The movie soundtrack as love letter

Tarantino’s latest mixtape, classical spectacles, uncanny art and missing Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Echo Collective, “Stuk”, Jóhann Jóhannsson: 12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann (Deutsche Grammophon)

As not only the year but also the decade draws to a close, I am reminded of how musically gloomy my 2010s were. I was recently asked by another publication to compile a list of favourite albums culled from the past 10 years. Highlights include Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972, Field of Reeds by These New Puritans and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Orphée. Jóhannsson’s performance with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble in Montreal in October 2016 is among my most treasured memories, and I am but one of many who continue to profoundly feel his loss and listen whenever possible with fondness to his all-too-brief life’s work.

Koyaanisqatsi, dir. Godfrey Reggio (1982), score performed live by Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble, Michael Reisman conducting, Maison Symphonique, Sept. 14, 2019

According to filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, “Koyaanisqatsi” is a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance,” a theme driven home throughout the film in juxtaposed images of natural and human-made landscapes. Philip Glass’s score creates a corresponding vertiginous soundscape upon which Reggio’s images seem to float aloft: time-lapsed shots of undulating cloud formations, traffic, teeming throngs in transit and, finally, a piece of metal blasted off from a rocket, sometimes ablaze, sometimes not, spinning to infinity. Each time I had seen this film previously, I had always received its intended message of disequilibrium. Yet experiencing it again in 2019, perhaps aided by Philip Glass’s formidable presence, or perhaps in melancholy retrospect from a far more unstable and unpredictable time, felt paradoxically harmonious.

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 5, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano conducting, Maison symphonique, Sept. 21, 2019

It is never a disappointment to hear the OSM helmed by Maestro Nagano, and this matinée performance of Mahler’s five-part symphony was no exception. But the real treat of the afternoon was the perfectly programmed opening amuse-oreille, Maurice Ravel’s heavenly Introduction et Allegro, for harp, string quartet, flute and clarinet, featuring the positively plucky fingers of Jennifer Swartz. It’s no wonder why the harp is an angel’s preferred axe.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Columbia)

A number of reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film label it a “love letter” — whether that be to a style of narrative filmmaking that is now all but eclipsed by sequels and superhero movies, or to an extinct breed of film and television actor in a fabled version of Tinseltown, its neon signs and drive-in theatre lights only burning brightly in imagination and memory, or to the far-out clothes, the bitchin’ cars, the wood-panelled caravans, and the console colour television sets of the director’s own late 1960s. But the soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is altogether another order of love letter.

We may know Tarantino for his particular knack at curating evocative pop songs that complement and contrast what he’s showing us onscreen. Sometimes these songs land on the nose, like Urge Overkill’s remake of Neil Diamond’s 1967 Top 10 hit “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” which accompanies a sexually tense scene between Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. At others, they cut decidedly against the grain, like Steelers Wheel’s upbeat “Stuck in the Middle With You” clanging obliviously over the radio, deaf to the torture that Mr. Blonde inflicts upon the captive cop Marvin Nash in Reservoir Dogs.

What Tarantino does with his latest soundtrack is recapture with painstaking precision the sound and feel of listening to AM radio — particularly, while careening in a fast car on an open freeway with all the windows rolled down. The legendary L.A. station KHJ’s real DJs, cues and commercial jingles punctuate the tracks for an authentic wireless experience. Although this is Tarantino’s Boss Radio, so we get Deep Purple’s “Kentucky Woman,” not Neil Diamond’s; Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “The Circle Game” rather than Joni Mitchell’s; Jose Feliciano’s instead of the Mamas and the Papas’ version of “California Dreamin’.”

Standouts include the driving breakbeat of “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” by the Bob Seger System, and the Spanish freakbeat group Los Bravos’s bass-heavy 1968 single “Bring a Little Lovin’.”  Enchantingly, Tarantino makes us feel like we’re hearing renowned classics for the first time, but also as though some of these songs we may have never heard before have been in our lives forever. Not since Martin Scorsese has a director been as adept at integrating period music so seamlessly into his films, and not since the American Graffiti soundtrack has a love letter to another era — another medium — sounded so fun.

Jane Corrigan, Of the Air, Sept. 4–Oct. 12 2019, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran

Jane Corrigan’s paintings, while immensely textural and tactile, also possess an uncanny sonority, as if we might be equivalently immersed in the worlds their implied sounds create. Like the singular quality of sound, Corrigan’s works are fleeting and ephemeral. Assistant gallery director Soad Carrier explains to me that Corrigan employs a technique called alla prima, in which new paint is applied in layers to colours that have yet to adhere to the canvas. The piece titled “Elvis Lives,” depicting two young women fawning over one of the King’s records, casually invites us to listen in on the scene. “Fallen,” which portrays a restless stallion bucking off its unsuspecting rider, feels more like an interruption — a whinnying horse, a shrieking girl, the imminent autumn wind.