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William Susman flavors the setting of Sarah Sifer's 'Fate of the Lhapa' beautifully / STAGE & CINEMA

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t amazes me how many films today have a soundtrack that isn't informed by the movie itself. This interchangeable claptrap has made it almost impossible to review. But composer William Susman flavors the setting of Sarah Sifer's Fate of the Lhapa beautifully. Interestingly enough, I saw this documentary many, many years ago, and it truly affected me, but I never knew the soundtrack was available until it was sent to me to review 13 years after its original release. Go figure.

While there are certainly traditional forms of Western instrumentation such as harp, Susman has incorporated sounds we would associate with Nepal: There is no list, but I believe we are hearing drums - such as the dhimay, madal, and khin - a bansuri (a bamboo flute), a plucked string (perhaps the tunga), tingsha cymbals, a sringa (a large "C"- or "S"-shaped horn which is also a political symbol), and more. Along the way is minimalism that is so transporting it would make Philip Glass proud, as it helps achieve a sense of bittersweet spirituality so prevalent in the film. (Glass is also a fierce proponent for Nepal's freedom and Buddhist principles - the latter evidenced in his opera, Satyagraha.)

At first, part of the fun for me was parsing out the instruments (wait - is this sound that conch shell that has both ritual and religious importance in Hinduism?), but magically by the seventh of eleven tracks, they merge into a higher plane of trance-inducing balminess that lovingly elucidates the subject matter. While it's accurate to say that the music of Susman (who also performs) blends that mysterious, uncanny long-established Asian music with those soul-moving Western strings evokes what the press notes call an "ancient healing tradition in danger of extinction," this is music that stands alone from the film - in fact, this journey requires you to listen with headphones on and your eyes closed. The mixing by Stephen Hart at Berkeley's Fantasy Studios makes everything sound crystal clear.

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