By Becky Grace Lea
Already a potential awards darling, the delightfully batty and weirdly wonderful Birdman has the perfect accompaniment to its madcap nature in Antonio Sanchez’s score. Nearly entirely drum-based, the score, much like the film itself, moves to its own rhythm, offering up something surprising at nearly every turn. The different layers and kinds of percussion provide varying rhythms, changeable moods and at times, it’s brilliantly infectious.
Birdman follows a former blockbuster star, Riggan Thomson (a never-better Michael Keaton in full ‘let’s get nuts’ mode) as he attempts to write, direct and star in his own Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Impressively shot into an illusory one-take narrative, the film follows Thomson, his family and his troublesome cast through backstage corridors, out on to the stage and in one memorable sequence, on to the streets themselves.
It’s nearly impossible to talk about this score as separate from the film because the two work in such close harmony, both rhythmically and thematically. Without giving too much away about the narrative itself, much of Birdman blurs the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Theatre is a natural meeting of these two usually separate entities, a place in which an audience can become wrapped up in the story of characters on a stage in front of them. The film does something similar with the score as it bleeds into Riggan’s surroundings.
The drums form the rhythm of the world in which he’s marching and cross over to become diagetic sound within the world itself. As Riggan goes about his business, there’s often a drummer tucked away in the corner, playing away at his kit completely apart from the action in the rest of the scene. At one stage, even a marching band invades the scene. It adds another level to a film that is already operating on plenty, bringing the score into its world with a flourish.
The score is often reflective of the changeability of Birdman‘s narrative; at times, the focus is solely upon the lower end of the percussive spectrum with bass drums pounding to a regular rhythm as other, lighter drums punctuate it at will. At other points, the syncopation takes over to produce something slightly disorienting yet always entertaining. The track ‘Doors and Distance’ is one of the more obviously regulated tracks whereas the aptly named ‘Schizo’ and ‘Internal War’ both offer something distinctly more idiosyncratic. It’s a score that keeps you on your toes, but encourages you also to tap along at the same time, sweeping you up into its impressive soundscape.
As the score goes on, the more regular rhythms break down into the more syncopated percussion that acts as almost a challenge to the listener. The faster paces, coupled with the sounds of an orchestra setting up in the background in ‘The Anxious Battle for Sanity’, suggests that breakdown between boundaries. The disorder of jazz percussions clashes with the orchestral strings, but as the score develops, this becomes the final track on the score.
At first it seems odd that classical pieces such as the First Movement from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D appear, but it’s entirely in keeping with the constant surprise of the score that precedes it. This is a score that defies easy categorisation, sometimes jarring, sometimes elegant, but always riotously entertaining.
Birdman is out now from Milan Records