OST Release: Mute Records
The Proposition OST (2005)
A powerful western drama set in the savage Eden of 1880s Australia, The Proposition is an elemental story of family conflict and primal violence, destructive love and divided loyalties. Featuring an international superstar cast including Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson and Danny Huston, it is directed by John Hillcoat from a specially commissioned script by the globally acclaimed singer-songwriter Nick Cave.
"Because of Nick's narrative songwriting, the characters are so vivid," says Hillcoat. "I knew something really good would come out of it."
Cave has also composed the film's soundtrack in conjunction with Warren Ellis, his longtime Bad Seeds collaborator and multi-instrumentalist frontman of The Dirty Three. Incorporating soft chamber pieces, ghostly moodscapes and whispered laments, these 16 tracks are as starkly beautiful as the landscape of the film. Story and music are closely intertwined.
"I always heard it musically, and I guess it's written rhythmically as well" Cave explains. "It's very similar to the way my band operates. There are moments of intense violence and there are also moments of long, lyrical, quiet sadness."
But the resulting soundtrack is emphatically different to a Bad Seeds or Dirty Three record. While some of these pieces grew from improvised accompaniment to big-screen projection, many also incorporate violin loops pre-recorded by Ellis at his home studio in France.
"It was very different to making a normal record," Ellis says. "There were no boundaries in that respect, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. The music had to be very flexible, and as a result it has a very improvised, loose feel."
The soundtrack to The Proposition is punctuated by recurring motifs, fragments of church hymns and abstract avant-folk drones. The softly swelling title theme lends a melancholy signature refrain while 'The Rider' is a haunting ballad in which the scattered natural elements of a starlit landscape engaged in hushed conversation. For a highly distinctive songwriter like Cave, the composition process involved stepping back and allowing the timeless power of the music to speak for itself.
"I didn't want to have songs in it," he explains, "or Nick Cave songs, certainly. For me it was delicately balanced thing. On the one hand you don't want a historical movie with a real contemporary soundtrack, but nor did we want wall-to-wall Irish jigs. I didn't want songs to act as distraction."
All the same, there is a smattering of more substantial songs on the album that will please fans of the Bad Seeds and Dirty Three. Cave and Ellis took great pains for the soundtrack to work as a stand-alone work in its own right. With 'The Rider Song' and 'Clean Hands, Dirty Hands', they lend a note of healing musical balm to the film's bittersweet, blood-splattered finale.
"The film ends a little tragically," Cave admits. "It doesn't end in a traditional Hollywood way. There was a feeling that there needed to be something redemptive, so when you've dusted your popcorn off your trousers you could walk out with a slightly joyful song in your heart."
Music from The Proposition features on White Lunar.
More info on The Proposition OST at Mute Records.