- Composed by Frans Bak
- Decca / 2012 / 49m
I don’t know what they’ve been putting in the water in Denmark over the last few years, but whatever it is has clearly had a positive impact on their television writers and producers because the country has rather improbably been responsible for what I think are the three most outstanding television series of the last decade – The Killing (Forbrydelsen), Borgen and The Bridge (Broen). The first and last of these have already been remade for America, but it goes without saying that nobody who’s seen both would take the remakes over the originals.
The Killing is nothing particularly new – each of the three seasons focuses on a police investigation, with numerous twists and turns along the way. Yet somehow it feels so fresh and full of life. The central character, Sara Lund, beautifully played by Sofie Gråbøl, will go down as one of the great tv detectives. Again there’s a lot of familiar traits to her – broken family relationships, job put ahead of everything else, frequently fiery exchanges with her superiors – and again somehow, thanks to strong writing and acting, there’s something just beautiful about the character. It’s all great but for my money the ten-episode third season is just television perfection, a complex web of a tale involving kidnap and murder set against the backdrop of the Danish government’s response to the global financial meltdown.
Music for all three seasons was composed by Frans Bak, who rather improbably (but very pleasingly) was also hired to score AMC’s American remake. It’s mean and moody music, largely electronic, and perhaps it won’t have much appeal to those who haven’t seen the show; but those who have will immediately recognise the importance the music plays in it and this smartly-produced soundtrack, featuring music from each of the three seasons, will be like manna from heaven.
“Opening” is a snarling, nasty piece of music, frantic bouts of percussion bursting forth over a bed of synth textures; this leads into the wonderful “The Killing”, the distinctive and memorable main theme, a passage of guitar, percussion and keyboards building and building before being joined by a complex wordless vocal performed by Joseline Cronholm. It fits the show like a glove – tense, serious, so many different dramatic ideas interweaving effortlessly with one another. But the music’s not all dark – the main theme is followed by “Theis and Pernille’s Theme”, again featuring a solo vocal – this theme is a tragic, incredibly haunting tune (Theis and Pernille are a couple whose child’s murder forms the focus of the first season’s investigation) but there’s a real beauty too, suggesting a complex love, a lost love, also a desperate longing.
“Aquarium” has an exotic beauty, mournful ethnic flutes carrying a shimmering melody over a (presumably sampled) subtle choral backdrop. “Choral Theme” is, oddly, not choral; a warmer piece, but still with an unmistakable air of tragedy, plays in counterpoint to a subtle piano arrangement of Sara’s Theme. “At the Graveyard” is full of tragedy, again featuring subtle vocals to add a human touch; then “Getting Ready” is overtly tense, percussion being used to add a driving pace. As is often the case with this score, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. “We’re leaving” continues the mood, a pulsating, driving piece of suspense music.
In “Curious”, Bak brings back the gentle piano version of Sara’s Theme, the main phrase separated by long gaps of atmospheric keyboard music. The synths take on a menacing air in “Waiting”, in which the score’s main theme gradually emerges, becoming less and less low-key as the piece develops. “Never Again” is an impassioned piece, a gentle cello melody contrasting brilliantly with an urban rock drumbeat. “Looking for Emilie” features some dark textures, sorrowful low-end strings playing a simple melody over a repeating synth phrase. The mood changes in “And We’re Off”, exotic percussion providing a real flavour behind a vaguely Arabic-sounding wind solo.
“Sara’s Piano” is a beautiful, tender theme which seems to effortlessly express the emotional turmoil which continually seems to afflict the central character – there’s an undoubted underlying goodness to it, but unresolved phrases express the difficulty of dealing with life’s challenges. “Hartmann’s Theme” on the other hand is dark and edgy, the only melody coming from the strained tones of another exotic wind instrument, textured keyboards and percussion carrying the majority of the piece. “The Clock is Ticking” does exactly what it says, a ticking sound effect running through the piece over some of the most urgent and exciting action music of the whole score.
“Strange Thing” is another piece of great tension, low strings ebbing and flowing, a mysterious air carefully cultivated. “Who’s Calling” includes an up-front vocal, mysterious and rich and never quite as it first appears. “At the Crime Scene” is somewhat macabre in its slow-paced broodiness, brilliantly evocative. “Emilie’s Piano” features a childlike innocence in the melody, a distinctly adult evil in the electronic backdrop, Bak once more perfectly capturing the requisite contrast of emotions. The album concludes with the black-as-nails “Finding the Doll and More” – those hoping for a nice positive resolution will be disappointed!
I love this album, but it’s not one I would recommend without listening to a few clips first, unless you’re familiar with it through watching the show. On the surface, the vast majority of the music is dark, some might even say miserable; yet deeper down, there is so much going on. Acoustic instruments are used sparingly, usually just a solo over an electronic base; the listener is always thinking about the significance of the solo. From a musical point of view, this is a deceptively simple composition; from a dramatic one, it’s full of rich complexity. The album is smartly produced, mixing up tracks from the three seasons out of sequence and flowing wonderfully. If you can try before you buy, then I’d certainly recommend that; if you’re willing to take a chance on something darker, something a long way away from much of the music rated this highly by this website, then The Killing is certainly something to consider. It’s uncomfortable at times, but highly rewarding.