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Shinjuku Thief - The Scribbler

Originally issued in 1992 The Scribbler was initially commissioned by the Australian Lygon Arts Festival for their production of 'K', where the music would accompany a series of images of Franz Kafka's Prague. As the sleevenotes detail, a full orchestral rendition was planned but cancelled due to loss of funding. Still it allowed the composers, Darrin Verhagen and Francois Tetaz, the opportunity to rework the sounds and structure. The original edition was issued on their own Dorobo label in a small edition of 500 copies, following their debut release Bloody Tourist, a sojourn into fourth world musics which was issued on the respected Australian label Extreme.

The Scribbler is based around Franz Kafka's novel The Trial. It's an impressive piece of dark orchestral music that straight from the opening track, The Assessor', merges industrial elements and street sounds with piano, organ, oboe and strings. Right from the opening orchestral bombast the lush and filmic score of The Scribbler captures the essence of Kafka's Prague. Verhagen has noted that composers such as Michael Nyman and Philip Glass influenced the orchestral minimalist style of The Scribbler. That in itself explains the repetitious, piano based arrangements that account for much of The Scribbler. But the entire thing is shot through with factory sounds and dialogue from the text. Like the industrial elements, the passages from the novel that are delivered in German are interwoven into the music never assuming centrestage. The orchestration is extremely impressive, with soft string interludes and passages of woodwind and strings accentuating an already tense atmosphere.

At points The Scribbler slips in other compositions to the soundtrack. This is best illustrated by 'Threats and Violence', which attains a beautiful European waltz type feel. At other times the sound is more ominous as on 'A Promise and a Lecture' which features mordant oboe playing above disembodied voices, merging with some sinister sounds. 'An Awful Autumn' and 'Degrees of Acquittal are more reminiscent of Michael Nyman's work but it's infused with heightened dramatics, where stabbing synths accompany the light oboe melody. Apart from the dialogue its largely an instrumental release but towards the close ethereal singing merges with church organ on 'The Parable', before a frantic flurry of strings brings the music back to familiar territory. The final piece of orchestral synth-pop which thankfully appears after two minutes of silence seems almost out of place.

After The Scribbler Darrin Verhagen, now acting solely as Shinjuku Thief, went on to compose The Witch trilogy. Today he is now a composer for dance and theatre performance, and continues to release music as a solo artist and as Shinjuku Thief. I would suggest that The Scribbler is largely a classical release but its subject matter and use of industrial elements was sufficient enough to capture the interest of Cold Spring who sought it out for a much-needed reissue. This edition is bolstered by video clips of the original projections for The Scribbler live show. Lovers of neo-classical and orchestral ambient won't want to miss out on this. For more information go to www.coldspring.co.uk