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Reviewed by:
  • Step Across the Border
  • Stefaan Van Ryssen
Step Across the Border by Fred Frith. Fred Records/ReR Megacorp, Thornton Heath, Surrey, U.K., 2002. (ReR/FRO 03)

This is the original soundtrack of Step across the Border—a 90-minute documentary film about Fred Frith by Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel, with Iva Bittova, Hans Bruniusson, Tom Cora, Tina Cuffan, Jean Derome, Pavel Fajt, Eino Haapala, Haco, Eitetsu Hayashi, Tim Hodgkinson, Lasse Hollmer, Bill Laswell, René Lussier, Fred Maher, Kevin Norton, Bob Ostertag, Zeena Parkins and John Zorn.

Here are more than 70 minutes of music from the broad palette of Fred Frith and some of his friends, improvisations and songs, woven together with sounds from the many places in which he found himself during the shooting of the documentary: a soundtrack to accompany images of journeys and arrivals, rehearsals and concerts, roads and rails, fields and streets. However, this recording is not just a soundtrack: it exists separately in its own right. Learning from the process of filmmaking, Frith has re-worked and developed the sound material from the film in order to create a narrative structure that parallels and complements the original. Understanding that the music of "Step Across the Border" should be supportive of the image, he works here to re-create new images of music for your eyes. (Quote from <>.)

The narrative structure of this work is, however, a weakness as well as a strength. Each individual track or song lacks scope and meaning in itself. They are nice but anecdotal patches, stitched together by an invisible—and in this case "unhearable"—thread. Listeners have the impression they are invited to use their imagination to rebuild the story and not to construct one of several possible stories, but they are not given the means to reconstruct the original nor the freedom to create a story of their own. This in-between position leads us away from the music and makes it quasi-impossible to appreciate it fully. Conversely, the songs themselves seem to struggle with a similar dilemma: they lack the freedom to have their own logic or center, and yet they are overloaded with potential and functionality.

Another quote from the web site says:

In "Step Across the Border" Fred Frith states that Art, for him, is not a question of originality but of freeing oneself. He wants to reach out to people, to change them, and he wants them to be alert, to listen. "Looking back at my songs I find they are very often about apathy" he says. "And apathy is the biggest obstacle in the way of change."

Surely, apathetic listeners will miss the point of this record entirely. It takes at least three or four concentrated hearings before the narrative unfolds and the structure reveals itself. Unfortunately, people who are willing to take the time to do this will end up with a feeling of having been taken out on a leash. They will have taken a step across the border, only to find themselves and the music tethered. [End Page 253]

Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent, Jan Delvinlaan 115, 9000 Gent, Belgium. E-mail: <>.


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pp. 252-253
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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