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Doug Wieselman - Dimly Lit: Collected Soundtracks 1996-2002

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Artist: Doug Wieselman

Album: Dimly Lit: Collected Soundtracks 1996-2002

Label: Tzadik

Review date: May. 19, 2004

The sales figures on Hollywood soundtracks hold a strange parallel to their pop music counterparts. Blockbuster multiplex flicks like Spiderman 2 and I, Robot have built-in marketing clout from the start. Studio composer geeks like Danny Elfman carry both behemoth budgets and the promise of millions of units sold. The often more experimental fare accompanying indie and documentary cinema receives only the smallest fraction of these sorts of resources. It’s an inequity that leaves much of the music only accessible in conjunction with the limited regional screenings of the films themselves. That’s where Tzadik’s Film Music series has proven itself so important – by tilting a much-needed spotlight in the direction of composers who would otherwise languish in the dimly lit recesses of the idiom.

As with previous Tzadik entries in the series, Dimly Lit is a compendium of Doug Wieselman’s works. The majority of pieces are drawn from the Oscar-winning documentary The Long Way Home, a film detailing the travails of Holocaust survivors post-1945. Other pieces derive from various theatrical and film productions including Linda Rabiet’s Strays, Yaël Bitton’s Not For Sale and the Flying Karamozov Brothers’ The Comedy of Errors. Rather than sequence the selections in strict order based on their sources, Wieselman chooses to shuffle them into a collage-like slideshow. Instrumentation and musician participation vary wildly between tracks and the guest roster includes such downtown NYC notables as keyboardist Anthony Coleman, bassist Trevor Dunn, percussionist Jim Pugliese, violinist Charles Burnham and cellist Jane Scarpantoni. Wieselman’s own cache of sound devices runs a wide gamut too, encompassing guitars, keyboards, drum machine, ocarina, percussion, harmonica and various woodwinds.

“Bicycle” braids delicate acoustic guitars with whirring harmonium and fragile percussion. Its follow-up “B.P. 2” traces a vivacious folk-tinged current of spiraling tension building strings, hand percussion, tuba and what sounds like hammered dulcimer. Wieselman paints with a diversity of aural brushes from the thick, bristle-pocked strokes of to the filigree watercolors of “Opening.” Some of the arrangements wouldn’t be out of place on an AM ‘acoustic sunrise’ program or Old World chamber music showcase, but even the most mellifluous cuts contain subtle elements of surprise. Weiselman may not wear his ‘avant garde’ lapels as prominently as colleagues like John Zorn, but the credentials are there on cuts like “Block Dance” where his layered guitars skate through a sampler-derived expanse of aqueous percussive echo. “The Girl in the Booth” even integrates a synthetic hip-hop beat into a minimalist meditation for spidery guitar and shakers.

All but two of the twenty-six tracks are under three minutes in duration and many occupy far less. Their collective brevity results in a disc that adheres well within the running time of a traditional LP. It also points to a direct necessity of the soundtrack score, to shift quickly from scene to scene and similarly from mood to mood. Wieselman definitely has talent as both composer and performing musician. His name may not be appearing on any Hollywood composer A-lists anytime soon, but based on the persuasive proof here, work of a far more fulfilling sort will probably continue to funnel his way.

By Derek Taylor

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