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Thursday, July 22, 2010


Countdown to Zero
Music by Peter Golub
Lakeshore Records
19 Tracks 52:11 mins

Receiving a limited release in US cinemas from tomorrow, Lucy Walker's documentary Countdown to Zero charts the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to its present state of global affairs. The film was an official selection at both the 2010 Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals, and features appearances from important statesmen such as President Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pervez Musharraf and Tony Blair.
The music was provided by Peter Golub, whose past work I am mostly unfamiliar with, but he has scored the acclaimed HBO drama The Laramie Project and the Academy Award nominated Frozen River, as well as teaming with James Newton Howard for the Denzel Washington starrer The Great Debaters.
Of his score for Countdown to Zero, Golub states: "there is a great deal of variety in the types of documentary films today that invites a wide range of musical responses. The task with Countdown to Zero was how to keep the music serious and compelling while at the same time leaving the audience with a sense of wanting to know more and follow the story. I tried to balance the frightening enormity of the issue with a desire to follow the specifics in a positive way."
Often scoring documentaries is a thankless task. The composer has to compete with almost constant narration and/or dialogue and therefore his music has little time to breathe. In addition, the music budget is often, perhaps understandably, minuscule and therefore the music has to be realised electronically, which usually results in it sounding, well, cheap. Of course there are exceptions (and I'm thinking mostly of nature documentaries) and here at least Golub was able to use a mix of largely live musicians, alongside electronic elements.
A feature of the score is its forward motion, whether it be busy, as in "Electronic Backdoor" and "Ship to the US;"or more sedate, as in "Cities;" "Splitting the Atom;" "Bomb Making;" "Until Seized;" and "Ways;" with tracks like "A Rising Moon" offering something of both. Much of this motion is achieved by utilising a variety of percussive effects, some seemingly quite quirky for such a serious subject.
As Golub's score progresses it does however take a somewhat darker turn, as in "A Q Khan;" "Algeria;" "Oleg's Story;" "Launch Time Line;" "Proliferation;" "No Such Hope;" and "Scary Proliferation;" though the music does still retain its forward motion.
The final cue, "Aftermath," ends the score with solo saxophone actually lending a feeling of hopefulness for a while, before piano brings things to a more uncertain close.
The score for Countdown to Zero, on Lakeshore Records, has been available as a digital download since Monday and will receive a CD release on the 17th of next month.


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