Though French composer Bruno Coulais has scored over 100 films – beginning in the late ’70s – he has only recently broken into the realm of (relatively) widely recognized composers in the game. With 2003’s critically acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – documentary Winged Migration and the similarly acclaimed – and similarly Oscar-nominated animated film – The Secret of Kells from last year – the Coulais touch seems to provide a nice backdrop for beautifully presented film. And now in 2010, Coulais’ work can be heard backing up two highly regarded documentaries: Oceans (from Winged Migration director Jacques Perrin) and the epically adorable Babies.

The two films each feature Coulais’ signature stylings – soft, ear-soothing sounds that in one film make babies even cuter than they already are, and in the other highlights the quiet wonder of the ocean. Though neither is as memorable and moving as the Celtic sounds of The Secret of Kells each score has its own personality and is easily accessible to those who have or haven’t seen the films. Where the music from Babies is a bit irreverent (listen to the playful percussion in “Windmills”, supported by light humming) the tracks for Oceans are much more solemn and mysterious (the gentle and eerily floating feeling from “The Reef in Day” is especially reminiscent of something that you might hear on a less frightening version of “The X-Files”). There’s a magisterial presence in the music of Oceans that Coulais manages to directly counteract in his gentle Babies score work. From these two collections of music alone, it’s abundantly clear that Coulais is much more than a one-trick composer. Each album plays to a very distinctive audience – one to those looking for sweetly melodic tunes (often featuring lovely female vocals) and the other filled with a much more orchestral set of tracks, with much focus turned towards the strings section.

Though Babies is the much more soothing of the two albums, it’s also less connected. With only 27 minutes of music (broken out into 16 tracks) it’s difficult for a composer to find a thematic throughline without the album sounding repetitive. Coulais finds his throughline with the aforementioned female vocals, and a staccato musical placement that calls forward the images of babies playing, but this does have the effect of some of the songs sounding a bit too similar to the others. It’s impressive work but too short-lived in album format to heap too much praise on. On the flip-side, the Oceans album is made up of an hour of music and successfully veers into numerous areas of emotionality, most notably fear and wonder (listen to “The New Ocean”) and try not to imagine expansive scenery all around you.

Each of these albums is a delight and Bruno Coulais should look forward to many more high-profile assignments in the future.

Zach’s Rating: Babies: B+, Oceans: A-
Perfect For: A baby playdate or background music to appreciate a view to
Stay Away if: You’re looking for especially thematic tracks

To purchase the soundtrack for Babies or Oceans, visit Amazon

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