reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
John Wyndham’s classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos has inspired a number of big and small screen responses, the most recent being from Sky with their starry interpretation that has been all over digital TV of late. It tells (plot spoiler alert!) of a group of children arriving by stealth in a leafy English town, then growing quickly both physically and mentally as a unit until their power eclipses that of their parents. As the seven-part series takes shape, the tension between the two reaches breaking point, and a number of startling events lead to an extremely fraught battle of the minds.
Reviews for the series, fronted by Keeley Hawes and Samuel West, have been lukewarm, but to this writer at least the story remains a compelling and disturbing one, the tension rarely letting up, with the idea that such dark things could be afoot in ‘normal’ English towns proving to be profoundly unnerving.
The job of portraying these elements in sound has been given to Hannah Peel, who is building up an impressive arsenal of music for the screen, both in analogue and digital form. For her score to The Midwich Cuckoos she uses analogue synthesizers to replicate the ‘hive mind’, shared by the group of children whose initial purpose is to take over the suburbs, but whose greater aims become even more disturbing.
Peel adds drones and tape manipulations to dislocate the perspective of the viewers, but also dips into more obviously English and pastoral references when writing about the setting and the ‘home’ personalities involved.
What’s the music like?
Deeply unnerving but weirdly consoling at the same time – rather like the children who have mysteriously arrived in the town!
Peel’s ability to portray pastoral scenes through her electronics is a massive bonus, for some of the scene setting is exquisite, matching the rich green shades of the production. Yet there is often a dark undercurrent to the writing and a sense of profound unease, especially when describing the hive mind the children have in place. This is done with a single pitch of changing colour and tonal quality, an eerie echo rebounding as though off the walls of a quarry. Lasting comfort is hard to find, though there is brief solace in the mother-child relationships that are formed.
Peel writes descriptively, her melodies portraying the strength of emotion on show from the mothers towards their children, but the deep drones and atmospherics tell a very different story, revealing the layers at work in the youngsters’ minds.
The title music itself is otherworldly, suggesting the intervention of beings from well beyond this planet, and quoting the birdsong of the cuckoo which has at its heart the promise of spring. The Cuckoo music takes the form of the bird as it grows, with the telling lyric “In June, I change my tune”. The Midwich Cuckoos Theme is dark indeed, blotting out the light in a haunting 20 second salvo.
Does it all work?
It does, with the caveat that some of these pieces are short pockets of music written to score specific scenes rather than hang together as part of an album structure. That said, The Midwich Cuckoos makes for compelling if unsettling home listening, which might end with you positioned behind the sofa!
Is it recommended?
Indeed it is – another auspicious addition to Hannah Peel’s discography, revealing a powerfully dark aspect of her writing for the screen.
As an aside it is worth purchasing the soundtrack on Bandcamp below, as that gives you four bonus tracks.