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Milo – Music for a Small Orchestra (Guy van Nueten)

February 27, 2016


Guy van Nueten, 2016, Bolli Records
18 tracks, 42:55

A lovely piano-led score for a Dutch-Belgian-Irish drama called “Milo” has recently found its way onto an album. Let’s explore Guy van Nueten’s sensitive score.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

2012 drama about Milo, an isolated 10-year-old boy with ‘sensitive skin’. He lives a life rigidly controlled by his father. Sparked by his first friendship, he runs away from home to attend the school camping trip – but never arrives. He falls into the hands of an ageing criminal couple, with whom he enjoys pure freedom from constraint – until he learns the shocking truth about his skin condition. Filled with doubt about his father’s love for him, Milo must try to come to terms with who he really is.

What does it sound like?

“Milo” is a piano-driven score, with a small orchestral backing (I guess the clue is in the title of the album). Stylistically it frequently reminds me of ‘minimal’ (or ‘neo-classical’)  composers such as Olafur Arnalds (“Broadchurch” comes to mind), Max Richter and Nils Frahm.

The album opens with “Milo’s Theme” – undulating piano chords form a harmonic base upon which the composer layers a melancholy theme. Initially this theme is also performed on the piano (in the higher registers), but it’s soon handed over to strings and winds; before it’s handed back to the piano.

There’s a sense of urgency throughout “Darkscape”, courtesy of a soft harp arpeggio and a zig-zagging string motif. “Target Practice” opens with sparse piano play before harp, strings and winds pick up the pace, and the cue becomes more playful. “Cream Routine” reprises parts of “Milo’s Theme”, with woodwinds and strings playing a more prominent role this time, adding some gravitas to the cue. The main theme is reprised several times throughout the score, such as in “The Reveal” (arranged for strings, winds, harp and piano) and “Talking to the Police” (piano).

A suspenseful, almost sinister-sounding, melody is introduced in “Nadja”, which really stands out for its chord progression. It’s reprised, and easily recognisable, in “Caitlin’s Trampoline”. Elsewhere, “Mickey’s Ruins” is a suspenseful cue where strings, cello, bassoon, flute and piano take the lead in turns. “Dysfunctional Family Theme” is a strange little cue for synthesized flute – though bizarrely it doesn’t really feel out of place! “Mixed Celtic Emotions” opens with long drawn-out string chords, before flute and a harp ostinato take over. The album closes with the two liveliest and most colourful cues of the album “Reprimand” and “Milo Exit Music”, both see all the instruments come together to form a beautiful and relatively upbeat finale.

Is it any good?

Guy van Nueten’s “Music for a Small Orchestra” aka the original soundtrack for “Milo” makes for a pleasant, somewhat neo-classical album. Not having seen the film in question, I don’t know how the music works in the film. It’s quite a subtle score, I think, and I do struggle a little to work out what the music wants me to feel. I suspect it really needs the visuals and the story to really come to life. That said, it still makes for a perfectly enjoyable album. Now, you must really like the piano, because there’s a lot of it (almost a little incessant at times); and you must appreciate the sparseness of a small ensemble. Much like the aforementioned Arnalds or Richter or Johansson, the album’s got a slightly moody and day-dreamy character, which I quite like. The piano parts have an almost-improvised feel to them, and combined with the close recording and mixing, it’s almost as if the composer is in the room with you performing his work.

Rating [3/5]


01. Milo’s Theme (3.11)
02. Darkscape (2.33)
03. Target Practice (3.32)
04. Thirty Silver Coins (2.11)
05. Cream Routine (2.52)
06. Nadja (2.46)
07. The Revel (2.22)
08. We’re Seeing Him Home (1.35)
09. Michey’s Ruins (2.18)
10. Talking To The Police (2.04)
11. Nightfall (2.58)
12. Inevitable Conclusion (1.00)
13. Dysfunctional Family Theme (1.47)
14. Mixed Celtic Emotions (2.02)
15. Caitlin’s Trampoline (1.45)
16. Dysfunctional Family Climax (2.16)
17. Reprimand (3.14)
18. Milo Exit Music (2.28)

For more information, visit Guy van Nueten’s website.

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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