• Ben Erickson


The unanticipated final installment to the Eastrail 177 trilogy, M. Night Shyamalan's Glass bridges the director's 2000 Unbreakable with his hit 2016 sequel Split in a conventionally unconventional conclusion. Production for the film was confirmed in 2017, to the delight of many, and the big question on people's minds was whether or not Shyamalan's old partner in crime James Newton Howard would come back to round off the finale. The opportunity was passed instead to West Dylan Thordson, composer of Split, which had been his first collaboration with Shyamalan. Thordson is an American composer, professedly raised in an insular music environment and developing a unique set of skills as a result. Prior to Split he was known best for scoring documentaries and as the leader of the band 'A Whisper in the Noise'. The band's cover of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'" was used in Shyamalan's 2006 picture Lady in the Water. Thordson's score for Split was grungy and metallic, full of scratching, scraping, and bending strings, performed as a means of looking into the collapsing mind of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). Howard's music for Unbreakable had been grounded within the reluctant, fantasy-turned reality of David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Led by piano and strings it ruminated on the implications of being a metahuman within an otherwise normal society, in several instances addressing the emotional distress Dunn experienced. This empathetic point of view that was so crucial to the success of the original score is sadly absent from Glass. Instead Thordson reprised many of the same techniques he used in Split, using the Allentown State Hospital set as a large recording space in the midnight hours. Several returning ideas were used in Glass, including heavily manipulated cello and violin written on a low, grating B natural for the Beast persona. More subtle experimentation with reverb, distortion, atmospheric moaning, congested and malign brass, and gong-like percussion contributed to the primal, blood-thirsty nature of the Beast. A psychological approach such as this is not altogether harmful for a film like Glass, where subtle ideas can create an imperceptible organization to the story. The problem was the lack of clarity within the internal structures of score. The techniques listed above, though not generic in their conception, were generic in their application, and were never as penetrating as McAvoy's performance. Two devices of note cannot be so easily dismissed. The use of a ticking clock set to 161 bpm (beats per minute), despite becoming quite worn in its application to film scores of late, effectively communicated the time constraints faced by the characters ("Physicks"). The decision to run it at a relatively fast tempo likewise gave it a pressing edge rarely achieved by such a commonplace effect. The second was a sudden, rising violin scratch used as a transitional device in a near jump-scare manner ("Escape"). What made it intriguing was its impartial attitude toward the film, appearing seemingly at random with any character and giving the score a perceivable level of awareness. Other signs of life include the rich and exotic variation of Elijah's theme as his connection to Kevin's origins are revealed ("Unraveling") and the cathartic revelation of strings atop a thrumming heartbeat to signal the pyrrhic victory of the titular character ("Origin Story").

A few other things worth noting were the blatant needle drops of various cues from Unbreakable, either accompanying David or visiting a flashback. The interesting thing about these needle drops was that a few of them, like the use of Howard's hero theme early on, did not fulfill their intended design. The hero theme was performed in Unbreakable during indisputable acts of heroism ("The Wreck"), whereas in Glass it simply appeared once early on when David stood in his kitchen contemplating the loss of his wife. Three themes that were used – and used appropriately – were the character themes assigned to David, Elijah ("David and Elijah"), and Kevin ("Kevin & Casey"); the latter taken from Split. Casey was also given a compassionate string texture, but beside such a strong character its aimless wanderings through C major were rendered helpless ("Cycles"). Continuity and thematic potential aside, this score serves to highlight a bigger issue in film music today. Said Thordson, "Within this era of filmmaking in general, there seems to be an openness to utilizing more unconventional scores, but much of this is directly related to current technologies of filmmaking. Many filmmakers have been tending to favor fast, loose results with a lot of energy over what they might consider to be the traditional, conservatory-trained approach. This can be extremely deflating when you have been envisioning music to be recorded by a full orchestra ensemble, especially when you feel the quality difference is dramatic. Yet for many modern filmmakers, the difference they hear between the results of a quickly-made, less-costly scoring approach and the recording of dozens of living, breathing, human beings – that are all making music together at once in one room as an orchestral ensemble – has turned into a choice of preference and taste over a clearly perceived difference in quality." It is sad that any composer should have to write within this framework, but to Thordson's credit this was a sensationally diplomatic way of communicating what sounds like a tremendous defeat. The speculation of a fallout between Shyamalan and Howard suddenly seems far more likely to have developed as a consequence of the director's increasingly stubborn perception of music in film. That the score for Glass was given no choice but to be gutted of all but a primal sentience without explanation is a terrible death sentence for a composer. What is more, though it is clear from his interview that Thordson understood perfectly what the characters needed, his thoughts were not translated well into music. This was not the score that was hoped for, but the results were unsurprising. What may yet provide some consolation to those who were acutely disappointed is that it remained true to Thordson and Shyamalan's musical perception of the series.