Ten Film Scores By Christopher Young by Charlie Brigden

There is nothing subtle about the creativity of Christopher Young. Which is not to be pejorative and imply that he's not as adept at low key grace as he is with gothic bravado. But he is, as the great Lou Lombardo is to editing, a towering rebuke to the puzzling maxim that varied facets of cinema practice should be, to all intents and purposes, invisible; to not intrude on the visual or the narrative or the audience's perception of the visual or the narrative. Christopher Young is one of the cinema's great, wicked collusionists. He goads, entices, seduces, coaxes, soothes, and caresses an audience like few composers working today. Dread, heartbreak, unease, surreality and nobility are all found seeping from the unconventionally sutured staves of a wondrous breadth scores during a career spanning almost 40 years. HELLRAISER (1987) Surely a score that, as much as STAR WARS, PSYCHO or HALLOWEEN, made a generational progeny of nerds fall head-over-heels in love with the art of film scoring. A last minute (supposedly more conventional) substitution for the eerie industrial soundscape of UK band Coil, what Young conjured up in a remarkably quick turnaround was an operetta of such swirling, devious, Stygian tumult, it became the sonic template for every demonic horror film for the next 30 years. It made this tiny exploitation film made for nothing in Dollis Hill by an upstart young novelist, theatre director and experimental filmmaker feel like a Hammer worthy of James Bernard. Look no further than the cue 'Resurrection", an awe-inspiring Mephisto waltz to accompany an equally jaw-dropping practical f/x showstopper from the great Bob Keen and Co. It remains his masterpiece.

THE VAGRANT (1992) Make-up f/x Oscar winner Chris Walas only made two feature films (and a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode) but on both he had the foresight to surround himself with the best artistic collaborators, most notably, the ever versatile Young. The first of these, THE FLY II, echoes the original's Howard Shore score but grafts Shore's full bodied 'sturm und drang' onto the increasingly liturgical orchestration that took full form with HELLRAISER (you can see it emerging even in early works like DEF CON 4) and, especially, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. That score, perhaps more than any other, sealed Young's early trademark reputation.

With THE VAGRANT, though both director and composer did a breakneck volte face from the dark body horror of THE FLY II to the unhinged, almost Coen-esque farce of a very different type of horror film. A deeply weird mash-up of "xxx-from-hell" that was so prevalent at the time (THE CRUSH, THE TEMP, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE) and an eccentric nod to the European arthouse sensibility that would become the provenance of Alex De La Iglesia and Dominick Moll, Marshall Bell terrorises Bill Paxton to the strains of a musique concrète orchestra comprised of all manner of detritus one might find discarded amongst homeless community from whence our title character emerges. It's a stroke of genius on the part of Young, not an easy listen but a truly conceptual, original and thrilling alternative to the Hitchcockian norms of fake-Hermann that usually underscores these sorts of wicked little genre confections.

MURDER IN THE FIRST (1995) Dread and unsettlement are not the only tools in Young's aural lexicon. He is first and foremost a consummate classical musicologist and his unerring gift for an accessible motif is perfectly illustrated in the sweeping, lyrical benediction he affords wrongly persecuted petty criminal Henri Young in Marco Rocco's heart wrenching period prison drama. The score is a part tender, part thunderous paean to a largely innocent spirit that swirls with elegiac majesty and heart-wrenching anguish, channeling Nino Rota as much as it does to the pastoral romanticism of Vaughn Williams or the atonal Americana of Charles Ives. A psalm (literally: the final recapitulation of the main theme is set to a choral Kyrie and there's an Angus Dei in there as well) for the lost.

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) Changing pace once more (his third collaboration with Jon Amiel after his luscious score for COPYCAT and the spiky accompaniment to ENTRAPMENT and prior to the rollicking thrills of THE CORE), Young won the Henry Mancini Award for this utterly delightful throwback to Mancini himself and to "Johnny' Williams and De Vol and their Tashlin/Edwards/Donen-devoted ilk. Traversing the staves of classic big band swing, it's a breezy, wanton blast of traditional woods, brass and percussion with an unshakeable set of musical hooks and Pete Anthony's inspired orchestrations (Anthony is a key collaborator in the Young camp; alongside mixer/engineer Robert Fernandez; his signature sound is as much theirs as it is his.)

BLESS THE CHILD (2000) A literal requiem, split into 5 movements. Perhaps Young's most "removed" film score (save SINISTER, see below) in that it plays less as an evocation of events on screen and more and an orgiastic companion piece to the film. A staggeringly ambitious work of accompaniment to what is, ultimately, a fairly generic piece of studio bloat (albeit with a suitably arch turn from Rufus Sewell) from THE BLOB/NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3's Chuck Russell.

THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001) Wistful Americana beset by a dark underbelly has been a mainstay of Hollywood films since the days of early melodrama and the pre-noir Depression pictures of the great studios (the product of a series of émigré moguls and directors and writers bringing a more jaundiced European perspective to the great American people's art form). In a post-millennial era of renewed cynicism, outsider directors like Ang Lee, Sam Mendes, Atom Egoyan and Lasse Halstrom took a rather jaundiced view, often via acclaimed literary adaptations, of classic American iconography (the disruption of the nuclear family, the conservative vs liberal value schism, traditional notions of patriarchy) and brought with them a host of exquisite, brooding, contemplative scores by a variety of dynamic composers: Mychael Danna, Rachel Portman, Thomas Newman and, here, Christopher Young.

HIDER IN THE HOUSE (1989) Not for the first time in his career, Young offers a decidedly liturgical take on a more secular scenario. Here, a domestic thriller wherein Gary Busey psychologically torments yuppie new homeowners from inside the walls and the rafters, gives its human antagonist a score befitting an omnipresent deity, albeit one both insidious and anything but benevolent. A haunting spectral choir intoning a reassuring lullaby crashes against otherworldly clangs and crashes from strings and percussion (doorbells and windchimes!) to mirror the marital and domestic disharmony resulting from the titular fiend. It's a simple but hypnotic set of cues from Young: all the portent of HELLRAISER; all the unease of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2; all the simmering menace of JENNIFER 8 or COPYCAT.

SPECIES (1995) This score for Roger Donaldson's engagingly and endearingly daft sci fi thriller marked an important period of transition for Young. It was the last of his epic, gothic quartet of masterworks with which he made his name (after HELLRAISER/HELLBOUND and THE FLY II) before he moved in two contrasting but equally compelling directions, embracing a whole host of jazz, urban and modern sounding aesthetics with scores for SET IT OFF, RAPID FIRE, ROUNDERS, SCENES OF THE CRIME and paring back the darkness of those epic 80s soundscapes into the chillingly quiet lamentations of UNFORGETTABLE, HUSH, THE UNINVITED.

He taps into both Holst and the great science fiction scores of the 50s and 60s (Leith Stevens, Herrmann et al) in a mostly conventional but intensely beautiful and exquisitely structured score that effortlessly evokes both the wide eyed wonder of scientific exploration and the churning dread of what unnatural menace might be discovered.

URBAN LEGEND (1998) Thoroughly maligned upon its original release amid a swath of far rattier post-SCREAM teen horror films, this smart, straight forward giallo-inspired horror film, written by UGLY BETTY creator Silvio Horta remains one of the least cynical and most sprightly of the era (alongside Geoffrey Wright's fabulous CHERRY FALLS). That director Jamie Blanks is also a musician and composer himself (he scored his own STORM WARNING and Mark Hartley's superb Cannon Films doc ELECTRIC BOOGALOO) is borne out by his hiring of Young to compose a furiously traditional orchestral score, eschewing any hint of the contemporary youth-skewing sound (cf. Marco Beltrami's trip-hoppy SCREAM and Mark Snow's electro-tinged DISTURBING BEHAVIOUR). It cuts straight to the chase with lurid, sinewy piano and willowy strings before proceeding to out-stab the mystery killer with its thrilling orchestral bravado. Only a 15 min portion is available on the ubiquitous "Music From And Inspired By" soundtrack but it's a ragingly rewarding listen.

SINISTER (2012) Another conceptual accompaniment to a genre film but, unlike the experimental spasms of THE VAGRANT or the formally mesmeric Mass of BLESS THE CHILD, this really goes for the jugular and as the opening track intimates, this is less a film score and more a Portrait of the film's iconic villain, Mr Boogie. It's an assault on the senses, taking pieces of the traditional score composed for Scott Derrickson's Blumhouse hit and churning, twisting and sculpting the fragments into a tour de force amalgamation of Gavin Bryers-like modern classical, NIN-esque industrial and, believe it or not, dubstep. It's a veritable nightmare caught on tape, an hallucinatory set of loops, utterly unlike anything you've ever heard coming out of a horror film (though, to be fair, it doesn't exactly appear in this form within the film). Young's boundlessly imaginative playfulness and willingness to engage with cinema's diegetic and non-diegetic form has rarely been more evident.

Giles Edwards

The Films On Wax Podcast #5 - Star Trek Part I by Charlie Brigden

This week Karol and Charlie take a trip to a galaxy far, far away Federation space in the first part of our Star Trek special to celebrate Star Trek Beyond. [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/276169931" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

Khartoum by Charlie Brigden

Frank Cordell's Khartoum is a huge epic score, and similarly to Twisted Nerve, has had split releases, with the original LP (a re-recording) being reissued by different labels with different Cordell scores, such as Ring Of Bright Water and Mosquito Squadron, but having the original and complete score allows for the scale of the score to really be felt musically. And Cordell executes the score beautifully. From the first moment of 'Overture', with those huge bold brass strokes, you know you're in for something wonderful, and his score encompasses that feeling as it introduces the main themes; the mysterious long-lined Mahdi theme, the soaring five-note main theme, and the romantic and noble British military theme. All of these are versatile and Cordell weaves them throughout the score in a variety of ways, scoring for mystery, a kind of romance and nobility, and subsequent tragedy.

Khartoum is a fabulous score, and Stylotone have done it real justice. It sounds beautiful, especially on ("sandstorm") vinyl, and they've done a great job of remastering the sound without sacrificing the fidelity. The album is in mono, but don't let that put you off - this release demands attention. As before, you get some great extras, with the complete album on CD, along with a download of the score, a poster, and a certificate signed by Anja Cordell. Fantastic.

Khartoum is out now on vinyl from Stylotone

Twisted Nerve by Charlie Brigden

It almost feels like Twisted Nerve is a cliche, mainly due to its appearance in the hospital scenes of Kill Bill, Vol.1. Since Herrmann's whistled theme accompanied Danyl Harrah's nefarious nurse, it's become a part of the pop culture lexicon without people really understanding where it came from, which is an obscure psychological thriller from the Boulting Brothers. Twisted Nerve as a soundtrack has had a relatively storied history; it was originally released as a two-fer with Les Bicyclettes de Belzise, a short film that played with Twisted Nerve, and further released both on LP and CD along with Herrmann's soundtrack to Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black, but Stylotone's new edition is brilliant. It's a wonderfully moody score, built around that infamous theme. The theme itself is brilliantly constructed, with both upbeat and gloomy sides playing out incredibly well. Herrmann plays with it constantly, pulling it apart and scoring little bits, using both keyboard surges and low brass to change the mood, and it's hard to think of another movie that is based around so many variations of its theme. 'Main Title' is the version used in the Tarantino movie, and it has that great tonal journey that represents the schizophrenic nature of the film's protagonist/antagonist.

Twisted Nerve isn't an easy listen, but it's a great example of not only the genius in Herrmann's writing but also the economy. The record (coming on "blood splattered yellow haze") sounds excellent, with very little surface noise and very good clarity. Take into account the extras, with a CD featuring the LP program and alternate takes, a 7” single with the Howard Blake pop and jazz versions of the theme, and downloads of the whole thing plus the recording sessions (you also get a huge UK quad poster and a certificate of authenticity signed by Norma Herrmann, and you have a must-buy for any serious soundtrack collector.

Twisted Nerve is out now on vinyl from Stylotone

The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2 by Charlie Brigden

While I'm not sure of the occasion - perhaps the rebirth of the DC comic universe and Batman V Superman - Watertower Music have seen fit to release a second volume of tunes from the DC universe spanning a wide range of eras from early serials to the aforementioned 2016 cinematic smackdown, although thankfully it's not all that grim and includes several interesting tracks that may be seen as rarities. As you can imagine, there's a fair amount of music from Batman and Superman, beginning with the new DCCU where we have the best track from Man of Steel ('What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?') and 'Fight Night', which comes from BVSDOJ (with the new "ultimate edition" cut now out I'm tempted to call it BVSDOJTUE). The Man of Steel track is as brilliant as it's always been, but 'Fight Night' is pretty obnoxious and not a good fit for the album, although I'm not sure if anything form that score would be. There's a track from The Dark Knight Rises as well, together with one from the new Gotham TV show.

We also get the themes from both of the Superman and Batman WB animated series (the Danny Elfman theme for the latter) as well as the 60's Neal Hefti Bat-theme and the intro to the 80's Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon which has John Williams adapted by Ron Jones. Curiously, the track is taken straight from the show audio with the opening narration, whereas the FSM Superman Box had the theme music-only on their disc dedicated to the show. We get more Williams with 'The Flying Sequence and Can You Read My Mind?' and 'Lex Luthor's Lair', and yes, the former does feature Margot Kidder's love poem for the last son of Krypton.

But it's not all score, with 'The Ballad of Batman' from The Brave and the Bold cartoon, a fun western-influenced track and the Arthur Korb songs from the 60's animated shows featuring the Justice League, as well as a trio of tracks from the "classic" album Batman and Robin: The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale by Sun Ra. There's also a fair representation of music from the new DCTV era, with the themes from Supergirl, The Flash vs Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. It's a weird album that's perhaps top-heavy in quality, but there are plenty of welcome additions, not least Mark Hamill singing "Jingle Bells/Batman smells" and the Charles Fox/Norman Gimbel Wonder Woman theme, and it's nice to remember that DC can be fun occasionally.

The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2 is released by Watertower Music on July 15

Ghostbusters by Charlie Brigden

I didn't quite know what to expect with Ghostbusters. I know Theodore Shapiro is a very capable composer, especially given that scorers of comedy are generally ignored - although two of his most acclaimed scores were decidedly non-comedies - The Invitation and Trumbo. But Ghostbusters is a strange beast, not least given the animosity shown towards it since announcement. One thing for sure: Shapiro's Ghostbusters is not Elmer Bernstein's Ghostbusters, in the same way that I imagine Feig's picture is not Reitman's. Bernstein scored the 1984 film as symphonic but with a jazz main theme, underlining the craziness of something that back then was unique, whereas the ladies of 2016 are surrounded by spaceships and superheroes, particularly in New York City.

Ghostbusters is a hugely effective and fun score, a very modern symphonic action fantasy piece. What's great about Shapiro's music is that it's played totally straight, and never feels like it's concentrating on the comedy but instead the story and the genre trappings, which leaves the dialogue and visuals to contrast with it for the humour. And it has some excellent moments that help push the horror agenda, such as the creepy and methodical strings of 'The Aldridge Mansion' that provide an evocative opening for the score.

The main Ghostbusters theme is a fine heroic piece, which does have a bit of development across the score, with a minor version in 'Never Invited' before it moves to a more triumphant rendition in 'Distinct Human Form'. The latter is one of many tracks that features Ray Parker, Jr's original theme, something which could have been just dropped in but works very well, with tracks such as 'Ghost In A Box' and 'The Fourth Cataclysm' using the "I ain't afraid of no ghost" refrain from the song. It doesn't detract from the score in general, which still feels like it's own thing.

One thing I'm not crazy about is the use of choir. There's a fair amount of choral elements and it still feels like Hollywood shorthand for "epic", and I think maybe it would have been better left for the final moments when it is effective, such as 'Into The Portal', where it turns from the scary and shrieking type to a triumphant rendition that backs the main theme. The Ghostbusters theme returns in the finale - the brief 'NY Heart GB' and it's a fittingly warm resolution to the score.

Ghostbusters is firmly its own thing and is a lot better for it. It's a fine genre score and Shapiro again displays how easily he's able to work with big pictures. Here's hoping he gets even more opportunities for working outside comedy, but at the moment he's doing just fine. As are the Ghostbusters. -CB

Ghostbusters is out now from Sony Classical 

The Interview: Alex Somers by Charlie Brigden

e8cf1b3f-759d-4234-925c-4a45955afcca Alex Somers is something of a renaissance man. Perhaps best known for his collaborative work with Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, he has spent the past decade quietly carving a reputation as one of the most unique producer talents currently working, in addition to working as a visual artist and cookery show host (no, really).

Originally from Baltimore, but now based in Reykjavík, Somers’ career has seen him collaborating with the likes of Damien Rice and Julianna Barwick in addition to working extensively in Iceland’s music scene. His pursuits also extend to the art world, having worked closely with Sigur Rós to create artwork for several of the band’s albums, many of which he also produced.

Following the extraordinary Riceboy Sleeps, a collaboration with Jónsi, Somers’ work on Captain Fantastic, directed by Silicon Valley actor Matt Ross, marks both his debut film score and solo release. Building on an already distinctive body of work, the end result is an understated and achingly beautiful collection of melancholic and ethereally ambient compositions.

Paul Weedon caught up with him to discuss his work process, inspiration and his passion for collaboration with others – as well as some listening recommendations.

Congratulations on Captain Fantastic. It’s an extraordinary album. Talk me through how you came to be involved with the film. Did Matt Ross approach you first?

Yeah, Matt got in touch a pretty long time ago - like, two and half years ago, or something - and we just met up for tea and he brought this really cool kind of oversized binder that he had made, I guess. ‘Moodboard’ is kind of a cheesy phrase, but collagey cutouts and some really nice words and pictures and he had been doing that as he’d been writing the script and starting the casting process to get a vibe out. It was cool to look through it.

We talked about the film and we talked about the cast he was assembling and it sounded really up my alley – this kind of harsh story and the nature and hippy stuff. And he wanted the music to be really melodic and really organic and different – not just a traditional film score… and it seemed to be a good pairing. I didn’t start until over a year later, so that was our first meeting.

How far in to production were they when you actually started work on the film? Had Matt shot the film at that point?

Yeah. I think Matt’s dream was that the music and the film would actually be made at the same time. He didn’t want to do the classic thing where you shoot it and you’re pretty much at the final cut almost and then you hire a composer, which is how it’s traditionally done. I think his dream was to not do that and just always have music and the film being created hand-in-hand but that didn’t end up happening. And I hope I end up getting to do a project like that at some point. But yeah, I didn’t really start until they sent me some picture. It wasn’t locked picture or anything like that, but it was the first draft of the edit. And yeah, then I started right from the beginning. I started writing some themes and did the first scene of the film.

It must have been an interesting process. At that stage, having seen all that early material beforehand, I assume you were mulling over ideas in the intervening year?

Not really, no, because I didn’t know 100% if I would be on board or not. It seemed like it, but it was always up in the air because with this kind of work you never really know if you’re doing something until you’re really doing it, you know? You could change your mind or anything could happen really. So I wasn’t actually writing anything yet, but as soon as I started it came pretty quick – playing the piano and coming up with themes and stuff like that

In terms of overall production, how much of the score was live composition and how much of it was electronic?

It’s kind of all live actually, like 99%. Sometimes I’ll use some sub bass, like a Moog, to ground the chords. Like in this score, for example, there’s no upright bass, so a lot of times I’ll slow the string section down so the cellos get kind of deeper. I’ll use a Moog for deep bass, but other than that it’s all live.

And is that your preference?

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I would never use fake strings. I’m just in to recording real strings and I have a Mellotron for that kind of weird sampled sound. I really like using samplers for… I’ll have sounds of flutes and slow that down and play that, or sample my voice or play the piano and record that in to a sampler, so you can get these kind of weird sounds that sound like electronics through organic means, which is my favourite thing. Because you get mistakes, you get things that, if you’re just using synths, you might not come across - these kind of weird quirks. So yeah, I like to bring that element, but it’s usually from acoustic sources.

That’s really interesting, because from a layman’s perspective whenever I’m chatting to people about your work, I think there’s an assumption, erroneously it turns out, that a large portion of it is electronic.

Yeah, it’s really fun. It doesn’t always sound like that in the room. I definitely relate way more with electronic musicians than classical composers. I think that’s the kind of headspace I kind of fall in to and I thrive in, but I like the palette of acoustic instruments. I’m not a synth guy. So yeah, it’s always a case of finding that space between the two that I kind of enjoy.

And who do you look to in terms of electronic influences?

I guess I was more influenced by music and stuff when I was younger. These days I don’t listen to as much stuff. I don’t follow music as closely. I think in the last ten years it’s less that there would be some music that will directly influence what I’m doing. It’s more like the philosophy and the attitude and stuff like that, like growing up and listening to Aphex Twin or Autechre, rather than being in to classical stuff.

But I could name one person that I discovered two years ago whose music is amazing and has probably influenced me and that’s Ian William Craig. He’s pretty under the radar. He’s amazing. He’s really cool. I was definitely inspired the second I heard it, the first second on the first song. I was like, “wait, what’s this?” That definitely has stayed with me.

I’ll have to check him out. I just Googled him and the third hit is a Guardian article ‘The 101 strangest records on Spotify’.

[Laughs]. Yeah, that album ‘A Turn Of Breath’, that record is really special. It’s really cool.

Captain Fantastic obviously isn’t the first time you’ve composed for the screen. You worked with Jónsi on composing for the first season of Manhattan. How did the experience of working on a series compare to working on a feature like this?

It was such a good learning process. Every time I do something to picture I come away understanding it better. Specifically, I guess when I first did any work to picture about five years ago, you’re tense because I come from more of a pop song structure world than writing hour-long orchestral stuff. I feel most film composers come from that world, whereas I don’t. So I feel like you just write music as you would and then you have to kind of chop it up and make it make sense within the score. But the more and more work I do I feel like I’m getting closer to actually scoring picture. The music moves along with the picture and it’s not just a song or a deconstructed piece where you try to make it fit.

The two work together.

Yeah, so that’s the main thing. I’ve gotten better at that and also working with collaborators. At first I always think you have to play everything, engineer every sound, mix everything, but over the years - it’s still only a few people - but when you get stuck you can call on a small circle of friends… and when you feel stuck you just call a friend and they come over and start playing piano or vibraphone and it just opens your mind again and you just go, “of course, I should be working with my friends,” not as much composing, but with overdubs and trying new instruments. So yeah, I think you learn little bits along the way. Patience and having to re-write a scene a million times… [Laughs]

I can imagine there’s a lot of re-writing that goes on.

Yeah.

Speaking more generally, there’s a very distinctive sound to both your solo work and your work with Jónsi. What is it about that haunting kind of melancholic sound that you find so appealing? I know you can do jubilant – Jónsi’s Go album, which you produced, felt very much like a reaction to the slightly more introspective sound of something like Riceboy Sleeps. Do you have a preference in terms of style? What is it that draws you to that melancholic sound?

I don’t know. I’m still wondering that myself.

[Laughs]

I think I’m always kind of drawn towards that… Whenever you’re writing anything, you never really want to think about anything, at least for me. It’s not super conceptual, so you just do something and kind of after you write the spark of it then you want to kind of mould it and think about it and try to do cool arrangements and instrumentation. But I don’t know. I’ve always been drawn towards that sound and that kind of feeling – slow moving stuff and I just connect to it a lot. But I definitely don’t want to be stuck in the same old thing and expand and try new things.

Hopefully I manage to do that. I’ve been doing a lot of producing with other bands and other artists and stuff and I always feel like that’s really healthy because you get to be in the studio with someone else and you’re learning their tricks and sharing your tricks and seeing how they build songs… You take that on to the next thing you do. So I’ve kind of learned to have a wider scope from that.

Funnily enough, I wanted to ask about your collaboration with Julianna Barwick on her album Nepenthe a few years back. That has a very unique sound of its own, but you can detect your stylistic touches on that album. When a collaboration like that comes about, does an artist kind of cite previous work you’ve done as something they’d like to explore that’s similar?

Actually I don’t think that’s ever happened where somebody names a song or an album that I’ve worked on and they’ve wanted to go in that direction. That’s never happened to me, but I think that’s fairly common with a lot of producers. But actually I reached out to Julianna Barwick originally. I had just been really in to her stuff and thought we’d make a good team and kind of expand her palette and try new things, so I just wrote to her and we emailed on and off for a long time. And then I met her in New York and we just had a really good chemistry. I invited her to my studio in Iceland and she came and we did the record in maybe two and half months. And she just let me go wild on it, you know? Of course, all the vocal parts are hers, but she was just really in to surrendering and trying something different, so her and I played most of the instruments and I got a few of my friends to come and play some other instruments and, yeah, it was a super fun project. We’ve been friends ever since.

It sounds like a freeform process. Is that quite rare?

Yeah, the record that we made together was totally different from anything else I’ve done. Before she came to the studio in Iceland I was asking her if she had any demos she wanted to send, which is usually what happens because when I work with foreigners they kind of prepare before because it’s kind of a big trip, but she was like, “Well, I don’t write songs. I don’t do that.” So she came with zero material and we were in the studio on day one and had no music, so we just did it all from scratch. We wrote and recorded as we went. So that was totally different. That’s totally unusual.

From a musical standpoint, I guess that was also quite risky. I take it that there was no imperative from a record label there putting pressure on things, so I guess you had a greater sense of freedom?

Oh, yeah. Totally. I think she was even in between record labels. When that record happened she was switching labels. There was zero direction and we just did what we wanted. It was super fun. We had a really nice routine and became really good friends. We have lots of inside jokes from the process of making a record. [Laughs]. I’m sure we’ll do something together again at some point.

Changing tack slightly – and excuse the slightly indulgent question – but Happiness from Riceboy Sleeps is one of my favourite pieces of music. I’ve always been fascinated with an expansive piece like this, which is about ten minutes in length and has this kind of dreamlike quality to it. At what point is a piece of music like that finished? When do you get a point where you can step back and say, “Okay, this is done now’?

I think for all of the songs on that record, it was such a domestic album. Our old little home studio was in our kitchen and we recorded most of the instruments in our living room, so it was on all the time. So that song was written… the birth of that song was in, like, 2004, or something, and there was no string section on it. And then later we added something and added something and then we thought, “Oh, let’s re-do it completely from scratch with strings.” And then we had that version. So it was always brewing and changing for so long that I think… we used to have it playing so much and then you just… It just kind of settles.

I remember pretty late in the stages of making that album we changed the whole intro and made this little ambient beginning so it didn’t just start. And we slowed it down. The entire song was slowed down so the strings are lower and slower than they were as we recorded it and then at some point, yeah. It felt pretty good… You never know. It’s just a judgement call. There is no right and wrong. That’s a good thing to remember.

I’ve always wondered about that aspect of creating something. It must be quite an empowering notion to say, “It’s done”.

Yeah, but usually you don’t really feel that empowerment until you’re right at the end, because normally it’s a lot of anxiety! You’re like, “Oh, fuck!” and everyone’s really stressed and tweaking the mixing and even during the mastering you’re asking, “Is this even any good?” I think, even great records, there’s a lot of self-doubt throughout the whole process.

On that subject, when you’re doing a film like Captain Fantastic you’re creating music specifically for that project. When you’re creating an album like Riceboy Sleeps, the music is very music intended to be enjoyed in isolation. So I’m curious about your thoughts on directors using your work elsewhere. In particular, Paolo Sorrentino used Happiness in This Must Be The Place. And I wondered, from your perspective, how interesting is it to see other artists using your material in their own way?

I think it’s cool when the right integrity is behind it. And when music can spark a scene, I think it’s really exciting and really cool. It’s different to having it on a McDonalds commercial, obviously. There’s nothing cool about that. That would never happen. But yeah, I think it’s really cool to make a piece of music and have someone add this different dimension or feeling to a scene and wanting to use it. I think that’s great.

When someone comes to you and asks to use your material, how much involvement do you have? Do you get to see it used in situ, or do you kind of relinquish that control?

I don’t know how it is for everyone, but I know Jónsi and I are pretty picky, so we always see everything, just to make sure we like it. And if we think it’s a bad edit, or anything like that, we’ve always been treated really well. We can make a different edit or suggest something. It’s always been really easy and friendly.

As an aside, in addition to production, you’ve also designed the album artwork for a number of Sigur Rós albums. Given your close relationship with the band, as an artist working on a project like that, do you develop ideas as the album is evolving? Does the music itself ultimately influence the artwork?

I guess it depends on the band. The album covers that I’ve done in more recent years have been a case where someone would give you the final thing and ask you to do a cover. So then you just listen to it and get some kind of vibe or aesthetic from it. But if you’re talking about Takk, the Sigur Rós album… yeah, my friend and I had a little studio where we were screenprinting and making stuff when the guys were mixing and writing and recording. So we were listening to it as it was happening.

Actually, I’ve never even thought about that. Maybe that influenced what happened. I remember we had so many different designs - like, sixty. And then I guess that we all maybe assumed that something would become the album cover, but we didn’t really know for sure. We were just doing stuff and doing some limited edition merch. And towards the end of the record when everyone said, “We need a cover,” we just collaborated with the band. I mean, Sigur Rós, the guys, the band are always really involved with everything they do, so they were working on it and we were working on it. Yeah, that was definitely the most collaborative kind of wholesome album art project I’ve ever worked on, outside of doing something on my own.

Of all of your creative pursuits, what do you personally find to be the most satisfying and fulfilling outlet that you have?

Music, by far. It’s the one thing that’s been a thread through my whole life. It never ceases to move me – good music. And the feeling when you’re working on something and you spark a new idea? That excitement and that inside feeling – nothing can touch that. And then building up a new piece of music is so fun and inspiring, and if you’re collaborating on something, to share that with someone is… it’s really hard to explain. I don’t think there’s anything else that has that. And I think that never dies, because music is so universal.

And how do you feel about the end listener’s response to your work? Do you ever look at the way people have engaged with your work?

I feel like I’ve released so little that there’s so little of that in my world… but I guess as more and more time goes by and more and more things are online and more people are using the internet in their daily lives, I guess it becomes more in your face.

Yeah, it’s definitely a bonus if you do something and you read something nice about it. And it definitely sucks if you read something negative about it [laughs]. But at the end it doesn’t really matter. You’re connecting with someone, and that’s what you want.

Captain Fantastic is available to order from Invada Records now, with the CD and Digital release from Lakeshore Records

 

Saving The Music of Star Trek - The Motion Picture by Charlie Brigden

1979. The troubled journey of Star Trek - The Motion Picture, Paramount's big-screen adaptation of the iconic science fiction television show, is deep in its post-production phase. Effects are being rushed and editing is ongoing, with a state of panic approaching seasoned genre director Robert Wise. But the film is about to be in the hands of Jerry Goldsmith, the storied composer who combined animalistic horns with mixing bowls in Planet of the Apes and who has not long won an Oscar for the horror picture The Omen. This is where the film finally finds it's feet, surely? "It didn't seem quite right to me. I got visions of sailing ships somehow." -Robert Wise

Jerry Goldsmith's initial recording sessions were a success, or so he thought. "The scene of flying up to the Enterprise was a big bombastic piece," he later said, "and we all thought it was so wonderful and finished the sessions. I'm patting myself on the back, it's great and all that."

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But Wise and editor Todd Ramsay, after listening to the cues, had a different opinion. "He couldn't really articulate what was bothering him," Goldsmith said of Wise, "but he said we gotta do it all over again, and I was crushed."

Nearly twenty minutes of score had been recorded, all which had to be rewritten and re-recorded. "If there was a moment when you were going to have a breakdown," opined Ramsay, "it was this moment." But before doing it all again, Goldsmith was determined to get to the bottom of what Wise really wanted. "Well what's bothering you?" he said to the director, who replied "There's no theme." "Theme? Oh."

Goldsmith went away while Wise further tinkered with the film, and eventually came up with a tune that is still iconic today. "He'd come over to the house," Goldsmith said, "and he'd had a bad day with the special effects, he said 'I've had a really bad day today, nothing's working right, I hope you've got good news for me'. The head of the music department at Paramount was there too, and we played it for him on two pianos."

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"He said 'That's it! Why didn't you come up with that in the first place?!'"

Goldsmith's score for Star Trek - The Motion Picture was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Georges Delerue's A Little Romance), but his theme went on to dominate Roddenberry's universe, used not only in four further films but also as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some of the unused material was also recycled, with the original 'Spock's Arrival' re-orchestrated for 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

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The full unused score can be heard on the 3-disc limited edition soundtrack CD, from La-La Land Records.

- CB

The Neon Demon by Charlie Brigden

It's always exciting when Cliff Martinez and Nicolas Winding Refn get together, and The Neon Demon is  no exception. Aggressive synths are the order of the day here, with a sense of the decadence and sleaze of the LA scene - the Hollywood dream as interpreted by Refn. Martinez's music sounds positively possessed, inspiring images of writhing spirits in a sacrificial orgy, with curious interludes of reflective space-age tones and the kind of dreamy melodies he's notorious for, and it moves from hedonism to being fraught with danger, and increasing tension with dissonant and avant-garde pieces that have a real sense of the absurd. It's a surreal and deranged journey, but one that is absolutely essential as a soundtrack. -CB The Neon Demon is out now from Milan Records

And Then There Were None by Charlie Brigden

And Then There Were None aired during the Christmas just gone, a three-part adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel of the same name, and met with adoration and acclaim. It's the perfect kind of tale for long, winter evenings. Eight strangers, all of various professions and dubious pasts, are called to the mysterious Soldier Island by a Mr and Mrs Owen. They're tending to by two servants, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, but their hosts are conspicuously absent. All of the guests and staff have been brought there for a reason, but not, perhaps, for the reasons they think. A gramophone record is played, listing each guest and the alleged crime that they committed, immediately setting proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. As time moves on, the first body falls and slowly it becomes apparent that there is someone on the island intent on killing them off one by one.

As a crime writer, Agatha Christie's influence is enormous, but And Then There Were None demonstrates a canny knack for a horror/thriller narrative too. It is one of Christie’s most popular and highly regarded, deviating from her usual formula by taking away the certainty of a detective figure, like Marple or Poirot, to solve the murder. As Sarah Phelps, who adapted the novel for the BBC, observes, “no one is going to come to save [them], absolutely nobody is coming to help or rescue or interpret.” That sense of desolation filters into Phelps’ adaptation and the descent into paranoia that the characters face before their end.

Given how influential this particular work of Christie’s is, Stuart Earl’s score rightfully stays the right side of the screaming strings of a slasher movie with all the elegance of the country house murder mysteries that the author was famous for. What strikes most about Earl’s music is that sense of inevitability that Phelps speaks of; there’s a constant sense of movement from the mystery of their gathering on the island to the slow and macabre reveal that they have been brought here to die. ‘Swan Song’ in particular feels like we’re hurtling towards something terrible with little or no chance to stop it.

‘A Past Remembered’ is a gorgeous and fitting opening, slowly building itself up from an ethereal start to a quick burst of sinister strings at the close, just hinting at the characters’ journey and their ultimate ends. ‘RSVP’ builds on that sense of urgency, layering the violins and their train-track rhythm with the deeper, sweeping notes that finished the previous track. That and ‘Journeys’ are easily the score’s highlight and is as vibrant as it gets. They also happen to be the longer tracks on the album and hint to a more beautiful and expansive score that straddles the fine line between an idyll and a nightmare.

The simple problem with Earl’s music is just that we don’t get enough of it. Whilst it worked startlingly well during the episodes with their similarly fractured and dark visual accompaniments, the score in isolation can be somewhat repetitive. Shorter tracks such as ‘Escalating Dread’ is every bit as generic as it sounds whilst the enigmatic and dreamlike regret ends just as you begin to appreciate the work that it is doing. Those tracks, most under a minute long, are excellent for the short, sharp shocks of a horror, but it feels a little frustrating, particularly with the longer tracks offering up what feels like more complete and thematically relevant works.

That sense of a journey undertaken runs through the listening of the album itself, as you listen to the beautiful scene-setting of the opening tracks, the more visceral and dissatisfying horror of the middle section before returning for the deliciously dark final music. ‘Vera’s Truth’ is a lovely little slice of melancholy before we return to the more expansive sounds of the ‘Conclusion.’ The ‘Credits’ music combines everything about the album into one neat final track; there’s a relentless sense of movement to it, a deep foreboding and a richness, but simply, there’s not enough of it.

And Then There Were None is available now from Silva Screen

-Becky Grace Lea

Dreamdancer by Charlie Brigden

dd Is Michael Bundt and Peter Seiler’s previously-unreleased score for Dreamdancer as fully depraved as one would expect a pornographic film? Kind of. There’s a lot of light funk, here, like opening cut “Funky Phill,” as well as the track that opens side 2, “Beach Dreams,” both of which would be appropriate for hold music at your local dentists, were it not for the moaning-inflected lyrics intoning,”I’m ready” on the former, and “Come and take me” and “Love me,” on the latter.

There’s an awful lot of emphasis on “come,” too, making this track start out rather dirty, only to come to a literal climax which makes “Je t'aime… moi non plus” seem subtle.

However, “Auto Verfolgung, Absturz” is short, but alternates squelchy with swirling, making for a short synth cut which could easily fit on an Italian crime film. The track which follows it, “El Hombre,” is baffling, because one wonders how a sci-fi meets spaghetti western piece ends up on the soundtrack to an adult film. It’s fantastic, but the tone only brings to mind a thousand questions: what’s someone named El Hombre doing in a German porn film from 1976? Is he bad ass? What happens with him that he needs such amazing music? It’s baffling.

The last two tracks are a study in absolute contrasts. Both of them revisit cuts from the first side, but in different enough ways that these two really end the Dreamdancer on a high note. You have a synthesized polka, for all intents and purposes, in “Carl Ludwig (Version),” followed immediately by the very short, yet astonishingly captivating electronics of “Traumübergang 2,” which is so brief as to come on, grab your attention, and be finished before you can get out the “was that” in “What the hell was that?”

There’s no one cut which perfectly sums up Seiler and Bundt’s work on Dreamdancer. For the majority, most of the music is slightly funky, lightly ethereal material, and “Tackling” is probably the epitome of this. It’s slow, kind of danceable, and it comes in at the end with a clavinet solo that serves to provide a moment or two of harder-edged stuff before returning to the floating synths and mellow bass that comprises the most of it.

However, the tracks here serve enough left turns that, combined with the other releases on the Vinyl Of Austria Group Vienna label, one can only assume that German porno in the ‘70s was a fruitful field in which a composer could plant as many ideas as possible, and see which ones bloomed in the background of people enthusiastically nailing one another.

It’s again on clear pink vinyl, and comes with a small vibrator (red, this time), as well as with a poster for the film that’s a wonderful souvenir of the era. It’s positively ‘70s, and were it not for the naked ladies prominently featured, I’d find a way to frame it in my office. The record, as with every Private Records release, sounds crisp and clear, with a potent low end and solid levels throughout.

It is, as per usual, hard to get your hands on, but definitely worth it for fans of the genre. The only downside is the rather grainy film stills on the back. I appreciate the labels’ attempt to continue with their signature rear cover aesthetic, but the stills are washed out to the point of making this otherwise stellar release seem a little cheap.

-Nick Spacek

The FILMS ON WAX Podcast #1 by Charlie Brigden

Where Karol and Charlie look at new releases, including FINDING DORY and NOW YOU SEE ME 2, as well as remember James Horner. Listen to the Soundcloud link below or hit us up on itunes. [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/270780426" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

Rabbit & Rogue (Original Ballet Score) by Charlie Brigden

rabbit-rogue Over ten years ago, American Composers Orchestra commissioned Serenada Schizophrana to be performed at the Carnegie Hall in 2005. It was Danny Elfman's first symphonic concert work and was subsequently released to great reviews on CD. Since then, he started exploring the other avenues and rediscovered his love for “pure music”, unchained from moving images. Rabbit & Rogue is technically a second ballet to feature his music: after the Edward Scissorhands adaptation done by composer Terry Davies in 2005. But this one is not based around any of his film work and was developed solely by Efman for the American Ballet Theatre and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. It premiered in 2008 but only now it became available on album (the recording was captured in Berlin a couple of years ago).

Unlike many esteemed film composers, like Herrmann or Williams, Elfman never had a desire to be particularly respected and/or accepted by academia. His concert pieces are joyful and colourful extensions of his film world and they are meant to primarily entertain. They are not designed to impress with its self-important aspirations. It's all about having fun with musical ideas and running wild with imagination. In his works, Danny manages to explore ideas that could never be sustained in a feature film, given its restrictive nature, and it tt’s certainly refreshing to hear his imagination explode to such proportions. After the excellent Serenada Schizophrana, Rabbit & Rogue continues this trend in style and it might be even more assured.

The ballet is unmistakably the work of Danny Elfman and yet it doesn’t really sound like any of his film works. There is a sense of constant perpetum mobile, very much signature element of his style, his music rarely stops to breathe. The fun never ends! There is also a greater sense of detail that still eludes most modern film composers. Elfman is becoming a master of colour and flair, the orchestrations are truly superb. While the thematic material is based around very simple ideas, the arrangements reach the new level of complexity.

The ballet is divided into six movements. The brief ‘Intro’ introduces what will become most prominent ideas throughout this album, including the rising and falling circular main theme. After this brief overture, we start to explore the material further with much lengthier pieces. ‘Frolic’ makes a heavy use of light percussion and piano. As the title itself suggests, ‘Gamelan’ makes extensive use of the Indonsian percussion ensemble within larger orchestral setting and it's here that the main theme is explored to its fullest potential. It goes through various arrangements and different colours. Elfman makes a wonderful use of woodwind section and there is something almost John Williams-like about the religioso and wondrous string writing in this movement’s latter half.

‘Rag’, as could be expected, features a syncopated jaunty piano performances, as well as the quirky mechanical sound effects. It's very much a modern interpretation of early 20th century popular music genre. The brass becomes a prominent player later on as the movement develops and becomes grander. It's so much fun. In the brief ‘Lyric’, the moody sax takes over and darkens the tone a notch with its melancholic qualities. ‘Finale’ opens with a truly Prokofiev-like string passages that merges perfectly with Elfman’s own carnivalesque tendencies. In a truly satisfying way, this climax finally brings together all the thematic material from previous movements.

Rabbit & Rogue is Elfman at the height of its skills and creative energies, completely unleashed from the restrictions of film medium. The composer is exploring his ideas in much longer pieces and it feels truly fulfilling to his listeners. He proves that he’s not only a great "film composer", but a truly gifted "composer". In any genre. His ability of merging influences from many, seemingly unrelated, sources helps him create concert music that is accessible and relatable to wider audiences and feels very much at home in the crazy modern world. The 45- minutes long Sony Classical album is a must have and one also hopes for a physical CD and vinyl releases somewhere in near future.

-Karol Krok

Rabbit & Rogue is out as a digital download from Sony Classical

The Shawshank Redemption: Limited Edition by Charlie Brigden

shawshank-cover In 1994 composer Thomas Newman, at the time the youngest member to come out of the Newman film scoring family was fast establishing his name in the Hollywood film music circles and one of the scores that truly solidified his reputation in the tinsel town was The Shawshank Redemption. This prison drama, which over the years has become a well-loved classic, was based on a novella by Stephen King, adapted and directed by Frank Darabont and featuring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in the lead roles. And in its own way the score was among those elements that left a permanent imprint on the viewers and listeners as it contains all the elements that make up Thomas Newman's indelible musical style that has become so admired and oft imitated over the years. The project was by the composer's own admission among his favourites and he apparently poured his heart and soul into this score and one could argue it can be heard loud and clear in the end result, a quintessential Thomas Newman score, which is made even more apparent by the new release of the complete score by the La-La Land Records in a lavish 2 disc set.

Newman's style of combining orchestra, synthesizers and specialty instruments, often crafting highly original moods and atmospheres through experimentation with the players, the often quirky feel of the orchestrations and creation of his own brand of unique sound design and his gift for heartfelt direct melodies all come together in the Shawshank Redemption in a winning combination. This is a thoughtful score, a quiet score, that most of the time seeks rather to enhance the various subtexts of the story with gentle suggestions rather than placing itself thoroughly in the foreground except for few choice moments but lives long in the memory of the listener thanks to the well thought out and crafted dramatic arc and musical narrative, its memorable sound and originality.

The composer has never been one for simple theme and variation approach and in The Shawshank Redemption he rather addresses emotional moods, psychological underpinnings and atmospheres than directly writes character based themes and thus his melodies of which there is a whole slew are often associated with specific scenes, linking them together with a common subtext, but never the less the listener can clearly hear various thematic ideas delineating their own paths and sometimes crossing each other throughout the score.

The original soundtrack album offered a fine selection of the musical highlights of the score, which are of course present here on the new set, this time presented in their film guise. Among them are the stark but imposing 'Shawshank Prison (Stoic Theme)', piano dominated mystical Zihuatanejo, gentle yet mournful despondency of 'Brooks Was Here', the energetic and jaunty 'And That Right Soon', the jittery 'His Judgement Cometh', the magnificent orchestral build-up of 'Shawshank Redemption' and the rousing Americana finale of 'So Was Red' and 'End Title'. But the musical bounties are not exhausted there and the new release still has some great unreleased gems to offer among its 30 additional minutes to satisfy the fans of the score and the composer. These tracks might not be hugely revelatory in form or style as they more or less fall in line with the previously released material but they do flesh out the narrative of the score in a most satisfying way and quite a few of the film versions of the cues are only now available for the first time.

Highlights among the previously unreleased pieces are the 'Main Title/Courtroom' which not only establishes the overall style of the score but introduces the mysterious and moody piano motif which later plays major role in the prison escape material (i.e. the cues 'Escape and Shawshank Redemption(Film Version)') and the short but sweet mournful "religioso" motif appearing first on the aptly named track Bible and then in 'Kid Passed/Wild Injuns'. It is so beautiful in fact that it is a shame Newman did not have a chance to explore it further in the score. The finale of the score is also considerably expanded with the cues like the atmospheric 'Longest Night and Pacific/Graveyard' with its ethereal harp writing and the full film version of 'Compass and Guns' that sports among other things a beautiful extended oboe solo, another composer trademark.

The singular soundscapes conjuring atmospheric writing where the composer melds soloist instruments, orchestra and synthesizers to create almost hypnotic feel is vintage Newman and he truly has a knack for this wonderful mood painting where the textures and small melodic fragments are employed to haunting effect. Good examples include 'Bog's Shower' and later 'Inch of His Life (Film Version)' which share elements that become in themselves thematic and the above mentioned 'Main Title/CourtRoom'. Similarly the composer links 'Hope/Gift Exchange' and 'Longest Night' that both feature mesmerizing but unsettling oboe solos over a bed of subtle unnerving string accompaniment that evoke mystery and apprehension in equal measure.

And while a lot of the score is comprised of moody and melancholy material there are some glimpses of lighthearted humour in the music as well, done in style that has become Newman’s calling card. 'Lovely Raquel' dances effortlessly with mischievous fun on plucked strings and various light percussive accents. In the same style the previously unreleased 'Letters/Taxes' reprises the jaunty ticking pizzicato led theme heard in 'Rock Hammer', which is pure Newman at his quirky best.

The second disc of the set contains a generous selection of alternates although is a bit of a mixed bag as many of the pieces are only marginally different from their film counterparts. But the composer and the producers at La-La Land Records have to be commended none the less for allowing us this fascinating glimpse into the scoring process. Here the differences come out mostly in performance rather than actual alternate material or major revisions. Some cues sport different orchestrations like the slightly different pizzicato or tremolo strings in 'His Judgement Cometh (Alternate)' or the slightly slower performance of the alternate 'End Title (Alternate)' but these changes are mostly cosmetic while the content remains largely the same. Only significant rewrite among the cues seems to be 'Pacific/Graveyard' where the ending half of the piece features the piano motif from the end of 'So Was Red', which would have tied the two cues together but in the film version found on disc 1 it got replaced by non-thematic but beautiful harp material. And to complete the experience the second disc also includes the source music from the Inkspots, Hank Williams and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that was found on the original soundtrack album.

I would recommend this new release without hesitation even if you already own the original soundtrack album and for the fans of the composer and especially of the score this new 2 disc set is definitely a must have. The music mixed by Mike Matessino and supervised by the composer himself sounds better than ever and it is gratifying to hear the mix and film versions of the cues revealing some new details in the music, especially considering we already had such an articulate and crisp original soundtrack recording. Also worth mentioning is how well the composer builds the score from point A to B to C so that the music has a sense of build-up and momentum which makes the emotional finale of the soundtrack so effective when the orchestral fireworks begin and the score finally swells in triumphant redemption. This was apparent on the original soundtrack album from 1994 and it is even clearer with the new expanded set where almost 30 minutes of additional material flesh out the musical narrative, adding often new variations on the existing themes and in this case even introducing some new ones which were left off the original album. On top of that as a wonderful bonus, the second disc of the set adds those 30 minutes of alternate material to explore. Complementing the music are the fine liner notes by Constantine Nasr and Tim Grieving with attractive art direction by Dan Goldwasser. For a Newman fan it doesn’t get much better than this and even the more casual listeners would do well to explore one of Thomas Newman’s best scores in this expanded form. Most heartily recommended.

-Mikko Ojala

The Shawshank Redemption is out now from La-La Land Records

Alice Through The Looking Glass by Charlie Brigden

alice through the looking glass Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of any sort but it nevertheless managed to become a surprisingly massive box office hit, bigger in fact that just about anything in this director’s oeuvre. And that couldn’t be stopped even by the lukewarm 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes nor by yet another bizarre performance from Johnny Depp. This year’s sequel titled Alice Through the Looking Glass, this time directed by James Bobin, seems to be coming out of nowhere. Even with all the stars coming back, the promotional campaign was still virtually non-existent. Not to mention even worse reviews (30%).... It almost seems like a miracle that it had such good opening weekend. 

Even with all the visual eye candy, the most striking and memorable element in Alice in Wonderland was in fact Danny Elfman's score. Yes, it was very much a typical Tim Burton music for the most part but the main Alice theme proved to be really strong and has since become composer’s personal favourite. It is then no surprise that he decided to come back for more. Elfman, unlike many other composers, always seems to enjoy playing with already established material. That was a case with several of his sequel scores (Batman Returns or Men In Black 2) as well as him embracing other composers’ material (in Mission: Impossible and Avengers: Age of Ultron)Alice Through the Looking Glass is no exception.

The opening suite ‘Alice’ forms sort of an overture and reprises the main theme from previous score in a slightly different arrangement. It starts off in a similar way but there is a sense of maturity to the development of this piece as Elfman comes up with new fresh variations that he marries with several other Alice's secondary themes (that are given a bigger role in this film). But that doesn't stop there. He manages to weave this main melody more intricately into the fabric of this score. In Alice in Wonderland, the theme was always stated in similar keys and variations thus becoming a bit tiresome by the end. This time, Elfman plays around with it a bit more and makes it sound more imposing or personal, depending on what is needed at any given time. The heroic and adventurous bursts in ‘The Red Queen’, ‘Oceans of Time’ and 'Time Is Up' are really fun and show great versatility. The melody finds its way into virtually every single track of this 76-minute long album without ever outstaying its welcome.

The sequel feels grander and more action-packed than its fairly static predecessor (‘Saving the Ship’ , ‘Chronosphere’, ‘Asylum Escape’) and finds time and space to develop of several returning themes (other than Alice's material, that is). The action-packed ‘Saving the Ship’ opens with a quote of Cheshire Cat’s theme. It comes back as well in tracks like ‘Watching Time’ and ‘To the Rescue’, and often seems integrated into the underscore so well that only careful listeners will pick it up. Hatter’s elusive material from the first score is also expanded upon. 

Elfman also introduces new and fresh material into this world.  The Time theme itself might not be necessarily that striking: it feel very much like a simplified version of the Russian-like melody found in composer's own Wanted and never quite reaches epic enough proportions to match Alice's material in terms of memorability. Some of the variations can be so slight that this melody might be difficult to spot (like the opening 'Oceans of Time') but it does receive a grand resolution during the score's action-packed finale ('Time Is Up'). Occasionally, the distinct rhythmic clock-like movement and choral accompaniment make it stand out more ('Watching Time').

Similarly to last year’s Goosebumps, this soundtrack is constructed of two parts. The main hour-long score section ends with track 20. The following six cues are essentially bonus score tracks and will be probably fairly easy to re-insert into album's main programme. And there’s also an unnecessary Pink song ‘Just Like Fire’ that, quite typically, doesn't sound like anything that came before it. However, it was thankfully was placed at the very end and thus doesn’t interrupt a flow of this very generous soundtrack album.

Alice Through the Looking Glass doesn’t reinvent the already established material but it manages to expand upon it and add more dimension to familiar themes, and also establish some new ones. If you are expecting something drastically new then this score will probably disappoint you. If, however, you seek more depth and satisfying musical expansion of Alice in Wonderland then it should satisfy your needs. It’s a work of an excellent musician who likes to explore and re-explore his material in a way that should bring a Cheshire-like smile to his most attentive and faithful listeners. And, once again, it will probably end up being the best thing about this film.

-Karol Krok

Alice Through the Looking Glass is out now from Walt Disney Records