Review: Music for the Films of Charles & Ray Eames - Volume One
4 / 5 Stars
For the inaugural release on Amber Records, renowned film composer Elmer Bernstein has chosen to release music from four short films composed early in his career. These four films are part of the series of collaborations between Bernstein and filmmakers Ray and Charles Eames: "Toccata for Toy Trains", "Six Pieces for the Polavision™ Movie Camera", "House: after five years of living" and "Westinghouse in Alphabetical Order". The Eameses are best known for their groundbreaking designs, and have contributed their talents to architecture, film, furniture design, and other mediums. Creating over 100 short films, with numerous scored by Bernstein, they would tackle various subjects from scientific concepts to explanations of mathematics.
"Toccata for Toy Trains" begins immediately with a high piercing piccolo, but immediately picks up steam (literally) with a small ensemble - but is immediately dampened by the narration. Yes, there is narration on this track, but it is short, interesting, and it's the only narration on the entire disc. The short film basically features different types of toy trains. Each different type has a different personality, and Bernstein used this small ensemble to personify each of the trains. There is a mixture of styles, from jazz and whimsy to excitement and drama. Running over 13 minutes in length, it's a pretty comprehensive piece, and a nice showcase for an aspect of Bernstein's style in the late 1950's.
"Six Pieces for the Polavision™ Movie Camera" comprises six different tracks, each with its own style. They range from military-influenced, romantic, somber, and even the 4th piece (track 5) seems to have a slightly dated late-1970's rhythm and flare to it. Having not seen the actual six pieces, it is hard to say how the music works in the film - but it certainly sounds like each piece has a distinctive personality.
"House: after five years of living" is a series of cues representing different segments of a film focusing on the state of the Eameses' house after being lived in for five years. It was a house entirely built from pre-fabricated materials, and was part of a case study by Arts and Architecture Magazine. Bernstein wrote for a much smaller ensemble here, utilizing only a piano, harp, flute and cello. The overall feeling for these cues is that of warmth and comfort - indeed, all of the qualities of home.
The final piece on the album is probably the most delightful and amusing piece I've heard in a while. "Westinghouse™ in Alphabetical Order" is literally just that: an alphabetical listing of nearly every product that Westinghouse made (in 1965), set to music. While the pace might not be as upbeat or fast as Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" (the closest cousin I could think of to this song), the simply fact that Bernstein chose to have the product sung shows his ingenuity. Running a whopping 12 minutes long, this song has a final line that had me laugh out loud.
The album was created from the best sources available - most likely Bernstein's private archive. As such, the quality is excellent, considering the recording technology and scenario at the time. There are liner notes that provide biographical information on the Eameses and Bernstein, and Elmer himself provides the liner notes for the cues. The one drawback is that it is packaged in a DigiPak case, and the booklet keeps falling out. Hopefully future Amber Records releases will use traditional jewel cases. Released as a limited edition, the album is available exclusively through Elmer Bernstein's website at http://www.elmerbernstein.com/ and is worth picking up if you enjoyed the music in those Eames films, or are an avid Bernstein collector. This was labeled "Volume One", and I eagerly look forward to "Volume Two" of music from the Eames films, as well as other future releases from Amber.