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Warren Ellis - The Music of Mustang

Acclaimed Turkish feature Mustang is the latest film to benefit from a powerful soundtrack by Warren Ellis. Tony McKiver takes a look at what makes super-talented multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis so apt a choice for film scores.

Miles away from the trailer-friendly, Richter-scale rumbling of Hans Zimmer's scores, Warren Ellis creates music that is human-scale, nuanced, ambling and that threads a sweet and sorrowful line of melancholy – making it completely fitting for Mustang, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven's beautiful tale of five orphaned teenage sisters in rural Turkey who struggle against their family's repressive regime.

A multi-instrumentalist, Warren first achieved prominence as the violinist in Australian instrumental band Dirty Three. In 1995, he joined the established line-up of Nick Cave's band, the Bad Seeds. His collaborations with Cave have extended to encompass another band, Grinderman, as well as original film scores, beginning in 2005 with the music for The Proposition, an outback Western by fellow Antipodean John Hillcoat. Their bare, almost skeletal sound provided the perfect backdrop for Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic The Road, which is also available to view on Volta, and formed an ideal atmospheric accompaniment to Lawless, Hillcoat's tale of three brothers involved in bootlegging in Virginia during the prohibition era.

The Ellis-Cave collaboration arguably reached its cinematic high-water mark with their dreamlike score for Andrew Dominik's 2007 masterpiece, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It is less than ten years since its underwhelming reception at the box office, but already Dominik's film has already become a repertory classic. Alongside the confident hand of the sadly underworked auteur, the haunting cinematography of Roger Deakins, and some signal performances, Ellis and Cave's exquisite score is one of the potent ingredients in a film that effortlessly impresses itself on viewers' memories.

As well as making a massive contribution offscreen, Ellis also makes a memorable appearance onscreen in 20,000 Days on Earth, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's funny and fascinating documentary about Cave, which gleefully fuses aspects of the musician's real life with staged moments that pass as authentic. We get to see Cave and Ellis collaborate on the composition, recording and live performance of the Bad Seeds' album Push the Sky Away, and listen to them trade anecdotes about Jerry Lee Lewis and Nina Simone.

Grab the next available opportunity to see Ellis perform live with the Bad Seeds or Dirty Three when those bands tour. In the meantime, enjoy his César Award-winning work in Mustang.


 - by Tony McKiver