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Kite (Paul Hepker)

September 21, 2014

Synchrotones’ Microtones Review… all of the opinion, less of the words.


Paul Hepker, 2014, Lakeshore Records
39 tracks, 73.20

What is it? Based on the cult classic anime, “Kite” tells the story of Sawa (India Eisley), a young woman living in a corrupt society where crime and gangs terrorize the streets. When Sawa’s mother and policeman father are found victims of a grisly double homicide, she begins a ruthless pursuit for the man who murdered them. Directed by Ralph Ziman, for whom this is his fifth film since 1995.

What does it sound like? South Africa-based Composer Paul Hepker says: “The challenge was to create an electronic score that still had heart. Capturing the aggression and edginess of an amped-up assassin is relatively simple when playing with twitchy machines – but the film demanded a musical layer that reflected our heroine’s pain, her vulnerability, her numbness.” Whilst I appreciate what Hepker set out to do, I’m afraid I struggle to hear his intentions. The music is harsh and very much based around pre-set loops and effects. Other than a 6-note descending theme (for a bell-like instrument) I struggle to recognise any thematic or even merely harmonic ideas.

My style is often associated with organic, ethno-ambient instruments occasionally layered with self-made synth textures or drumloops. For “Kite” I stepped out of this ‘comfort zone’ and into the world of pre-fabbed sounds,” says Hepker in the album’s liner notes. He goes a lot further by explaining how he had to navigate hundreds of loops, variations on sounds and effects. He explains this approach was taken as a result of time- and budget constraints. Unfortunately, “Kite” sounds exactly like someone plodding through an endless selection of loops, synth basses and ‘grungelizer’ effects.

The overall atmosphere is dark and depressed, as you’d expect from the story. The sound selection is often dance-orientated and most cues are accompanied by a driving rhythm (either beats or a synth arpeggio). Although ‘cool’ on some occasions, they never really conjure up any real sense of threat. The quieter, more vulnerable cues rely heavily on ambient (though still edgy) sound design. It’s uneasy, which I believe to be the point, but it’s lacking personality.

In the liner notes Hepker also says that Vangelis’ “Blade Runner” is one of his favorite scores and he hopes that some influence is noticeable in “Kite”. Yes, it is. There are various glittery and computer-bleepy sounds that recall that 1982 score, but I honestly wouldn’t dare compare the two. Having said that, “Kite Flashback” is a genuinely pretty cue for soft synth pads and a detuned piano; and it’s arguably the only cue here that is worth comparing Vangelis’ classic score.

Is it any good? It may do what it needs to do within the film’s context; and if this gangster film is aimed at a teenage audience, they may just appreciate the urban and techno soundscape. However, on album it’s far from a pleasant listening experience. Even if you’re into synthesizer and dance music, even if you enjoy bass lines and drum loops, even if you enjoy the harsh manipulation of sounds…. I would expect the thirty-nine short cues and the running time of seventy-three minutes to be off-putting. Had the music been remixed and rearranged into, say, ten cues totalling forty-five minutes it may have been a marginally more attractive album.

Rating [1.5/5]

Review by Pete Simons, (c) Synchrotones

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