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Music Review: Stefan Németh – Film

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I'm always more than a little perplexed when a conversation about instrumental music ends up stalling at the "it's very soundtracky" gambit. Soundtracky? What does that mean? I love film music, so the idea of something being "too soundtracky" just doesn't add up in my musical brain parts. I'm drawn to the instrumentals created for moving images because they allow me to imagine the scenes that inspired the music. If that route provides no interesting results, I can always create my own visuals.

Stefan Németh has been creating such music for years. His work has centered around experimental videos, short films, and artist installations. For Film, the idea was to take previously created material and re-purpose it via some structural alterations and sonic additions (synthesizer, guitar, percussion). The result is a collection of electro-acoustic music that keeps the exact mix of organic and artificial a guarded secret.

Oooh, it's so soundtracky.

From the original visual contexts of sound design for an architectural film ("Field") to the soundtrack for Németh's own film about Brazil and utopian ideals ("Via L4-Norte"), we have what to my ears sounds like the ambient noise lurking behind the big, rusted metal door of that abandoned mill building we whistle our way past at night. Electronic (read: "constructed") music often does this to me. Of course, the obvious "industrial" moniker might apply here, but it's more than that. Urban landscapes, large rusted structures, decay…they have always had an odd appeal for me. Where some folks might just see an ugly pile of metal, I see a vibrant past and a spooky, foreboding future. This is exactly why soundtrack music, though meant to support a visual, can (and does!) project its own story.

By way of example, let's consider "Transitions," which begins with two single piano notes that are soon joined by another pair, and then another…and so on. There is a ringing swell that threatens to overtake everything before more notes are dropped in by an attackless guitar. In a circuitous way, some chords are being formed. As we near the end, a fizzy synthesizer glues together all of the shimmering notes. Without researching the track's "true meaning," I hear a number of possibilities including an aural account of the human physical aging process, the trials endured by the immigrant fitting into a new society, or perhaps just plain notes echoing through the interior of an empty factory — slowly being absorbed into the structure's natural resonant frequency.

I don't mean to step directly on the artist's original intent when talking about instrumental music. It just can't be helped. So, the next time you're faced with a soundtrack, remember that there's more than one way to approach it. Don't be surprised if the answers come from inside of you.

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