Soundtrack Review: SHUTTER ISLAND

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
February 19th, 2010

Rating: 8/10

I have been awaiting the release of SHUTTER ISLAND since I saw the first trailer in theaters months back. A creepy island plus Scorsese plus DiCaprio? I didn’t think there would be a combo I liked better than Scorsese, DiCaprio, and the mob (THE DEPARTED), but this looked to prove me wrong. When the release date for the film was pushed back, I read the book in lieu of the movie and was officially sold. My only regret is not having had the soundtrack to listen to as I read Dennis Lehane’s novel.

This is not the type of score you would want to play in the background of a dinner party. Unless you’re having a murder mystery dinner party, then this may work perfectly. From what we’ve seen from the trailer and what I gathered from the book, the music lives up to this idea of an off-putting thriller. Comprised of songs from various artists, it perfectly balances pure instrumental tracks with a few vocal tracks, which are still backed by heavy and beautiful orchestration.

The opening track, "Fog Tropes," uses horns to sound like fog horns, giving us an almost ominous sound to set the tone of the story. Slight vocals come in towards the middle of the track that made me think of a boat arriving through fog horns to an island full of tortured souls.

Rather than have a single composer and orchestra put together the sounds of the world that is the Ashecliffe Asylum for the Criminally Insane, various artists, orchestras, and conductors created this collection. I think this is a brilliant move, as the idea of an insane asylum brings up the idea of many different personalities (sometimes encompassed in single people) combating with each other, usually confined in a space they do not want to be in.

Each track is almost a story in and of itself. The piece “Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato” seems to take on the idea of “angry” orchestral music, coming to incredibly high climaxes and then dissipating into almost silence. “Root of an Unfocus” is almost monotonous until it changes at just the right moment to push you back to the edge of your seat. Even the tracks with vocals, such as “Cry” and “Wheel Of Fortune,"  seem haunting and foreboding.

One of the tracks that stuck out to me the most was by Nam June Paik, “Hommage A John Cage." This piece begins as though you have tuned in to a television show already in progress with random conversations that you cannot quite make out or place the context of. It tunes in and out before finally disappearing altogether to nothingness and then coming back into focus with more unintelligible words and sounds. It is almost unlistenable, but draws you in because you want to know what is going to come next.

The idea of being surrounded by water and unsettling forces from nature to people to emotions radiates through each piece and is the link that ties together a collection you would otherwise think to be disjointed. The songs are surprising and take as many turns as the story itself. The idea of loud versus quiet within single tracks is used often and works as the perfect instrument (insert pun) to keep listeners from ever getting comfortable in any single moment.

I really enjoyed listening to this soundtrack and trying to guess which piece will be used where in the film. Sometimes getting to hear the soundtracks before seeing the films themselves is more interesting to me because you can get to know the music on its own before it is paired with picture. Between the trailers and the book, I was already excited for this film, but the soundtrack has added a new level of anticipation. All-in-all, it looks like SHUTTER ISLAND is going to have been worth the wait.

This soundtrack is available through Rhino Records.

1. “Fog Tropes” – Orchestra Of St. Lukes, Conducted By John Adams
2. “Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato” – National Polish Radio Symphony, Conducted By Antonio Wit
3. “Music For Marcel Duchamp” – Philipp Vandre
4. “Hommage A John Cage” – Nam June Paik
5. “Lotano” – Wiener Philharmoniker, Conducted By Claudio Abbado
6. “Rothko Chaple 2” – UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus
7. “Cry” – Johnnie Ray
8. “On The Nature Of Daylight” – Max Richter
9. “Uaxutum: The Legend Of The Mayan City Which They Themselves Destroyed For Religious Reasons – 3rd Movement” – Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
10. “Quartet For Strings And Piano In A Minor” – Prazak Quartet
11. “Christian Zeal And Activity” – The San Francisco Symphony, Conducted By Edo de Waart
12. “Lizard Point” – Brian Eno
13. “Four Hymns: Ii For Cello And Double Bass” – Torleif Thedeen And Entcho Radoukanov
14. “Root Of An Unfocus” – Boris Berman
15. “Prelude – The Bay” – Ingram Marshall
16. “Wheel Of Fortune” – Kay Starr
17. “Tomorrow Night” – Lonnie Johnson
18. “This Bitter Earth And On The Nature Of Daylight” – Dinah Washington And Max Richter

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