The duo of Adam Wiltzie (also of Stars of the Lid) and Dustin O’Halloran take their cosmic drones to the score for a French erotic thriller called Iris.
The music Adam Wiltzie made with Stars of the Lid, and later with the pianist Dustin O’Halloran as A Winged Victory for the Sullen, was often epic in scope. The cosmic drones both those groups utilized were well suited for soundtracking visual moments that showcased how primordial those sounds felt. Even though the swagger was always turned down a notch in the more piano-focused music of A Winged Victory for the Sullen, an element of the size and drama remained. As calm and ruminative they could be, Wiltzie and O’Halloran seemed at the very least poised to craft sounds that begged for visual accompaniment. They dipped their toes in the visual world with their score for Wayne Mcgregor’s delightfully modern dance piece ATOMOS. Now, the duo have decided to tackle the score for Iris, a French erotic thriller directed by Jalil Lespert (whose most recent feature was the Yves Saint Laurent biopic).
Now, stop me if you’ve seen this movie before: femme fatale goes missing in the middle of the night, her mild-mannered banker husband dangles at the age of sanity, and between them a mysterious rake at the center of the mystery. This plot borders on Mad Libs, and of course, Iris is just slightly meatier, but it doesn’t avoid the essential fact that it is a boilerplate drama. Good music and good musicians have been attached to bad films for years, (Will anyone throw shade at Philip Glass for scoring The Fantastic Four?) but this is a bit of an odd project for Wiltzie and O’Halloran to tackle. Iris does not exactly have the makings of a blockbuster, or the trappings of something more high-minded, and in effect it drags their music into schmaltz.
The score was recorded alongside a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest, but the writing sessions happened before filming began, mostly on modular synthesizer, and the score still bears a slight rigidity based on the way it was first crafted. There is something curiously granular about the way they’ve organized the instruments, so that they function more as discrete parts than as an orchestra. The music itself is often timid and generic, as if the pair are afraid to allow their drones to stretch out. A few pieces, like “Galerie” and “Le Renversement” conjure their idiosyncrasies, if just for a flash. Those tracks strike the balance between theatricality, understatement, and experimentation, reminding me of Burning Star Core’s elegant drone. But overall, the compositions are nebulous and merely pretty in a way that feels almost rote. The separate songs spill into each other, without differentiation, or pace. There is very little difference between songs like “L'embauche” or “Flashback Antoine,” where a rumbling drone is given a sprinkling of pleasant string arrangements. This agreeable sameness infects much of the score, turning the voices of two inimitable musicians into hack work for hire, churning out glossy tones for images of cheap thrill and intrigue.