored vocal piece, with a slight Spanish lilt, backed by electronica colors and delicate guitar strumming. The meat of the "score" then begins with "Storm", where the drama of a boat caught in the turbulent waves of the ocean is played with a fierce energy with a bass ostinato and a male choir chanting what Dupéré describes as a naive melody, something which would sound like a sailor's song in a quieter context. Fans of choir music will be delighted to find that this is only the first of a few genuinely interesting choral pieces on the album.
The agitated madness of "Storm" makes way for "Deep", an intimate piece of beautiful simplicity for synthesized piano, cello, and warm strings. The theme here would be reprised at the very end of the album for the English song "Reach For Me Now". "Shadowplay" makes blatant use of Carlo Siliotto's theme for the Punisher but changes its rhythmic pattern a bit. After some of the synthesized elements of past cues, it is a welcome relief to hear an orchestral piece for strings, brass, and woodwinds, laced with quiescent beauty. We are then taken to a weirdly interesting cue called "Pursuit", where an intense layering of percussive loops accompanies vigorous male chanting recalling dark Latin masses. This is a six-minute chase sequence that never lets go and keeps building up by introducing female chanters to the choir and more and more overlapping rhythmic and harmonic elements. Definitely a highlight.
Following the Survivor-inspired "Forest" and the orchestrally fleshed out "Flight", tensions rise again with "Threat", which makes use of samples of an orchestra tuning to increase the musical pressure at the end of certain measures. A female singer vocalizes in a sultry style while electric guitars provide a modern texture. "Love Dance" is a ballet of love where a girl realizes her affection for the bad man's son represented by a boy soprano. The theme is introduced by a solo cello over pizzicato strings, before the whole string ensemble carries it forward in a dramatic climax with brass that reminded me of some of the best moments in film music. The harmonies are amazingly well fleshed out and the orchestrations are superb and dynamic: this is a cue that could've been penned by Don Davis. The final action cue is called "Battlefield" and it is a return to the style of "Storm", with militaristic percussion, staccato strings, and male choir and brass recalling Vangelis' Mythodea. Electronic elements are then introduced, for better or for worse, before the organic and synthetic elements are blended together for the climax of the piece, with the theme sung by the choir over techno loops. I'd bet good money this piece will be attached to at least one movie trailer in the near future....
The album concludes with "Aftermath", a softly glowing piece that is a requiem following the bloodshed on the battlefield. The signature song "O Makunde" is "translated" into English for "If I Could Reach Your Heart", while the backing choir still accompanies the singer in the pseudo-African language. "We've Been Waiting So Long" is worthy of the skip button, a bad ode to Mariah Carey complete with spoken lines like "turn away from the light" and "learn from the shadows". An atrocity after what preceded it. "Reach For Me Now" manages to end on the right note, but listeners might be wise to reach for the stop button right after "If I Could Reach Your Heart".
I heartily recommend this album to anyone who likes the usual Cirque du Soleil fare, to those who like strong, choral pieces sustained by percussion loops, and those who want something different. I gave the CD four stars out of five but, if you're French Canadian, you can add another half star of proud patriotism.
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