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The Radiophonic Workshop: Burials In Several Earths

Burials In Several EarthsThe Radiophonic Workshop is back, minus the BBC. If the band’s retinue of veteran analog electronic music pioneers can keep turning out original material like this, it might result in a new generation of fans wondering why they were slumming it for the BBC for so long. The Radiophonic Workshop is made up of former members of the storied BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental electronic music & effects department of the BBC founded in the late 1950s to provide unique music and sounds for the steadily growing output of the BBC’s radio and television channels. The work, in those days before samplers and digital synthesizers, was grueling; membership in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was always fairly limited because you had to love what you were doing, working with oscillators a beat and tone generators and analog reverb and tape loops. The Workshop remains, perhaps unjustly, best known for the original Doctor Who theme music dating back to 1963, but its body of work spread so much further than that…until the BBC closed the Workshop’s doors in the 1990s.

But its members, it turns out, weren’t averse to workshopping their unique sound without Auntie Beeb paying the bills. Having spent over a decade as a touring group recreating their sound the old-fashioned way for audiences who already knew their work and audiences only just discovering them, the Radiophonic Workshop has now gifted us with a new album with the unmistakable sound that gained them a following in the 1960s and ’70s. Is it abstract? At times, yes – about 13 minutes into the lead track, you’d swear they were trying to make a musical instrument out of the sound of the Liberator’s teleport from Blake’s 7. Everything from white noise to whalesong crops up. But what’s amazing is how tuneful it is at times. Echoing piano is a constant presence, along with actual guitar work (Paddy Kingsland, whose Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide scores in the early ’80s were ear-wormingly hummable, take a bow). There are a few places where a groove emerges from the soundscape and the Radiophonic Workshop proceeds to rock out.

Not a bad feat considering that some of these gentlemen are past what many touring musicians would consider retirement age.

4 out of 4The real fascination of Burials In Several Earths is that it’s electronic music created in a way that has almost been lost to time and the march of technology. That description doesn’t really do it justice though – that sounds more like the description of a tech demo. The Radiophonic Workshop is making actual music this way, delighting audiences on stage, and bolting new chapters onto a legacy of ridiculously hummable short tunes from a bygone age. At times ethereal, at times exciting, the one thing Burials isn’t is boring.

Order this CD

  1. Burials In Several Earths (18:58)
  2. Things Buried In Water (22:01)
  3. Some Hope Of Land (25:15)
  4. Not Come To Light (3:58)
  5. The Stranger’s House (11:23)

Released by: Room 13
Release date: May 19, 2016
Total running time: 1:21:35

Fight For Space – music by Ron Jones

Fight For SpaceRon Jones is an inspired choice to score a space documentary, even if you’ve never heard of him. Mention his name in a room full of diehard Star Trek: The Next Generation fans and you’ll probably get a conversation started: during that show’s first four years, he kicked over numerous restrictive rules put in place by the producers, who wanted the music to be “wallpaper”, and did his own thing…until the showrunners responded in kind by simply ceasing to engage his services any further.

But the producers of that particular series seem to be the only ones who don’t remember him fondly. The makers of computer games such as Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Command availed themselves of his services, as did the backers of last year’s 50th anniversary concert tour, commissioning him to write new music in a Trek vein, which was also recorded for the recent 50th anniversary soundtrack album.

It’s those recent compositions that his music from Fight For Space most closely resemble: noble, yearning, vaguely nautical. But there are other flavors that aren’t exactly Trekkish: quiter, piano-led tracks, even a couple of somewhat comical pieces. Then there are the real surprises, a full-on rock ‘n’ roll track titled “Chaos Never Stopped Us”, whole other tracks such as “The Greatest 4 out of 4Possibilities” and “The Letter That Killed Space” combine the sonic palettes of orchestra and rock band.

But it’s all recognizably Ron Jones – the sound that no sane showrunner ever would have jettisoned from the Star Trek franchise. Whether it’s for the 24th century, or the 21st century struggle of a chronically underfunded NASA to live up to its 20th century glories, that sound is a perfect fit. Those who have missed Jones’ odes to the final frontier will enjoy this one a lot.

Order this CD

  1. Space Calls Us (4:23)
  2. Cold War Fears (2:02)
  3. Moving a Nation (2:39)
  4. The Spin Offs (1:51)
  5. Earthrise (1:02)
  6. The Hope Killers (6:34)
  7. First Homes Off Earth (2:54)
  8. Messy Politics of Space (4:22)
  9. Rockets and Budgets to Nowhere (7:42)
  10. Chaos Never Stopped Us (5:34)
  11. The Letter That Killed Space (3:35)
  12. Why arn’t We There Yet? (4:41)
  13. Progress and Fear (2:16)
  14. The Greatest Possibilities (7:42)
  15. The Universe Awaits (6:44)
  16. First Sketches and Themes (3:45)

Released by: SkyMuse Records
Release date: March 29, 2017
Total running time: 1:07:46

Star Trek Beyond (Deluxe) – music by Michael Giacchino

Star Trek BeyondVarese Sarabande’s handling of the soundtracks from the modern Star Trek movies has made me wise up: I didn’t even bother with Michael Giacchino’s score from Star Trek Beyond until the 2-CD Deluxe Edition was released. I’m just not in a position to fall for the double dip every time.

Sadly, the irony is that, while Beyond got the current iteration of Star Trek back “on message”, preaching the virtues of peace and compassion over the values of a violent, twisted being out for revenge, Giacchino’s third visit to the Trek well seems to be his least inspired of the three movies he’s scored to date.

That’s somewhat understandable: the after-the-fact heaping of criticism on the second movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, had to have a palpable effect on those involved in making it. (Ironically, Giacchino’s score from Into Darkness was one of the very, very few things I could find to enjoy about that otherwise lamentably derivative entry in the franchise.) It could be that his creative energies were sapped by the time he went to work on Beyond.

There are highlights, though. The appearances of Starbase Yorktown, a marvel of alternative-23rd-century Starfleet construction that would dwarf a 24th century Borg cube, are graced with a gorgeous fanfare, featuring a long melody line of the kind that seems like it went out of style after John Williams re-educated everyone about uses of the leitmotif. There are some nice cues covering the series of vignettes following the surviving members of the Enterprise crew trying to simply survive on the surface of the planet over which their ship was brought down, though those tend toward brevity.

The action scenes involving Krall’s attack on the Enterprise are frenetic and noisy, probably with the idea that they’d be competing with frenetic and noisy sound effects for dominance in the movie’s audio mix. As a listening experience with no accompanying visuals, they’re a bit much – compare to Giacchino’s more gracefully Williams-esque action scenes from Rogue One for an exercise in contrast.

Though I know some uppity Star Trek fans may recoil against the thought of including a track that could be even remotely considered R&B on their precious soundtrack albums – one can still hear the howls of protest over “Ooby Dooby” and “Magic Carpet Ride” 20 years after Star Trek: First Contact – I’m a bit disappointed to find that, even with a second disc worth of material and more breathing room – Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer” single wasn’t included here. I know there’s licensing, label politics, and yes, that whole blow-up among fans about whether the singer had any business dipping her toe into the world of Star Trek, a pointless
2 out of 4kerfuffle that, let’s face it, exposed some shocking racism among fans of a franchise that rails against racism at every turn. The song still belonged here, and I was disappointed to see it omitted.

At the time of this writing, there’s still no solid word on whether or not there will be a fourth movie with this cast, or indeed a fourth movie with Giacchino at the podium. In that context, it’s a bit of a bummer that he may well be leaving the Star Trek franchise on the weakest note that he had yet provided for it.

Order this CD

    Disc 1

  1. Logo And Prosper (1:47)
  2. Trick Or Treaty (:45)
  3. We Come In Pieces (1:17)
  4. Thank Your Lucky Star Date (2:14)
  5. Night On The Yorktown (5:36)
  6. To Thine Own Death Be True (3:32)
  7. We Make A Good Team (:22)
  8. The Dance Of The Nebula (2:22)
  9. A Swarm Reception (2:30)
  10. Krall Hell Breaks Loose (3:04)
  11. The Evacuation Variations (2:47)
  12. Hitting The Saucer A Little Hard (6:10)
  13. Scotland’s Worst Cliffhanger (:23)
  14. A Hive And Kicking (3:30)
  15. Port Of Krall (:52)
  16. Jaylah Damage (2:50)
  17. No Enterprise For Guessing (:37)
  18. In Artifacts As In Life (1:51)
  19. She’s One Hell Of A Dish (1:26)
  20. Make No Escape About It (2:04)
  21. Eat My Thrusters (3:56)
  22. The Krall Of The Wild (2:10)
  23. Spock’s Vulcan Grip On Death (1:31)
  24. Captain On Ice (:42)

    Disc 2

  25. Franklin, My Dear (2:50)
  26. Transporting Good Time (3:43)
  27. Krall Work And No Play (:37)
  28. A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy (5:17)
  29. The Cost Of Abronath (2:35)
  30. MotorCycles Of Relief (3:18)
  31. Mocking Jaylah (3:27)
  32. Jaylah House Rock (3:18)
  33. Bright Lights Big Velocity (Part 1) (:57)
  34. Bright Lights Big Velocity (Part 2) (2:59)
  35. Spock Speaks Hive (3:10)
  36. Crash Decisions (3:16)
  37. Krall-y Krall-y Oxen Free (4:23)
  38. Shutdown Happens (4:35)
  39. The Root Of Krall Evil (1:31)
  40. Cater-Krall In Zero G (2:17)
  41. The Dreaded Rear Admiral (2:02)
  42. Par-tay For The Course (2:46)
  43. Space, The Final Frontier (2:42)
  44. Jaylah’s Theme (2:36)
  45. Yorktown Theme (4:32)
  46. Star Trek Main Theme* (3:44)
  47. Krall Things Being Equal (4:25)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: December 12, 2016
Disc one total running time: 54:42
Disc two total running time: 1:11:18