Haunting music boosts suspense in 'The Insider'

In the tense opening scene of "The Insider," rapid drumbeats and voices whispering the word "energy" set the suspenseful pace of the film about CBS's "60 Minutes" news program that dropped a critical interview with a tobacco industry whistle-blower.

"I like music that has an active role to play," says "Insider" director Michael Mann ("Last of the Mohicans," "Heat"). "I'm not really interested in music that's merely complementary. I like it when I can redefine something...."

The musicians behind this haunting and ethereal music are Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke. Ms. Gerrard, formerly of the Australian group Dead Can Dance, worked with Mr. Mann on the 1995 "Heat" soundtrack. Her partner for "The Insider" soundtrack (Columbia/Sony), Mr. Bourke, is a well-known Australian songwriter and keyboardist. They worked on a 1998 album called "Duality," and a song titled "Sacrifice" from that recording grabbed Mann's attention.

The director had originally planned to use only this song but changed his mind when he heard additional pieces. Bourke says he and Gerrard were drawn to "The Insider" because of Mann's respect for music. "[Our work] inspired Michael to add extra elements into [a] scene, which surprised me," Bourke says. "Normally you have the music being chopped around to fit the images, and here someone was chopping the images to fit the music."

The music isn't easily defined. It's delicate and airy, chilling and unforgettable, heavy and gorgeous - at varying times. Some have described it as global folk-pop music influenced by ancient Celtic and Middle Eastern styles. It's more serious than fun - certainly not music you would jam to in the car or at a party.

For the soundtrack, the pair uses string samples, keyboards, and "sonic ambient abstract things," Gerrard says, "because Michael is interested in this layering. As different elements are introduced, it creates an intensity." After seeing the movie, she says, "It's really a beautiful piece of work - like a sculpture. It's beautifully refined, and the music works well with the images."

This is evident in a scene after Russell Crowe's character (tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand) testifies before a grand jury in Mississippi. The somber mood, both of relief and uncertainty, is set using Gerrard's thick and lulling voice.

Recorded mostly in Australia, the soundtrack was shaped by Mann's vision. "That was a real challenge," Bourke says. "Trying to be satisfied ourselves and be true to the way we work, and unlocking what Michael was after in the film."

The duo captured what Mann was looking for. "I listen to their music, and I'm transported," he says.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.