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Under Suspicion (Christopher Gunning)

July 24, 2016

Cover_UnderSuspicionUNDER SUSPICION

Christopher Gunning, 2016,Caldera Records
19 tracks, 48:09

Caldera treats us to a classy and at times raw thriller score from 1991. Under Suspicion by Christopher Gunning is out now and features some exciting avant-garde action music.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Liam Neeson plays a former cop who now works as a private investigator whose main jobs it is to collect evidence of adultery for his clients who wish to settle divorce cases. Neeson’s character runs into trouble soon though when he orders his wife to go to a hotel room with a well known painter in order to take photographs of the two and sell them to the wife of the painter. Things get nasty when the pair is shot death – and one of the prime suspects is: the investigator himself. The film is directed by Simon Moore; and was released in 1991.

What does it sound like?

In the audio commentary (the final cue on the album) the composer says he wanted to strike a balance between romantic themes and ‘freaky’ suspense music. He also says he’s particularly pleased with how those freaky cues turned out. I tend to agree with him.

In some ways, Under Suspicion is very much a score of its time. Its slow strings and woodwinds accompanied by low piano are all very typical for an early 90s score. These elements are well written and at times quite beautiful, but don’t really stand out. Gunning mentions he was partly influenced by John Barry, which perhaps explains the slowly evolving nature of the score. At times I’m even reminded a little of Alan Silvestri and his thriller work from that period. I think this is because everyone was dipping into the same musical pool.

The brooding main theme is first heard in “Tony In Danger”. At a basic level it seems to revolve around 4 key notes, but it’s at once a simple and flexible theme that allows for any number of notes to be added, and also allows for plenty of variations. The theme recurs in most cues, usually performed by strings and winds. In fact it recurs so often, I dare say the score feels mono-thematic, and there are a few instances where the theme appears blatantly obviously in a handful of cues back-to-back, which does feel a little awkward. It’s not the kind of theme you’ll be humming afterwards, but it is very effective at creating a mysterious atmosphere. Gunning offers plenty of satisfying variations on it as the score progresses.

However, when Gunning cranks up the suspense and the action, that is when this score really comes to live. Here, Gunning shows being influenced by Polish avant-garde composers such as Lutoslawski and Penderecki. As a filmmusic enthusiast my initial reaction was that much of the action material sounds like James Horner’s Aliens, Wolfen and that kind of score – but of course, Horner himself found inspiration in Polish avant-garde composers. Take a cue like “Murder” for example – There’s just something about the swirling strings, the rolling toms and driving snares, and the very specific use of low brass that strongly reminds of Horner’s horror scores.

Is it any good?

Christopher Gunning’s Under Suspicion is very much a product of its time. It’s a classy thriller score with a melancholy main theme (predominantly performed by strings and winds) and some raw action material inspired by Polish avant-garde composers. There is wonderful writing and orchestrating on display here. For me, it’s the action material that stands out and still excites. Listening to this score with its typical 90s style, does make me feel nostalgic for that era in film music history. And I think that this nostalgia-factor is one of the score’s greatest assets.

Rating [3/5]


01. Opening Title (0:45)
02. Murder (2:58)
03. Murder Part 2 (1:03)
04. Tony in Danger (2:06)
05. Under Suspicion (1:01)
06. Meeting After Dark (1:00)
07. Growing Suspicion… (1:51)
08. Suspicion and Romance (5:24)
09. Love – but did he do it? (4:04)
10. A Difficult Liaison (2:28)
11. Another Murder (1:26)
12. Knotty Questions (2:02)
13. Important New Evidence (1:08)
14. Frank Racing to the Hanging (7:24)
15. Tony and Angeline (2:51)
16. Tony and Angeline’s Doubts (1:12)
17. Closing Title (3:52)

18. Brighton (3:52)
19. Audio Commentary by Chrstopher Gunning (3:20)

For more information and audio samples, visit the Caldera website.

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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