Soundtrack Review: BLACK SWAN

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
December 8th, 2010

Rating: 4/5

The traditional sound of the ballet is that of classical orchestration – beautiful arrangements that move right along with the dancers. However, the music of BLACK SWAN is not all it appears (much like the film itself). Each piece is outlined and interwoven with off-putting elements and tones. Things seem beautiful, maybe even perfect, but then there is a note, a shift, and that beauty is suddenly compromised.

A ballet is not simply created by dancers, the music driving the performance is equally important, as it effects the mood and progression of the story. Composer Clint Mansell succeeds in not just scoring the film, but also the ballet, as the performance the dancers are practicing so diligently to perfect begins to bleed into their actual lives. As the lines between these two stories begin to intertwine, Mansell’s score goes from simply playing accompaniment to the dancers or the characters, but becoming the thread that helps blend these two worlds together.

Mansell first began composing when he scored director (and friend) Darren Aronofsky’s first film, PI. Mansell followed that collaboration by working on almost all of Aronofsky’s subsequent films, from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM to THE FOUNTAIN and THE WRESTLER and their most recent film together, BLACK SWAN.

The ballet performed in the film is Swan Lake and Aronofsky does not hold back as we descend into the more sinister side of the black swan and Mansell follows suit. His score pushes you to the edge of your seat, both inside and outside of the theater. One of the most accomplished pieces of the collection, “The Double,” takes full advantage of its eight-minute duration as it moves through a range of emotions; I honestly jump in the middle of it each time I listen to it.

With the first track, “Nina’s Dream,” you realize that this is not your ordinary ballet. Almost all the tracks have elements that are frightening and unsettling. “Lose Yourself” could just as easily play in a more traditional horror film with its jarring shifts and abrupt ending and “Cruel Mistress” is a haunting combination of beautiful orchestration just off enough to keep you paying attention.

“Stumbled Beginnings…” is one of the more traditional orchestral pieces, as it kicks off Swan Lake in grand fashion, but as we ramp up to “A Swan Is Born,” the full tilt of what is actually being performed begins to take shape. We conclude with “A Swan Song (For Nina)” as it moves back and forth between the beauty and terror hovered on throughout the film. Despite the intensity of the collection, when the final piece ended and the soundtrack started again from the beginning, I found myself ready and willing to fall right back into the world Mansell had created.

The more I listened to this soundtrack, the more I fell in love with it. It grows on you, terrifies you, takes you back to certain points in the film, makes you think and then re-think – a rare feat for any soundtrack and one that seems simply accomplished here. But as Aronofsky’s film teaches us, anything that seems flawless is usually achieved through intense work and dedication. I just hope Mansell achieved his perfection at a much lower cost than our swan queen.

This soundtrack is available through Sony Classical Records.

1. “Nina’s Dream”
2. “Mother Me”
3. “The New Season”
4. “A Room Of Her Own”
5. “A New Swan Queen”
6. “Lose Yourself”
7. “Cruel Mistress”
8. “Power, Seduction, Cries”
9. “The Double”
10. “Opposites Attract”
11. “Night Of Terror”
12. “Stumbled Beginnings…”
13. “It’s My Time”
14. “A Swan Is Born”
15. “Perfection”
16. “A Swan Song (For Nina)”

All songs on this soundtrack composed by Clint Mansell.

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