Welcome Home, Hayabusa

Welcome Home, HayabusaHayabusa was a Japanese space probe that landed on and sampled asteroid Itokawa in 2011. This would be a stunning space feat for any country’s space agency, but Japan happened to get there first, and the surge of national pride for this technological accomplishment has spawned no fewer than three movies, ranging from documentaries to – in the case of Okaeri Hayabusa (Welcome Home, Hayabusa) – a fictionalized family drama with the mission as backdrop and framing story.

And who better to score a movie whose drama takes place around the launch and flight of one of Japan’s crowning space achievements? None other than the late, great Japanese synth pioneer Isao Tomita. Whether you realize it or not, Tomita’s connection with space exploration is lengthy – and almost purely coincidental. Tomita’s late ’70s synth reworking of Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1” was appropriated by the Miami Planetarium to top and tail each installment of the planetarium’s long-running PBS series Star Hustler (later Star Gazer, after the realities of the search engine age caught up with the show and began directing young viewers toward a certain adult periodical with “hustler” in the title). Tomita’s music was synonymous with astronomer Jack Horkheimer’s exuberant weekly lessons on amateur astronomy from then on.

Tomita is an absolutely brilliant choice to score this film. Not only is his synthesizer work as crisp and inventive as ever, but he gives brilliant musical accompaniment to visualizations of data being transmitted to Earth from deep space, and uses appropriately icy synths to illustrate the bleak emptiness of space traversed by Hayabusa. There have been many musical odes to major space missions, and by fairly high 4 out of 4profile composers (Vangelis springs to mind), but Tomita’s translation of event to music makes this among the best. This soundtrack also steps outside the usual all-synth comfort zone with which Tomita is associated, allowing the composer to bring his classical training into play with real trumpet solos, woodwinds and strings augmenting his normally “icy” synthesizers with a warmer human touch.

The real tragedy is that Japan has launched Hayabusa 2 to dare even mightier things, and Tomita is no longer around to give that mission its own soundtrack.

Order this CD

  1. Challenge To The Universe (5:03)
  2. Engineer Crush (1:20)
  3. Dreaming Of The Flyby (1:21)
  4. Toward The Asteroid (3:30)
  5. Touchdown On Itokawa! (2:43)
  6. Recollection Of Naoko (1:34)
  7. The Fight Against Sickness (3:23)
  8. 1-Bit Communication / Connecting The Hope (3:19)
  9. Mother’s Joy / Surgery Success (1:49)
  10. Cross Operation? (1:52)
  11. Finally To Return (1:36)
  12. Tristan & Isolde / From Beyond The Galaxy (8:15)
  13. Hayabusa / Tristan & Isolde To The Future (5:47)

Released by: Shochiku Records
Release date: 2-29-2012
Total running time: 41:32

Music Written For The Film Planet Of The Apes

Planet Of The Apes: Music Written For The FilmMajor labels may drop re-releases, even expanded ones, of classic rock albums at the drop of a hat; asking for the same treatment for a soundtrack album – especially one that still sells well in its present form – is a completely different species. Such is the case with Jerry Goldsmith’s career-defining score from 1968’s Planet Of The Apes. It’s not the complete score, every note recorded for the movie, and yet it’s still in demand with a certain niche audience that isn’t likely to break out of its niche. Where’s the incentive to re-license everything, secure new rights, pay union musicians from 48 years ago for even more minutes of their music again? (Understand, I’m not articulating my own belief there, but rather the thoughts that must be going through the head of a music label.) That’s why John O’Callaghan, author of a well-regarded book on Goldsmith’s Apes score, opted to start from scratch: get the license to use the original sheet music and arrangements to produce a brand-new recording.

But isn’t that road fraught with peril too? Well…yes. O’Callaghan has had more access to the orchestrations and timing notes than anyone since the music personnel who worked on the original film, and carefully timed things out to the correct tempo. Perhaps most impressively, he rented out the same exotic percussion instruments used for the 1968 score sessions and recorded them acoustically. Where Music Written For The Film Planet Of The Apes falters is in the choice – almost certainly dictated by budget – to used sampled and synthesized instruments for everything else. In some cases, this isn’t actually bad; O’Callaghan has some nice string samples at his disposal. But it’s the brass instruments that are let down by this recording. Very few of the brass instruments heard here are going to convince anyone that there’s a real player at the real mouthpiece of a real horn (or tuba, etc.). A few of the samples are just about credible, but generally speaking, the synthesized nature of the music almost robs the fancy acoustic percussion of its credibility. Though with the project’s likely low budget, I’m not sure what the alternative would’ve been.

3 out of 4On the upside, we finally have a complete recording of the Planet Of The Apes soundtrack, and it’s quite enjoyable. The downside, however, is a reliance on synths and samples that are sometimes less than convincing. The alternate arrangements presented in the bonus tracks are fascinating, as are the liner notes (derived from O’Callaghan’s book, “Simians & Serialism”). It’s an interesting companion to Goldsmith’s 1968 recording, but not a replacement for it (which its author acknowledges). Listen in the same spirit as someone listening to a decent cover band, or perhaps the Cult Files collections of the 1990s.

Order this CD

  1. Planet of the Apes (Main Title) (2:19)
  2. Crash Landing (6:53)
  3. The Searchers (2:32)
  4. The Search Continues (4:59)
  5. The Clothes Snatchers (3:13)
  6. The Hunt (5:14)
  7. A New Mate (1:13)
  8. The Revelation (3:23)
  9. No Escape (5:42)
  10. The Trial (1:47)
  11. New Identity (2:29)
  12. A Bid For Freedom (2:39)
  13. The Forbidden Zone (3:27)
  14. The Intruders (1:11)
  15. The Cave (1:25)
  16. The Revelation Part 2 (3:26)

    Bonus Tracks:

  17. Planet of the Apes (Main Title) (2:19)
  18. The Searchers (2:32)
  19. The Revelation (3:23)

Released by: Pithikos Entertainment
Release date: 2016
Total running time: 60:14

8-Bit Weapon – Disassembly Language: Ambient Music for Deprogramming, Vol. 1

Disassembly Language Vol. 1An interesting new experiment for 8 Bit Weapon, Disassembly Language returns the chiptune duo to its Commodore 64-centric SID-sound-chip roots, but trades in the usual punchy three-minute originals for epic-length new-age chiptune instrumentals. The effect is nothing short of hypnotic.

“Phase I: Lexical Analysis” opens with mesmerizingly looping sequences over a gentle, slow pad; by the end of the track, the pad has gradually taken over as the dominant sound. “Phase II: Debugger” sticks with the hypnotic repeating figure idea, again to great effect, while “Phase III: Refactoring” and “Phase IV: Release” concentrate on slowly changing harmonies. The first two tracks have enough variation to relax you while still leaving you awake; the last two tracks are not listen-in-the-car material.

Is it great going-to-sleep material? Yes – it’s been sending me off to the sandman for a week now, and it even sent my oldest, also a chiptune fan, off to sleep. Can you ask for better depreogramming than that?

4 out of 4Fans of such hypnotically mesmerizing synth music as Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, Tangerine Dream at its dreamy best, and the trance-inducing repeating musical ideas in Raymond Scott’s Soothing Sounds For Baby trilogy will find a lot to love here. And perhaps the most promising thing is that, like Scott’s Soothing Sounds, this album promises to be just the first volume.

Order

  1. Phase I: Lexical Analysis (13:37)
  2. Phase II: Debugger (13:08)
  3. Phase III: Refactoring (20:16)
  4. Phase IV: Release (22:44)

Released by: 8-Bit Weapon
Release date: February 9, 2016
Total running time: 1:00:45

Alan Parsons Project – The Turn Of A Friendly Card: 35th Anniversary Edition

The Turn Of A Friendly Card: 35th Anniversary EditionTime, as the hit single from this album croons, keeps flowing like a river, but the sight of a new 2-CD remaster of the Alan Parsons Project’s The Turn Of A Friendly Card makes me feel like time is bearing down on me like an oncoming flood. It can’t really have been 35 years, can it?

Indeed it can, and in that time The Turn Of A Friendly Card has already been remastered once, and deservedly so: while I Robot and Pyramid and the other early Project albums were nothing to sneeze at, there was some kind of harmonic convergence going on here, putting the right vocalists on the right songs at the right time to get massive radio airplay. “Time”, sung by the late, great Eric Woolfson, and “Games People Play”, sung by Lenny Zakatek, are immortal 1980s radio staples, and they’ve never sounded better. The remainder of the first disc is filled by the bonus material from the earlier remastered release.

The second disc, however, is completely new to this release, containing recently unearthed home demos – billed here as a “songwriting diary” – from the archives of the late Mr. Woolfson, who wrote all of the Project’s songs (despite what any shared credit on the album sleeves might state). There are basically cleaned-up transfers of garden-variety cassette tapes that Eric Woolfson kept rolling as he sat down to discover and shape his songs at the piano, long before any of them went into a studio. For those interested in the process of songwriting, this is fascinating stuff, as we hear Woolfson travel down various unexplored avenues, occasionally landing on gold…and occasionally putting it in reverse and backing up to his original idea.

But the highlight of the second disc, and the real reason to buy this whole album one more time, is down to a single track: the unaccompanied orchestral backing track from “Time”, which also includes backing harmony vocal overdubs performed by the late Chris Rainbow. This is, quite simply, one of the best orchestral backing arrangements that has ever graced a pop song, giving 4 out of 4what was already a gorgeous song incredible depth and power. I can listen to this one track over and over again (and I have done).

It’s rare that I recommend something on the basis of a single track of barely two minutes’ duration, but if you’re already a fan of the Alan Parsons Project and/or a student of how music is put together (by masters of the craft), that track, and indeed the whole second disc, is worth the upgrade.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. May Be A Price To Pay (5:01)
  2. Games People Play (4:23)
  3. Time (5:09)
  4. I Don’t Wanna Go Home (4:59)
  5. The Gold Bug (4:32)
  6. The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part I) (2:43)
  7. Snake Eyes (3:17)
  8. The Ace Of Swords (2:58)
  9. Nothing Left To Lose (4:07)
  10. The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part II) (3:31)
  11. May Be A Price To Pay (intro demo) (1:32)
  12. Nothing Left To Lose (instrumental backing track) (4:37)
  13. Nothing Left To Lose (Chris Rainbow vocal overdub compilation) (2:01)
  14. Nothing Left To Lose (early studio version with Eric’s guide vocal) (3:11)
  15. Time (early studio attempt – instrumental) (4:42)
  16. Games People Play (rough mix) (4:32)
  17. The Gold Bug (demo) (2:50)
    Disc Two

  1. May Be A Price to Pay (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:26)
  2. Games People Play (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:06)
  3. Time (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (4:06)
  4. I Don’t Wanna Go Home (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (2:12)
  5. The Turn of a Friendly Card (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:19)
  6. Snake Eyes (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (3:13)
  7. Nothing Left to Lose (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (2:46)
  8. Turn Of A Friendly Card / Snake Eyes / I Don’t Wanna Go Home (Eric’s Songwriting Diary) (4:32)
  9. May Be A Price to Pay (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal & Unused Guitar Solo) (5:03)
  10. Games People Play (Early version – Eric Guide Vocal) (4:32)
  11. Time (Orchestra & Chris Rainbow Backing Vocals) (4:19)
  12. The Gold Bug (Early Reference Version) (5:08)
  13. The Turn of a Friendly Card Part 1 (Early Backing Track) (2:18)
  14. Snake Eyes (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal) (3:20)
  15. The Ace of Swords (Early Version with Synth “Orchestration”) (3:03)
  16. The Ace Of Swords (Early Version with Piano on Melody) (2:40)
  17. The Turn of a Friendly Card Part Two (Eric Guide Vocal and Extended Guitar Solo) (3:32)
  18. Games People Play (single edit) (3:35)
  19. The Turn of a Friendly Card (single edit) (3:44)
  20. Snake Eyes (single edit) (2:26)

Released by: Sony / Legacy
Release date: November 13, 2015
Disc one total running time: 64:05
Disc two total running time: 70:20

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – music by John Williams

Star Wars: The Force AwakensJ.J. Abrams had no shortage of composers who he could’ve called into action for this project; indeed, during press junkets for Star Trek: Into Darkness, not long after Abrams was announced as the first non-Lucas director of a Star Wars feature film, he was being asked if he was going to bring longtime collaborator Michael Giacchino to the Star Wars franchise, or if he would try to rouse John Williams out of semi-retirement. As much of a Star Wars fanboy as Abrams is, it didn’t seem terribly surprising that he fully expected to work with Williams. Ultimately, you bring Williams back to Star Wars for the same reason that you pull Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher back into it: to create a point of audience identification and to make this new, outside-the-original-trilogy entry authentic.

There, at least, Williams – now 81 years old – succeeds, because he set the bar for what to expect. But The Force Awakens isn’t really Star Wars from the past: it’s Star Wars for the future. For lack of a better way to put it, the “texture” of the soundtrack is very different, as it deals with a movie that takes place in settings unimagined in the six prior films, populated largely by character we’ve never met before. Williams gives Jakku a different flavor of desolation than Tatooine, and Kylo Ren’s musical signature is very different from Darth Vader’s. It’s an almost entirely new universe scored with almost entirely new music.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some familiar tunes; outside of the main titles, the Star Wars theme makes itself heard first in “The Falcon”, an otherwise new track whose rapid-fire strings echo the past exploits of Han’s ship. It may not be “Hyperspace” or “The Asteroid Field”, but it’s still a pulse-raising piece of music. The Star Wars theme shows up as a motif elsewhere, including “Scherzo For X-Wings”. “Han And Leia” revives both the Princess Leia theme from Star Wars, and “Han Solo And The Princess” from The Empire Strikes Back, and both themes show up elsewhere as well.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the Force theme, whose perfect Platonic ideal performance-wise remains “Binary Sunset” from Star Wars, also reappears (what with the Force awakening and all). But what’s more surprising is to hear it coupled, in “The Jedi Steps and Finale”, with a musical callback to the prequel trilogy, referencing music from the scene showing Anakin’s final transformation into Vader. A surprising and ominous choice for a refrain.

It all adds up to a nice musical package. Some fans demand completion in their soundtracks; in some cases, I’m one of them. But Williams has always sequenced and sorted his soundtrack albums so they make cohesive musical sense as a listening experience. He picks out his favorite bits, and even though the three original trilogy movies have each received more-or-less-complete score releases, I still find myself going back to the original albums. The Force Awakens soundtrack is a lot like that: there’s over an hour of music here (something of a minor miracle given that it was recorded in Los Angeles by union musicians, a factor that many labels cite when issuing irritatingly short soundtrack releases), and Williams’ favorite material 4 out of 4is good enough for me. As much as the shiny new action figures of Rey and Finn and Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren (and, yes, BB-8) sitting on my shelf, a new CD of new Star Wars music by John Williams himself is the thing that says “It’s back!” more than anything else. (Now I’ll just be waiting for Meco’s take on the whole thing.)

With the next franchise movie (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) set to be scored by Alexandre Desplat, it’s clear that the learners weaned on Williams’ soundtracks will soon become the masters. But if this is the last Star Wars movie Williams scores, he’s left a parting shot to show the next generation of Star Wars soundtrack composers how it’s done.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title and the Attack on the Jakku Village (6:25)
  2. The Scavenger (3:39)
  3. I Can Fly Anything (3:11)
  4. Rey Meets BB-8 (1:31)
  5. Follow Me (2:54)
  6. Rey’s Theme (3:11)
  7. The Falcon (3:32)
  8. That Girl With The Staff (1:58)
  9. The Rathtars! (4:05)
  10. Finn’s Confession (2:08)
  11. Maz’s Counsel (3:07)
  12. The Starkiller (1:51)
  13. Kylo Ren Arrives At The Battle (2:01)
  14. The Abduction (2:25)
  15. Han And Leia (4:41)
  16. March Of The Resistance (2:35)
  17. Snoke (2:03)
  18. On the Inside (2:05)
  19. Torn Apart (4:19)
  20. The Ways Of The Force (3:14)
  21. Scherzo For X-wings (2:32)
  22. Farewell And The Trip (4:55)
  23. The Jedi Steps and Finale (8:51)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: December 18, 2015
Total running time: 77:28

The Final Countdown – music by John Scott

The Final CountdownThe Final Countdown may not have been the thrilling time-travel spectacle its producers hoped it would be when it was released in 1980, but it did boast a winning score that continues to be widely praised not only for its creativity but its ability to transform a flawed movie into something of an unlikely classic.

I admit to being a huge fan of this movie. It’s easy to appreciate it as something of an anomaly in 1980 when movie special effects had survived the growing pains of Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien – not to mention The Empire Strikes Back, to name just a few. Next to these Big Boys, The Final Countdown, with its embarrassing laser storm time portal and use of stock footage, comes across exactly as it was to make – cheap. However, that low-budget approach and earnest attention to story, underscored by a wonderfully propulsive score, is what gives the movie a lasting charm.

On the whole John Scott imbues the score with incredible optimism and purpose. At its core, The Final Countdown is a science fiction movie and Scott opens the movie in the main titles with Star Trek-ian fanfare. Like the Starship Enterprise, the U.S.S. Nimitz is treated like a character in the movie with its own theme (which takes a curiously menacing turn when the Nimitz first appears on screen and can be heard at the 2-minute mark in track 1). There’s little in the “Main Titles” to portend the forthcoming mystery and danger of the story. It’s a balls-out piece of heroic bombast that finds its fingerprints all over the rest of the score. Scott gives it a beautifully fatalistic feel in “Nimitz On Route” and a revisited heroic identity for “Splash the Zeros”. It’s hard to ignore the very obvious Tchaikovsky influences and one may take issue with its shameless patriotism, which makes the score feel like a marketing piece for the Navy (the movie was in fact used as a recruiting tool for the Navy). Despite this, the theme serves quite well what is, in essence, a very American movie.

Scott displays his true creativity with his “Mr. Tideman” theme, which may be, I would argue, one of the best themes ever created for a movie character. This track is certainly worth dissecting because it’s a work of undeniable genius. The nervous strings running throughout the track convey the appropriate anticipation and mystery surrounding the Tideman character and the horns echo the more stately and official elements of the Navy and Tideman’s relationship to it, but it’s that quick, playful little melody heard 45 seconds in that’s at the soul of the theme. It took me a few listens but I realized, whether intentional or not, that Scott was tipping his hat to “Tubular Bells”, which played a significant role in the score for The Exorcist.

Scott brings back the Tideman theme in romantic guise for the first real personal meeting between Commander Owen and Laurel. The theme, now stripped down and played with flute, not only underscores their budding romance but also foreshadows their relationship to the first appearance of Tideman earlier in the movie. The theme becomes more aggressive and fulfilled (not to mention creepier) at the end of the movie when it’s revealed Commander Owen is Mr. Tideman – or became Mr. Tideman, however you want to interpret it.

Sometimes the fanfare gets to be a little too much. “The Admirals Arrive” is a painful marching band composition and “Last Known Location,” with its overly dramatic tympanis and strings, feels entirely mired in dated ’70s and early ’80s adventure film scoring. I can’t say too much about Scott’s use of the Jaws theme to underscore the approaching time storm. After all, Jerry Goldsmith used it as well for The Omen in a key scene there. Here, Scott has time to truly play it out. It’s yet another nice nod to another influential film score from that era, even if it does seem like a lazy choice (even “An Hour Ago” sounds slightly derivative of Capt. Dallas’ air shaft crawl scene in Alien, with a few sneaky notes of the main Alien theme thrown in for good effect).

The Final Countdown is a relic of a time long since passed, when scores were treated with incredible care and attention, especially for sci-fi and adventure films. Call it the Star Wars Effect. Today, with emphasis and minimalism and irony in scoring, it’s easy to 4 out of 4
dismiss Scott’s score as dated or even jingoistic. As politically minded as we are today, a movie like this would be (if similarly made) filed on either side of the dividing line between red and blue ideologies. And that’s sad. It diverts attention from what is in essence a beautifully realized score that serves its movie well and makes it a memorable, if flawed, entry in sci-fi cinema.

Order this CD

  1. The Final Countdown Main Titles (3:53)
  2. Mr. Tideman (2:24)
  3. The U.S.S. Nimitz On Route (3:28)
  4. The Approaching Storm (4:22)
  5. Pursued By The Storm (2:45)
  6. Into The Time Warp (3:57)
  7. Rig The Barricades (2:16)
  8. Last Known Position (2:13)
  9. An Hour Ago (1:00)
  10. December 7, 1941 (0:46)
  11. The Japanese Navy (0:35)
  12. Shake Up The Zeros (2:13)
  13. Splash Two (1:05)
  14. Laurel and Owen (2:22)
  15. Climb Mount Nitaka (2:10)
  16. On The Beach (0:39)
  17. General Quarters (1:48)
  18. Operation Pearl Harbor (0:59)
  19. The Storm Reappears (3:28)
  20. Back Through The Time Warp (3:40)
  21. The Planes Return (1:27)
  22. The Admirals Arrive (1:30)
  23. Mr. and Mrs. Tideman (4:19)

Released by: JOS Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 53:20

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