Musings About Music In Film

Clint Mansell: Live @ The Barbican

By Jim Ware clintmansell

Clint Mansell needs no introduction.  Since 1998 the former lead singer and guitarist of Pop Will Eat Itself has composed the scores for over twenty feature films, various shorts and the odd video game.  Originally hailing from the West Midlands but now based in Los Angeles, he previously performed in the UK in 2009 and 2013.

Mansell's music is a tricky thing to categorise, often treading a fine line between minimalism, chamber music, electronica and progressive rock.  This crossover appeal has given him a substantial cult following and it's no surprise that the first concert of his 2014 tour at London's Barbican Hall was completely sold out.

No concert tour would be complete without a selection of merchandise, and Mansell's extravagantly coiffured nephew could be found on the lower level of the Barbican Centre with a stall of tour-related wares.  Amongst the t-shirts and postcards there was a pleasing amount of vinyl, along with a few CDs for the more digitally inclined.

The ensemble included drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, piano and the Sonus Quartet, with Mansell himself taking centre stage.  Equipped with laptop and microphone, he also alternated between keyboard and electric guitar as required.  The material presented in the concert required a certain amount of re-arrangement to fit the ensemble but this did nothing to diminish its musical power.  If anything, it added to the overall musical cohesion of the concert programme.

Above the musicians were three screens upon which high-definition imagery was projected throughout, tightly synchronised to the music.  This imagery was often of an abstract nature and coupled with the borderline minimalism of some of the music brought to mind Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi.  The juxtaposition was not always entirely successful, but it did serve to distance the music from the films for which it was written which may have been the intent.

Over the excited pre-concert buzz in the hall, the audience was given a stern and somewhat tongue-in-cheek warning about snipers lurking behind the stage, primed to dispose of any smartphone-wielding audience members.  Thankfully this had the desired effect - there were no smartphones to be seen and all audience members survived the concert.

Mansell's six-film collaboration with Darren Aronofsky has generated some of his most iconic scores and it was those that formed the core of the programme for the evening. The concert opened with the grungy, urban electronica of their first collaboration Pi (1998) although this was the only concession to career chronology.

A lengthy suite from Duncan Jones' Moon (2007) followed, the first of two non-Aronofsky interludes.  The pieces of music were interspersed with commentary and anecdotes from Mansell, who initially seemed quite shy for an ex-rock musician, but soon loosened up as the concert progressed.

'Make Thee An Ark' from the recent Noah (2014) was suitably stirring despite the reduction in musical forces when compared with the original recording.  Requiem for a Dream (2000) was represented by two pieces from its finale - 'Meltdown' and the ubiquitous 'Lux Aeterna'.

The second interlude presented the closing piece from Massy Tadjedin's Last Night (2010).  The performance of 'Final Movement' included the song Not at Home synchronised to a pre-recorded vocal track by Peter Broderick.

Returning to the Aronofsky collaboration, the last section of the concert presented a guitar-led piece from The Wrestler (2008), followed by an extended suite from The Fountain (2006) consisting of 'Stay With Me', 'Together We Will Live Forever' and 'Death is the Road to Awe'.

Mansell and band left the stage to rapturous applause from a genuinely thrilled audience.  Sadly there was to be no encore, but in hindsight it would have been difficult to top the final piece from The Fountain.

Clint Mansell's film music has no trouble standing alone when separated from the pictures for which it was composed, and it was fantastic to see such an eclectic programme receive such an enthusiastic reception.  This unique live presentation comes very highly recommended to all fans of Mansell's music if they have the opportunity to catch it.  One can only hope that more tours are in the pipeline!

In addendum, Clint has had to cancel a few further gigs due to illness - all at Films On Wax wish him a speedy recovery.