With the score for Signs, composer James Newton Howard and director M. Night Shyamalan continue their succesful collaboration. Similar to the scores for the the previous films by Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Howard's music for Signs is a creepy, uneasy and restrained work, dominated by strings and woodwinds, with subtle piano and brass. The score is not especially thematic, but instead relies more on texture and mood - somewhat minimalistic in its construction, actually. There's a lot of cues that remind me of composer John Adams - little string and woodwind figures repeated over and over again. It may sound boring, but it certainly isn't. Signs is a very rythmic score that might not be that easy too digest on your first listen, but give it some time and your reward is a very emotional, memorable and complex score.
In keeping with the already mentioned John Adams technique, large portions of the score revolve around a simple musical figure, or motif, presented for the first time in the excellent "Main Titles" cue. It's basically a repeated ascending three note phrase performed by woodwinds, supported by scratchy violins (reminding me of Elfman's score for Sleepy Hollow) and muted brass. As the scores' main building block, this motif, or variations of it, show up in quite a number of tracks on the CD and the motif is really allowed to shine in the two last tracks - "The Hand of Fate - Part I" and "The Hand of Fate - Part II" - two excellent cues that create a very emotional and bombastic ending to the album. Especially the climax in "The Hand of Fate - Part I" is really excellent and memorable, and makes me think about The Sixth Sense - a score that is really restrained, until the final cue really sweeps the listener away with its orchestral grandeur and emotional impact. Signs works the same way.
I have only briefly mentioned the "Main Titles" cue. It deserves more than that. Together with the two closing tracks, the "Main Titles" is the highlight of the entire disc. And the way it is heard, and used, in the film is just extraordinary. It's short - not even two minutes long - but in this brief time Howard manages to set the tone of the entire film and score. Wonderful stuff.
Moments of dissonance can be found as well, like for instance in the very end of "Brazilian Video", but it luckily never gets out of hand. Signs is, above all, a subdued score that focuses on texture rather than trying to scare the listener out of his, or her, pants with the help of noise. And it succeeds. This is a perfect score for late night listenings. Not only because of the many scary elements, but also because of soft and relaxing, but still mysterious, cues such as "Recruiting Office" and "Throwing a Stone".
And with a total running time of around 40 minutes, the score never gets repetetive or uninteresting. If you like what Howard did for The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, chances are that you will really enjoy Signs. If you like John Adams and Bernard Herrmann as well, you'll love it.