The Music of 2010


Given that it’s the sequel to arguably the most-lauded science fiction film in the history of cinema, it’s not surprising that 2010 is seen as a bit of a embarrassing cousin. Subtitled The Year We Make Contact, Peter Hyams’ film goes beyond the existential and metaphysical questions of 2001: A Space Odyssey to – as its title suggests – reach out and make friends. Quite a tall order when what you’re reaching out to is a giant monolith.

But 2010 still has several impressive strings to add to its bow, including a cast of fine character actors such as Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, and John Lithgow, solid production design that keeps a decent continuity with the preceding film, and a surprisingly direct through-line for the story. Perhaps the strongest was the assignment of David Shire, popular for his iconic scores to Joseph Sargent’s heist thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Francis Coppola’s brilliant conspiratorial drama The Conversation.

Shire’s talent for innovation and experimentation was highly valued by Hyams, who wanted him to approach the score from an orchestral standpoint but with mostly electronic instrumentation. Shire paired with Craig Huxley – creator of the infamous Blaster Beam – to explore opportunities for transposing the two mediums as well as find musical and thematic connections to the iconic ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, Richard Strauss’ legendary tone poem that musically defined Kubrick’s film.

What Shire created stands alongside the work of Wendy Carlos with a tenth of the exposure. Disappointingly little of the score was actually used in the final film, with Hyams instead going for sound effects and design over score that Shire had carefully and intricately linked to the classical tones of 2001. Shire reflected in 1985 that “the collaboration with Peter was strange. We had worked very closely together every cue was played for him, every change he wanted was made. He seemed to be a fan of the score. That’s why I expected more of the score to end up in the final picture – and that’s why I was so disappointed when I went to the preview screening and heard the end result.”

Shire created two themes; the first a magical and mysterious ‘New Worlds’ theme; and the second more morally questioning material centred around the character of Dave Bowman. Using the iconic Synclavier II synthesiser, along with a Yahama DX-1 and a Roland Jupiter-8, Shire and Huxley produced a primarily electronic score with an intentional final act segue into orchestral magnificence.

I felt the film was a two-theme movie,” said Shire, “the first being the ‘New Worlds’ theme which is expressive of the magic and mystery of the journey and what the astronauts are looking for even though they’re not sure what they’ll find. The second theme is the “Bowman” material. I felt the variations on the New Worlds theme should be heard first, progressively getting closer to the theme’s full statement at the end when the planet comes alive. That’s where the orchestral version comes in and is the only complete, out-and-out statement of the theme.”

“My main bone of contention is that Hyams took the tapes we gave him which contained (as he’d requested) all the separate elements we’d layed down (as well as the total mix) and, in effect, “re-composed” the score by using only certain tracks – not the complete mix we’d delivered. For example, on some cues he used only the bass line, and on others he’d only use a high, sustained sound so it sounded like a television score where the composer didn’t have enough time to do any better. I feel, as it stands now, the score has no unity and, except for the “Bowman” cue and the ending, it was pretty much decimated.”

While its planned arc was rendered ineffectual in the film due to the lack of score used, the music did end up receiving its own soundtrack album (on A&M Records) that at least preserved what Shire had in mind for the film’s emotional journey. Interestingly the album opens not with the composer’s material but instead an electronic rendition of Strauss’ ‘Zarathustra’ as performed by The Police guitarist Andy Summers. Frankly it’s quite cheesy and sounds like it came from a long-forgotten 1980’s gameshow. But it’s over relatively quickly.

Shire’s music begins with ‘Earth/Space’, with intelligent and dissonant sounds together with electric piano, almost like alien communication. This soundscape continues in ‘Probe’, where high notes lie over low chords that seem to be foretelling a momentous event as they build and build to a powerful climax before quickly fading away. Following this we’re introduced to the Bowman material, suitably with ‘Bowman’.

Tense electric piano combines the Bowman material with the blaster beam in ‘Reactivating Discovery’, and the score builds by layering electronics together as the journey goes deeper and deeper. A hopeful melody allows for a sense of majesty in ‘Space Linkup/Earth Fallout’, while ‘Visitation/Countdown’ returns to an eerier soundscape, almost horror-esque in its structure before allaying our fears with some wonderfully quirky fat chords and a gentler melody signalling a peaceful resolution.

All of the score thus far is electronic; it’s only until ‘New Worlds’ that the orchestra is introduced in a huge flourish, signalling the beginning of a new life and acting as a dramatic contrast. Suitably it’s also at this moment that we finally get a full orchestral rendition of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ to cement the connection to 2001 and musically bookend the films. The album concludes with a reprisal of the ‘New Worlds’ theme.

It’s a short record, but perfectly realised. With so little of the score used in the film it’d perhaps be a contentious point on how much music was actually recorded to see if an expanded album could be produced (although there is previous material from before Shire came on the film, where Genesis’ Tony Banks was the composer). With the LP and CD both long out of print the score deserves a remastered release, and I can imagine someone like Kritzerland giving it a shout.

Rather than a footnote, 2010 deserves to be recognised as an interesting artefact in the complicated history of the marriage between electronics and orchestra. On the same note David Shire is an important composer himself who never seems to get the recognition he deserves, so it would be satisfying to see a fairly high-profile release get the plaudits both score and composer deserve. I can’t imagine it will be too long.

2010: The Year We Make Contact
Music Composed by David Shire – Performed by David Shire and Craig Huxley

1984 – A&M Records SP/CD/CS 5038

1. 2010 5:15
2. Earth / Space 3:15
3. Probe 4:15
4. Bowman 1:44
5. Reactivating Discovery 2:24
6. Space Linkup / Earth Fallout 3:55
7. Visitation / Countdown 5:47
8. Nova / New Worlds / Also sprach Zarathustra 6:23
9. New Worlds Theme From “2010” (End Title) 2:30

Total Album Time: 35:28

David Shire quotes from Cinemascore Magazine #13-14 – Reprinted with permission.

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