For all the newspaper blether about an actress in a sweater and the irresistible charm of grey Danish dawn, vital elements in the compelling TV thriller have passed almost unnoticed – as if they were buried clues for detective Sarah Lund to discover in the final episode as she waves her torch down another dark tunnel. We’re talking music here.
The soundtrack of The Killing was composed by Frans Bak, a conservatory-trained musician who used to be a bandleader on Danish television and later wrote lots of product commercials before settling for the long-form movie score. Bak works alone at an electronic desk, mixing sounds of his own making. The only other musician credited on this soundtrack album is a hypnotic, low-voiced Swedish singer, Josefine Cronholm.
Bak creates a Ligeti-like Atmosphères underpinned by a percussive throb that might have come from the young Steve Reich
For the opening titles, Bak creates a Ligeti-like Atmosphères underpinned by a percussive throb that might have come from the young Steve Reich and a brooding orchestral surge with roots in mid-Sibelius. The fusion, however, finds a distinctive signature which, in turn, becomes indistinguishable from the gripping, questing ambience of the unfolding story.
The effect it most called to my mind was Bernard Herrmann’s music for Alfred Hitchcock, two seconds of which suffice to evoke a screen situation. I was pleased to read online (the album has no sleeve notes) that Bak views Herrmann as a role model. That’s encouraging at a time when film is losing its musical literacy. Listen to any track on this chilling disc and you’ll be lost in the murk of a Danish plot, as indelible as the graveyard scene in Hamlet.
Artists: Franks Bak, Josefine Cronholm (vocals)
Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.