Switched On – Blanck Mass: The Rig (Original Series Soundtrack) (Invada)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the first TV soundtrack by Benjamin Power, aka Blanck Mass – a surprising state of affairs, given Power’s prolific output as a composer. It would seem he has been biding his time, for as part of the duo Fuck Buttons he released three albums, as well as providing a good deal of music for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London 2012.

Since then he has turned to solo work as Blanck Mass, building a reputation for electronic music of unusual and uncompromising power, with a further five albums under his belt. The Rig is heading up Amazon Prime’s selection of January viewing, a six-part season with a stellar cast directed by Line of Duty stalwart John Strickland. In it, the crew of a North Sea oil rig encounter unseen forces that cut them off from the mainland, with far reaching consequences for their environment and the crew on board.

What’s the music like?

As with all the best soundtracks, Power’s response is one that vividly captures the environment. The weighty main theme is ideally pitched, punching through with concrete-heavy beats that capture the industry, the majestic yet brutal outlines of the right.

The early numbers draw the listener in, setting the scene as the main characters are revealed and established, and conveying the mysterious circumstances the crew find themselves in. Inevitably some of these sketches are short, and work best in the context of the full album, but the disorientation of both personnel and environment proves unnerving for the listener too.

At the same time the ongoing industrial processes are reflected in the clattering percussion (Flesh Meets Floor), the dripping pipes, the echoing chambers and the misty outlines of the vast structure. The unseen menace of the sea is there, too. Sometimes we fall back to companionship, often laced with uncertainty (Ghost), while key scenes such as Helideck build momentum. Power responds to the scenes in kind, moving between the claustrophobic corridors and dimly lit offices of the rig to the vast open reaches of the North Sea.

There are some striking moments. No Fore Without Flare captures the drama of that particular sequence, while We’ll Bring Him In is loaded with emotion. Charlie sends out wails of anguish, realised fully in the extended portrayal of The Wave. This is where the bottom drops out of the music, Power using subtle but striking pitch variations to maximise the discomfort. The story ends in relative comfort but the lasting dread remains.

Does it all work?

Yes. Inevitably there are descriptive elements to the score that are short and undeveloped, but when listened to as a whole the music for The Rig contains a great deal of substance. Power paints a vivid picture of the surroundings without ever resorting to cliché, and there are moments of keen emotion as the characters take over.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. His previous albums as Blanck Mass suggested Benjamin Power would take to the small screen like a duck to water – and The Rig is proof positive that he has.



Screen Grab: The music of Marriage – new BBC drama brings composer Caroline Shaw to the fore

This week the BBC have started showing the intriguing drama Marriage, which has superstar quality from its two lead characters, Sean Bean and Nicola Walker.

The series has split opinion in its accurate portrayal of every life in a marriage lasting 27 years – largely played out in real time. As the series has developed the many subtleties have combined to a plot that is gathering substance and meaning as time goes on, rather like life itself.

One of the most striking elements of the drama is its bold choice of signature tune, which again has divided opinion sharply. The chosen music is by composer Caroline Shaw (above) – the first couple of minutes of her Partita for unaccompanied choir, specifically the first movement Allemande.

Initially the voices sound like an extra part of Marriage, especially as the plot continues to play out, but as the voices come together in a firm pitch so too do the images, and the end credits roll.

You can listen to the full movement, which lasts six minutes, below – and enjoy Shaw’s wonderful layering of the voices, with spicy harmonic clashes and some vibrant writing for the small choir:

The Partita continues with three further movements, each based on an old dance form. The Sarabande is initially soothing and enchanting, before really letting rip with primal power halfway through. The Courante, the most substantial of the four movements, has a number of hypnotic effects and fresh faced harmonies, especially halfway through as it soars to unexpected heights.

Finally the Passacaglia has a lilting base to its music, and a spoken word commentary resumes as it did at the start of the piece, before the voices end powerfully in unison.

Here is a live performance, given by the dedicatees Roomful of Teeth – with whom the composer sings:

Aside from this high profile appearance, Shaw has been making quite a name for herself in recent years. In 2021, Nonesuch released the album Let The Soil Play Its Simple Part, written and performed with Sō Percussion:

Meanwhile the choral piece And the Swallow lingers particularly long in the memory:

You can discover more of Caroline’s music at her website

In appreciation – Monty Norman

Today brings the sad news that the great Monty Norman has passed away, at the age of 94. His greatest gift to us, of course, will always be the James Bond theme, later arranged (but crucially not composed) by John Barry. It remains one of the most evocative and distinctive pieces of 20th century music. Here it is in all its glory:

Here, too, is the music Norman wrote for the famous scene in the Dr No film where Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) emerges from the sea, sung by Cibelle:

On record – Craven Faults: Erratics & Unconformities (The Leaf Label)

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

How refreshing to find an artist that keeps their self-promotion to a minimum. That said, it would be good to know more about Craven Faults at some point! The elusive biography on his record label site describes his moniker as ‘half-remembered journeys across post-industrial Yorkshire’.

In fact Craven Faults has been a thing for a while, with his well-received Lowfold Works EPs containing electronic music that shows off an ambitious grasp of musical structure. He is capable of stretching out his approach to minimal music into tracks of 20 minutes or more, using the barest of elements like Philip Glass does but building them up with oscillating synthesizers and drones.

Erratics & Unconformities is his first LP.

What’s the music like?

The Yorkshire reference is helpful, for as first track Vacca Wall establishes its shimmering content it feels like a look across the brooding landscape of the North Yorkshire Moors – but gradually opens out like the wings of a darkly shaded butterfly. This is music supported by a constant bass line, which tolls out like a deep bell, and a percussion track that never extends beyond a single kick drum, if at all.

The instruction from The Leaf Label to ‘put a 17-minute window in your diary and watch the video for Vacca Wall is worth following. In their words, ‘the rest of your inbox can wait, you need slowly unravelling analogue synthesizer arpeggios right now’:

With the mood set for the album, the next five tracks spread across nearly an hour, revealing different but often darker shades. The shorter Deipkier has a kick drum too, while Cupola Smelt Mill has sharper definition to the synthesizers and a bassline off the beat. Picking up the more industrial theme, Slack Sley & Temple is even darker, its brooding outlines giving the impression of a machine. This is the biggest track on the album, an expansive number of austere beauty.

Hangingstones regains some of the mood of the opening, while Signal Post has a more soothing drone at its base.

Does it all work?

Yes. Craven Faults has a distinctive style, and repeated listening brings out the rhythmic invention in his music, which is greater than you might at first think. It explains why he doesn’t need anything more than a kick drum.

Ultimately this album works best as a single unit in which to immerse yourself, drawing the listener in with its textures and spatial effects.

Is it recommended?

Yes, because there is some very fine music here – though it does come with the health warning that its dark nature is not necessarily ideal for the oppressively cloudy January days where it barely gets light!



On record – Devonté Hynes: Queen & Slim: Original Motion Picture Score (Domino)

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

It has been quite a year for Devonté Hynes. While keeping his Blood Orange pop persona very much in the foreground through touring and the new Angel’s Pulse mixtape, he has really furthered his ambitions to be a composer of soundtrack and ultimately classical material. The latter projects have borne fruit with the Third Coast Percussion Ensemble, but the soundtrack ventures have also progressed with this, his second soundtrack commission after Palo Alto, completed for Gia Coppola in 2013.

Directed by Melina Matsoukas to a script from Lena Waithe, Queen & Slim has been well-received, a romantic drama with an undoubtedly tragic overtone. Without giving away too much of the plot, that is the loose blueprint from which Hynes’ score evolves.

What’s the music like?

With 20 tracks spread over little more than 36 minutes, it is perhaps inevitable that Queen & Slim feels a little fragmented at times. Yet as Hynes has already shown us in his pop music that he is capable of setting a scene with very little padding to his structures, and so it proves here.

Kids may be just over a minute but even in that time it shows a tender heart to its string scoring. This cuts to the rather more sombre piano of Hair, but here too Hynes expands the sound with a doleful saxophone. Opening then shows his ease with analogue or digital sources, teasing out threat-ridden music with little more than dissonant drones and a bass drum.

Of the more substantial numbers on the soundtrack most stick in the memory. A Couple Deer has a lovely calming sonority, while Love Theme makes much from little material, not greatly substantial but hitting the right emotional spot.

Slim Calls Home spreads out its perspective to big reverberation but then Uncle’s House reintroduces the ominous drums of Opening, which Get Upstairs and Start The Car take a step further. Hynes has a distinctive way of pointing his strings and the textures bode ill rather than good.

Sneak Out is perhaps the most distinctive and unnerving track of all, and at four minutes has time to develop. It begins with rough tremolos from solo string instruments that provide eerie outlines rather than solid shapes, the uneasy atmosphere not helped by the introduction of a wavering bass line.

A resolution is ultimately found, but despite its initially consonant chords the music of Arrival is bittersweet, with booming percussion and string-based dissonances returning to cloud the picture. The closing track Kissed All Your Scars remains affected by this but provides more respite.

Some of the snippets of music are little more than descriptive postcards in the style of Max Richter, forming briefly sketched portraits but unable to say much more than that in half a minute. They do still show Hynes’ deft way with scoring, however.

Does it all work?

Yes, largely. Some of the promising material is frustratingly short but necessarily so, meaning the listener has to deal with occasionally being sold short when enjoyable scenes or moods move on abruptly.

With that taken in to account, Hynes sets his scenes with very little fuss and plenty of flair. As an orchestrator he is of the ‘less is more’ approach, which gives him plenty of room for manoeuvre.

Is it recommended?

Yes. If you are following Hynes’ work on all fronts then this will be essential listening, and it serves as an exciting pointer to show where he might go next. His is one of the most inquisitive minds in music currently, and the ease with which he moves across genres is rare indeed. It will be interesting to see if he moves on to bigger structures in the future.



You can purchase this release from the Domino website