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Film Reviews

Jeff Beal’s New Musical Territory in Carnivàle

“Jeff Beal is forever moving into new musical territory.” –LA Times

For the HBO show Carnivàle, Jeff Beal was assigned the task of creating a cinematic score that could meld with a traveling carnival in depression era America.  Over the course of two seasons, while attempting to encapsulate what might have been heard in the air of travel, he managed to unleash the beginnings of what I would say is a new music.  Thing is, he never got to finish it.  Like most great shows, Carnivàle was prematurely canceled, leaving its audience with empty promises and vague ideas of what could have been.

Describing what Beal created for the show is difficult.  “Beyond supplying the right gestures at the right places…the score contributes to the fluidity and organic nature of the whole experience.” There is atmospheric ambience, traditional orchestral compositions as well as opera, jazz, folk, and bluegrass.  Built on the blending of perspectives between characters and environments, the music is like listening to the radio in-between stations.  There’s an overlap to it that most composers would find nearly impossible to conceive.  In this, Beal cohesively converses with the various styles of the time and offers an experience of sound on the edges of discovery.

Yet it never goes far enough.  While the series’ premature cancelation could account for this unfinished feeling, I wonder if a full run would have made a difference.  There is always a line for studios.  They release material that fits within a certain realm of identifiable certainty.  Beal has found a way to maintain his creative explorations within this environment and has garnered many awards for it, but with a beginning like this I can only imagine the places he might have gone and how that would have been received.

With what he personally released from the second season there is an expanded collision of ideas that you’d expect to hear on the outskirts of pop culture, not knee deep in it.  The music stretches and strains to comprehend the very limits before it.  If the series had continued, Beal could have opened up an entirely new way of music, but he also could have been restrained.  He could have been replaced.  There is no guarantee that he would have continued his journey, even if the show had not been canceled.  This leaves us with an interesting and valuable collection of music speaking to a finality yet to be determined.  And maybe that is the way it ought to be.

Find a sample of the music here:

Garrett D. Tiedemann  12/13/11


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