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Rashomon - The Ruined Map (Film Music Volume 1)

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Artist: Rashomon

Album: The Ruined Map (Film Music Volume 1)

Label: Mirrors

Review date: Jul. 17, 2007

There's no shortage of experimental musicians who've made music for films, about films, or otherwise inspired by them. The intersection of avant-garde music and auteur cinema, though, brings to mind two albums in particular. The first, Eno's Music for Films, for example, is comprised of ambient tracks inspired by movies that don't actually exist. The second, Goblin's Suspiria, is sort-of the opposite, an original score for an actual movie that doubles as a canonical slice of morbid, whirling Italian prog. Rashomon's The Ruined Map (Film Music Volume 1) tries to occupy the space between these two concepts; an imaginary cinematic experience and a soundtrack with some artistic gravitas.

Under the Rashomon moniker, Guapo bassist Matt Thompson creates soundscapes on the experimental, irregular and ambient edges of prog, inspired by art-house cinema. Thompson set the bar pretty high when he named his project after one of the most highly regarded and internationally renowned Japanese films in the history of cinema. Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece, tells the story of a feudal-era rape and murder from a few different perspectives. In doing so, the film addresses the limits of human knowledge, depicting a microcosmic scenario in which the "truth" of what actually happened is wholly subjective.

Rashomon the band, probably won't shake the foundations of your moral world like Rashomon the movie might. But at the very least, with each song title referring to a work of film, The Ruined Map may encourage you to considerably lengthen the Netflix queue. That isn't to say, though, that the impact of the songs is dependent on a scrupulous knowledge of obscure movies, or that it takes a degree in film to intuit the disc’s cinematic mood.

The Ruined Map is for the most part dark in tone, and explores cinematic atmospheres in a range of different, discomfiting ways. "Blast of Silence" starts out easily identifiable as a lounge song, evoking a smoke-filled film noir, but remains there only momentarily before collapsing to make way for a foreboding piano piece, which is in turn abruptly ended by a sudden, explosive blast of static noise punctuated by high frequency electronic shrieks, followed by a return to the song's initial damaged theme. "A Quiet Week in the House" is a darkly brooding waltz regularly interrupted by a static buzz. "Confessions of an Opium Eater" opts for spaciously stoned ambient surges speckled with electronic alien interference, and "Onibaba" (showing no small debt to Goblin's demonic prog) brims with ominous creaks and indistinguishable satanic whispers over a steady mono-tonal bassline and a nervous, breathy organ.

"Onibaba," for all its b-movie moodiness, suffers from a lack of consistency that’s emblematic of where The Ruined Map tends to stumble. The interspersing of rubbery, cartoonish sounds throughout the track kills the atmosphere. Clearly meant to represent on-screen shifts in mood, these particular sonic quick cuts don’t translate well, and mess with the track’s overall ambiance. Similarly, “Branded to Kill” may adequately capture the mood of its namesake, but as its Load Records-style chaotic intro gives way to a fuzzed-out, psych tinged foray into heavy metal, the track sacrifices what it’d take to stand on its own.

For the most part, though, The Ruined Map’s fragmentation works, and allows for some oddly playful moments. The middle-eastern tinged “The Mascot” lapses into a Residents-inspired warped a capella portion, leaps back into its main theme, and ends up a more memorable song because of it.

Sure, making a progressive/ambient album dedicated to obscure art-house nuggets is one of the loftier concepts out there in the musical spectrum, but hey, we’re talking about the work of a musician whose work is mentioned in the same breath as Magma. The Ruined Map is an expressive shot at bringing filmic feeling to dimension of sound, and doesn’t dwell too needlessly in the realm of the inscrutable. That is, however, like a roadside murder in feudal-era Japan, something that can be looked at from a couple of different perspectives.

By Matthew A. Stern

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