William Ryan Fritch: The Waiting Room
Given the fecundity of his imagination, stylistic command, and virtuosic instrumental abilities, William Ryan Fritch (aka Vieo Abiungo) would appear to be born to the role of soundtrack composer. In fact, The Waiting Room isn't the first film project with which he's been involved, as the Oakland resident previously produced material for a large number of award-winning independent and documentary films (e.g., The Myth of the American Sleepover, The Stinking Ship, Days Together, etc.). Acclaimed by The Washington Post as “one of the 10 best films of 2012,” director Peter Nicks' The Waiting Room documents the challenges facing the American health-care system when hundreds of patients in need of care are met with understaffed emergency room staff of nurses and doctors. Filmed over a five-month period at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, the film presents a sobering portrait of a system struggling to maintain functionality.
Fritch's music provides an ideal complement to the breadth of humanity within the hospital setting, and the dozen pieces often exploit repetition in a manner that reflects the patients waiting for the care they so desperately need. Listeners familiar with his style will automatically recognize the keening strings within the opening selection “Any and All of Us” as no one else's but his, and the emotional directness of the material also identifies it as his handiwork. Emotion runs high, as one would expect given the subject matter involved, and consequently the soundtrack is by turns pensive (“Urgency”), hopeful (“Hold High Your Head”), plaintive (“Time Changes When in Pain”), and ruminative (“The Waiting Room”).
If there's one thing that differentiates the soundtrack from his other output, it's that it's perhaps a tad less dense, as if he purposefully went out of his way to not overpower the onscreen material when arranging the tracks. By Fritch standards, “Last Line of Defense” is almost minimalistic, given its deployment of piano, percussion, guitar, and strings and its liberal use of space. It is, at the same time, a relative observation; taken on its own terms, the music is as texturally rich as anything else Fritch has issued, teeming as it with strings, percussion, piano, guitar, and so on—as always the man a veritable orchestra unto himself. With so much music regularly pouring out of Fritch, it's easy to forget how special it is and the possibility arises that one might start to take it for granted. Let's hope that doesn't happen: the gifts he's sharing are remarkable ones indeed.