PrintE-mail Written by Nick Spacek

Thank heavens for liner notes. Given that composer Donald Rubinstein never wrote liner notes for the original Varese Sarabande release of the score to George A. Romero's Martin, I cannot imagine what listeners thought of the recordings. The strange pastiche of avant-garde jazz and standard horror makes for a dissonant listening experience, and the fact that it's all overlaid with a strange beauty can be confusing without context. Reading of Rubinstein's work with Madame Margaret Chaloff and learning of some of her other clients – Keith Jarrett, Leonard Bernstein, and Herbie Hancock – one understands whence Rubinstein is coming.

It also does a great job of explaining as to why most of these cues are capped at three minutes – it was because the composer ‘just couldn't take it anymore,’ which is certainly the most honest explanation as to why someone stops when they do. It is a shame, though, because when one hears pieces such as Exorcism or Stake, Well Done! and the way those tracks hit the warbly horror bits so well, one wishes that there were longer passages.

This particular pressing has at times a depth of sound that demonstrates nicely the benefits of uncompressed audio. Phased, Antique Chase with Villagers, and Martin Martin Martin show the fact that Ship to Shore's pressing can simultaneously handle deeply resonant frequencies and high, oddly-toned instruments like what appears to be a waterphone or flexatone.

The Martin score can sound a bit tinny at other times, though. Something about parts of this score just sounds as if they were recorded in a room with absolutely no life to it. The sound just dies, and it's astoundingly uncomfortable. Considering the atmosphere Rubinstein was trying to evoke for Romero's film, that makes perfect sense, but for a standalone listen, it's rather distressing. 

An example that's rather easy to point to is the kettle drums which open the second side's Chant. They sound as if they were recorded at a remove, and the cymbal roll which accompanies them sounds additionally distant. It's strange, because the haunting vocals are crisp and clear, making for further dissonance.

The jazzy Back to Me also suffers from this problem. The saxophone sounds like it's moving around, never quite staying on-mic; often being so off as to seem as if the saxophonist has his back to the microphone. It's in complete contrast to Marie – Interlude, which is also quite jazzy, but whose violin achieves a certain immediacy missing from Back to Me.

Given that the Rubinstein declares the mastering “excellent,” one has to assume that this is the best-sounding version of what is extant. It's the recordings themselves, rather than the particular pressing, that is causing the sonic issues. The vinyl is tremendously heavy-duty, and the new art is delightfully tongue-in-cheek or, rather – this being a vampire film – teeth-in-throat. Additionally, those liner notes by Rubinstein are a delight, and perhaps the best we've thus read. With the perspective of nearly 37 years, the composer revisits his work with a clarity and honesty that's remarkably refreshing.


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