"A Map of the World"
The story behind Pat Metheny's brilliant soundtrack
by Ben Kettlewell

Similar to his 1996 Polygram/Verve release, 'Beyond the Missouri Sky', with Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny's new score for "A Map of the World" is music distilled to it's most intimate roots.

Metheny is joined by former Pat Metheny Group member, Steve Rodby on standup bass, and percussionist, Dave Samuels, on twenty eight impressionistic soundscapes that range from twenty- two seconds to six minutes in length. Metheny tastefully fingerpicks various acoustic guitars throughout these tracks, while his keyboard synths and piano, plus an amazing live chamber orcherstra occasionally appear to heighten and enhance the atmosphere.

The drama, starring Sigourney Weaver and based on Jane Hamilton's novel, "A Map of the World", surely has its darker moments, reflected in desolate compositions like "Alone" and "Discovery". The large chamber string ensemble, which accompanies about sixty percent of these cuts, compliment the feel and expression of Pat's compositions with grace and finesse.

Apart from the score, the story itself is an intimate portrayal of the psyche of its characters. The novel, by the Pen/Hemingway Award-winning author of "The Book of Ruth", deftly chronicles a family's decay through guilt and betrayal, which leads to a disastrous event that forever changes their lives. The story focuses on a few months in the lives of Alice Goodwin, a school nurse, her husband, Howard and their little girls, Emma and Claire.

The Goodwins live on a small dairy farm in Prairie Center, Wisconsin, which is comprised of a few hundred acres surrounded by housing tracts. Because they are the only farm family left in the area, and because they are somewhat eccentric and proud of their self-sufficiency, they've become isolated from most of their neighbors. Farming is not just Howard's job, but his passion; the words, "Golden Guernsey Cow'' hold all the magic of poetry to his ears. Alice admires him, but can't share this innate fervor. Their only friends are the local farmers, the Collins family.

One day, Theresa Collins brings her daughters to stay at the Goodwin's farm while she goes off to work. In the short period of time that Alice turns her back to look for a bathing suit, two-year-old Lizzie Collins runs off to the pond and drowns. Poor Alice blames herself for Lizzie's death, but that's far from the end of the drama. The mother of another neighbor, Robbie Mackessy, a little boy who is one of Alice's most frequent patients in her job as a part-time school nurse, accuses her of sexually abusing her son, and Alice is promptly arrested. As if a doorway to darkness had been opened, Alice finds herself torn from her family and imprisoned in the local jail. Alice's sudden leap from farm-wife to felon is made completely believable by Jane Hamilton's portrayal of a woman whose strengths were also her demise.

The remainder of the film portrays Alice's experience in prison, her trial, ...and her family's efforts to cope while she is gone. Jane Hamilton has a great gift for characterization, capturing the most finite nuances of behavior. As a young girl, Alice created her own map of the world to find her bearings. Now, as a grown-up, she has to steer her own course again, through a bramble of deceit and ill will, ...just to get back to the solid ground she took for granted before these incidents occurred.

Unforgettably, beat by beat, the film maps the best and worst of the human heart and all the mysterious, uncharted country in between. Heartbreaking, harrowing, and in the end, extremely well done.

Pat Metheny has composed an incredibly beautiful and touching score that stands out as one of his finest works to date.

In his own words, Pat Metheny describes the project in the following paragraphs from the liner notes.

"Writing music for film always has its own particular challenges, but with a story as rich as Jane Hamilton's "A Map of the world" - a tale that is as deep as it is expansive in it's human detail - the inherent narative musical possibilities were truly inspiring.

The basic melodic theme (represented on this album by the track " A Map of the world" and referred to throughout the score) was started just as I finished the book, and completed immediately after I saw the first rough cut of the film. I almost had the feeling that the story itself had already written the piece, and that all I had to do was to try to translate into sound the things that were musically inspired between the lines of this haunting journey through this special world, a place where these people and the events that transpire to change their lives forever intersect.

With the always supportive and helpful guidance of the brilliant young director, Scott Elliott, my goal was to reflect a musical environment that reflected the challenges and lessons learned here by the characters, yet one that somehow hovered parallel to them in a somewhat neutral, almost observantional way. The intrinsic qualities of the Midwestern landscape (the story is set in Wisconsin) seemed to suggest acoustic guitar as a prominent presence, marking for me the first time in a film scoring situation that I have also actively played the lead musical voice in a score as a player, as well as being the composer. The basic palette of solo and accompaniment acoustic guitar, chamber orchestra and acoustic bass ( played by Steve Rodby) make up the primary ensemble for the score.

This soundtrack album represents all of the music that is used in the film. With an additional twenty five minutes or so of various expansions, improvisations and treatments based on either the actual thematic materials, or the implied sonic and harmonic language that was generated by the score."

In summary; Brooklyn Pat Metheny fan, Ken Monte, wrote the following short review, for Amazon.com, which sums this album up economically. " By listening to the music of Pat Metheny, I am able to write letters, poems, and stories that reflect the human side of the heart. A quiet starry Autumn night, a cup of tea, and Pat Metheny's "Map Of The World" are just a few of my favorite things."

I encourage you to experience all three; read the book, see the movie, and listen to Pat's unforgettable soundtrack. Of the three choices, Pat expresses the emotion best, and gives us a sense of human triumph at the same time. Life is always better when it's translated musically. After all, what is life without a song?

By Ben Kettlewell

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