In 2011, American and Swedish composers Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist joined forces and created From the Mouth of the Sun. The duo are still melding their brand of acoustic and electric music into something bigger than their individual art, with instruments including cello, banjo, piano, pump organ and guitar, and stylistically they continue to fit each other well. Six years on, their ornate, pastoral melodies continue to bleed into the ominous and the overcast; a day in the sunshine intertwining with a cursed period.
These grey areas are present in Menashe, their first original score for a feature-length film, and like any decent score it’s more than capable of standing on its own. Slow sweeps and swells inevitably give the music more of a cinematic feel while at the same time a more noticeable pull of gravity is felt. On top of that, a mature atmosphere weighs on the music. The recurring melodies are older (and definitely wiser), and like a fold of old, wrinkled skin the strings seem to grate and rub against the abrasive bow.
The images on film put the score in context, and likewise the score needs to be able to aid and boost the image on screen, but this is where the magic happens, because you don’t necessarily need to experience the film in order to be swept away by the subtle score. At all times the music appears measured, always willing to bide its time, to appear patient, and then reaching a slow crescendo at just the right time, and one which is all the more intense for its subtle build. This is especially true of ‘Closing’, where the piece is given the room it needs in order to grow, building things block by block, much like a Lego set, until the strings come in and energize the music. These strings wrap themselves around the underlying harmony, slowly snaking around its awning like a group of jade vines. They’ve studied film soundtracks, because similar themes and melodies re-emerge and motifs are slightly changed throughout the soundtrack, giving both a sense of smooth continuity and subtle progression…variations on a single theme.
Menashe gives us a glimpse into another, perhaps unfamiliar culture, this being set in the heart of New York’s ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community. It’s another reminder that music can transcend everything: culture, religion, nation. Human feelings and struggles are the same the world over. Both music and film illuminate those grey areas, of souls we wouldn’t necessarily come across, fighting that same battle half the world away, and in the process gifting us, listeners and viewers, an open heart towards their struggle.