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Sound Trackin' - Cliff Martinez's "Contagion"

Posted by Areala, in Music 20 September 2011 · 528 views

techno soundtrack score film contagion martinez cliff jazz
Whether it's for a film, a television show or a video game, I'm a sucker for a great soundtrack. I'm even more of a sucker for soundtracks that don't have lyrics, where it feels more like an organic, singular entity than something that a dozen artists threw one track apiece at and called it a day. And Cliff Martinez reeled me in completely with his absolutely enthralling score for this year's viral outbreak disaster film "Contagion."

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Contagion, as a film, isn't a particularly traditional piece of film-making. Despite a star-studded cast including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburn, there's no central protagonist that we're rooting for from the start. Some of the big names even wind up getting killed off halfway through the movie (in one case about ten minutes in). But equally intriguing, there's no antagonist either (unless, of course, you consider the virus itself to be the bad guy). Those expecting a film similar to Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo's "Outbreak" will be sorely disappointed. There's no massive, over-arching government conspiracy involving the World Health Organization, no terrorist-released bacterium, no superbug that the CIA or NSA is willing to kill innocent people over in order to protect the secret. In short, Contagion is more like watching a documentary where you're able to see all sides of the problem, from backwater rural China to the CDC Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

It's spooky without being horrifying, insidious without being overly dramatic (dying of flu-like symptoms, while awful, isn't exactly as cinematic as bleeding from your eye sockets while crapping out your own intestines and puking up your stomach lining a-la Ebola or Marburgh), and contains a very simple message: if a supervirus of this nature ever did sweep the globe, we (the viewing public) are woefully unprepared for the consequences.

What gives considerable teeth to the film isn't the actors or the scene set pieces though. It's Martinez's modern-sounding, chill-inducing jazzy techno ambient minimalist score that sets our teeth on edge and causes us to shiver every time someone else in the theatre sneezes. His music doesn't hit you in the head so much as creep up inside your ears and sort of stir itself around in your brain. Where the virus is concerned, his music infiltrates your brain using catchy background rhythms that you'll be hearing long after they've gone silent, and overlays these themes with simple synth work that creeps around corners, sneaks through shadows, and makes you want to spritz yourself once more with the hand sanitizer, just to be on the safe side.

If you're looking for a comparison, Contagion sounds very similar to what you'd get if you married the musical sound of Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy score with the early style of John Carpenter's work (The Thing and Halloween especially). Creepy, mellow, understated, and absolutely worth the cost, Martinez's soundtrack is the strongest asset the film has, and yet its tracks are equally at home on or off the screen. Its chilling menace stays with you long after you've left the film and its characters behind. This one's a must-buy for sure.

Looking for a preview? Some enterprising individual has uploaded it to Youtube here:

Wash your hands. Get your facemask. Stay ten feet or more away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. And enjoy the music.

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