[20 May 2014]
Everything starts with a “click”. A single snap, then two, four, eight and sixteen. Then again. The music is hidden somewhere between the motion of an imaginary pendulum and somebody else’s vision. Casual listeners like to think that a film score is the audible element at that perfect junction between the pictures, the visuals and the composer’s inspiration. It is inescapable and somehow ingrained in a middle-earth suspended between the visible and the invisible; the movement and its opposite. Reality is, instead, quite different.
When Dave Porter first sat down to compose the score for TV series Breaking Bad, the metronome articulated its mechanical pace, pictures poured from a nearby television set, but all the man was left with was a “click” and a succession of mute images. What musical attributes does one assign to a man who is ready to lose it all to provide for his family? Disillusion, angst, determination, elation and retaliation are common feelings in contemporary music: minimalism, ambient, Americana, electro and classical music furnished the content; Dave Porter contributed with his style and ideas. So, yes, there is a certain palette of sounds the composer uses but, yes, the choices are almost boundless.
Did the soundtrack do its job with the TV series? Absolutely. Can the same be said of the score as a stand-alone album? No, not entirely. One of the biggest contradictions in the soundtrack business is that the right music perfectly adheres to the scenes, and it does it so well that it disappears or, better, becomes one thing with the pictures. Breaking Bad’s soundtrack proved to be an impeccable addition to the show, so much so that it would be difficult to conceive Heisenberg’s criminal trajectory from average loser to lawless mastermind without the subtle drones disturbed by the distant rumbles on “Jane’s Demise”, or the pulsating tones underlying the forlorn hilarity on “Crawl Space”.
If this desperate man’s primitive instinct disturbs you, you may blame Coil, Cabaret Voltaire and the likes of Ministry, Einstürzende Neubauten and the 1990s for the controlled, sonic violence on “Aztek”, “Searching for Jesse”, “Parking Garage Standoff” or “Baby’s Coming”. Alternatively, you could praise Philip Glass and Terry Riley for helping shape the most reflective moments on the score. Whatever your feelings, one of the greatest assets of this soundtrack is the fact that Porter’s music does not – at any time – anticipate the visual and contextual developments. The composer very rarely resorts to build-ups, so that the suspense is entrusted to the dynamic binary relationship between the acting and the music, in an affair which has largely contributed to making the show a success.
Porter’s composition is fluid, almost effortless, yet complex in its own way: yet another contradiction that comes with the challenge of having to portray the evolution of the characters in a series where not one individual remains consistent with their principles and ethics. The music follows their lead and evolves with them, stretching its boundaries in the process, toying with unpredictability while remaining consistent with the author’s self-imposed discipline. This is the TV series as much as Bryan Cranston’s enigmatic grin or Pinkman’s tragic transformation. This is what happens when a single “click” comes to life. It all starts from there.