The novels and short stories of Philip K. Dick have proved fertile ground as the inspiration for a number of successful movies: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly to name just a few. These stories are all thrillers with a science fiction element providing a unique twist. So it is with "Next" directed by Lee Tamahori. Nicolas Cage plays a man with psychic powers who is hiding out in Las Vegas, performing as a magician and earning some money through gambling since his power allows him to see a couple of minutes into the future. All he wants is to be left in peace and find the girl of his dreams (literally), but the FBI wants to enlist his help to fight a terrorist group before they carry out a bomb threat. The soundtrack to this thriller is by composer Mark Isham who is known for his versatility and has had recent successes with "Crash" and "The Black Dahlia".
Although there are tracks exhibiting the use of electronic treatment, most of the "Next" soundtrack is orchestral in nature and the musical material seems to belong to two main categories. Firstly there is the human dimension to the story: a man who wants to be left alone, who has a secret gift which makes him the subject of unwelcome attention. The music accompanying these moments is atmospheric, using strings with a piano seemingly picking out an improvisation like some of Craig Armstrong's work. This music can be dark, troubled and lonely. Then there is the action music which is almost invariably characterised by a rhythmic pulse coming from the percussion and other sections of the orchestra, with short ostinato figures and dramatic hits. These two contrasting styles make up much of this largely non-melodic score, and occasionally transition between each other as the plot unfolds. The whole is very minimalist in nature, similar in conception to Don Davis's music for "The Matrix" films, yet utterly different in its realisation.
The two styles seem to alternate initially with "8:09", "Destiny" and "Carlotti Defines" providing the introspective material. These tracks loosely sketch the outlines of a melody on the piano, then add a couple of chords with jazz harmonics. The tracks in between "Give Me Two Minutes" and "Pier 18" are examples of the action style where an ongoing pulse is punctuated sometimes by waves of sound, and at other times with more abrupt hits. Then the alternating pattern seems to be broken or mixed when "A Few Minutes of Your Time" overlays dark strings and piano over a tense pulsing beat. The two styles continue to alternate and mix as the plot unfolds, becoming decidely darker and harsher as the story reaches its climax. The penultimate track "A Show of Character" introduces some chiming sounds to a background ambience, with some brief moments of abrupt punctuation and becoming more agitated before rapidly accelerating at the end. The final track "I Believe Anything's Possible" begins in delicate sound design form, from which a piano emerges to remind us of the earlier melodic fragments. This is picked up by the horns and seem to resolve into an instrumental pop track, before a rhythmic pulse picks up momentum propelling the whole album to a seemingly abrupt conclusion.
Those interested in the composing process will want to check out this video interview with Mark Isham on m-audio web-site, which references a couple of his recent scores for Crash and The Black Dahlia.