Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey

Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space OdysseyYou can probably be forgiven if the name of this movie – shown primarily in museums and other educational venues – doesn’t ring a bell. Animated in Taiwan to accompany an all-star voice cast that included the likes of William Shatner, Chris Pine, Mark Hamill, Samuel L. Jackson, Brent Spiner Robert Picardo, Hayden Christensen, Jason Alexander, James Earl Jones, future Star Trek: Discovery star Doug Jones, and rookie first-time actor Neil Armstrong, Quantum Quest incorporated real-time data from a number of NASA missions that were then ongoing: Cassini, the sun-watching SOHO, Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER, Mars Odyssey, and ESA’s Venus Express and Mars Express orbiters. I’m kind of sorry I missed this one, because the real-time, interactive nature of it precludes any kind of home video release (or at best would result in a home video release robbed of its most compelling features).

But there’s the soundtrack. Shawn K. Clement (composer on several early episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer) pulls out all the stops, with the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra delivering a score worthy of a sci-fi epic (complete with theremin performed by Clement himself). With a barrage of percussion and occasional ethnic flourishes, Quantum Quest‘s score shows a bit of Battlestar Galactica influence (but then, so does a lot of other post-2005 sci-fi scoring). But it’s a very different animal, leaning more heavily on traditional 19th century orchestral influences and using the other elements as flavoring rather than foregrounding them.

4 out of 4Given the subject matter and the talent involved, it’s a bummer to have missed Quantum Quest while it was still a current concern. (Even the spacecraft upon whose data the movie relied are not all there now: Cassini, Venus Express and MESSENGER have all ended their missions by crashing into their respective planets.) The soundtrack makes quite a souvenir of both the movie and that very busy era of interplanetary exploration.

Order this CD

  1. Cassini (0:47)
  2. Anti-Matter (1:34)
  3. Sun City The Game (3:11)
  4. Opportunity To Serve (0:45)
  5. Departure Station (1:45)
  6. The Core (1:11)
  7. The Battle (1:14)
  8. Ignorant Moronic Fools (1:05)
  9. The Void (1:39)
  10. Ghost Fight (0:44)
  11. Incoming (0:55)
  12. Fate Of Trillions (2:06)
  13. Dave In Space (1:05)
  14. Fear / The War Machine (3:25)
  15. Ring City (0:35)
  16. Are You Milton? (1:18)
  17. Destroy The Dave, Destroy The Light (1:54)
  18. Cassini Commander (0:44)
  19. Flipping Switches (1:25)
  20. Destroy Me (1:02)
  21. Operation Photon Extermination (3:17)
  22. The Message / Dave Delivers (4:18)
  23. Universe Of Possibilities (2:18)
  24. The Quest (remix) (5:23)
  25. The Message / Dave Delivers (demo) (4:11)
  26. The Message (remix) (6:32)

Released by: BSX Records
Release date: September 1, 2011
Total running time: 54:23

Adam Young – Voyager 1

Voyager 1Throughout 2016, Owl City’s Adam Young embarked on a project to compose, record, and release a film-score-style album every month of the year, based on ideas and events that had inspired him. That’s quite an audacious plan, given that an actual film score could easily take a month just to write and arrange, let alone a finished product in the can. Young’s musical background lent itself to a rock/pop idiom for some of these album releases, but he didn’t limit himself to that sound. Other topics included Joe Kittinger’s dive from the edge of space (long before Felix Baumgartner did it), the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the sinking of the Titanic, Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, and more. Oh, and each album was released for free download.

The opening volley is titled “1977”, but it doesn’t sound that much like 1977 at all – it’s very much modern, and seems to be establishing an electronic, almost chiptune-esque theme for Voyager 1, as well a theme that is then picked up in turn by guitar and synths. “Earth” begins more sedately with a synth-orchestral pad of wonderment, occasionally overlaying that with an almost Art of Noise-style beat and samples of the Golden Record’s “hello from the children of planet Earth” phrase. “Asteroid Belt” is a gentle drift through the solar system’s undeveloped real estate, while “Jupiter” returns to a steady beat and an electric violin statement of Voyager’s theme. “Europa” maintains a staccato rhythm and is slightly more ethereal, leading into a slightly mysterious opening for “Saturn”, which quickly establishes its own beat and a somewhat mellowed-out version of Voyager’s theme. “Titan” is heavy on piano, and still has a beat underlying everything.

Following this is “Neptune”, an oddity in that it wasn’t visited by Voyager 1, but rather Voyager 2. It’s given a strange, fuzz-pedaled musical treatment, befitting a strange icy planet. “Pale Blue Dot” returns to the electronic sounds of “1977”, still with a steady beat, a sound which continues – in a more echoplexed, “distant” way – in the final track, “Interstellar Space”. This track also picks up the Voyager theme established at the beginning of the album, and again is slathered with a heavy beat at times.

2 out of 4It’s an ambitious thing trying to provide musical accompaniment for such a far-reaching historical event as the Voyager missions. It’d be ambitious for any composer to do, even Hollywood veterans. If there’s a failing with Young’s Voyager 1 album, it’s his tendency to fall back on a programmed beat so often. There’s something a little less than majestic about trip-hop beats over ethereal synth passages. At times I like that sort of thing; here, it’s done too much, and becomes the underpinning of everything rather than a sparingly used flavor. It’s nice enough music, but doesn’t really connect me to the subject matter.

Order this CD

  1. 1977 (4:46)
  2. Earth (4:40)
  3. Asteroid Belt (2:49)
  4. Jupiter (3:58)
  5. Europa (4:18)
  6. Saturn (4:55)
  7. Titan (4:04)
  8. Neptune (2:16)
  9. Pale Blue Dot (3:39)
  10. Interstellar Space (4:20)

Released by: ayoungscores.com
Release date: October 1, 2016
Total running time:

Beep – music by Leonard J. Paul

BeepThe soundtrack for a documentary about the evolution of sound in video games, Beep is very much an exercise in electronica, with a healthy dose of chiptune. That seems like an almost obvious way to go, right? Except there’s a bit more to it than that.

Many of the tracks on the Beep soundtrack album are ethereal and just a little bit hypnotic – repeating musical figures that sort of draw you into their sonic spiral. That’s no accident: these sequences were built on a foundation of procedurally-generated tunes. The repeating sequences were created at random by a program (given certain parameters), and then everything on top of that was the work of the film’s human composer. It’s an interesting way to have man and machine working together, and for the subject matter of Beep, it works. Even as a listening experience with none of the context of the movie, it’s very relaxing.

There are a few places where it gets a bit more active, though. There are two versions of “Half Steppin’/Freaky DNA”, a tune that sets up a funky groove, and there’s an ode to game music’s 4 out of 4less melodious early years in the form of “Dave’s Atari”, which gives you a really good idea of an Atari 2600’s actual range of notes and octaves. (And it’s still musical in its own way.) “Wood Bug” has a feel similar to “Dave’s Atari”, but with a more modern sound palette.

Beep may not be everyone’s cup of pleasantly arranged sine waves, but it’s mesmerizing and yet unmistakably pays tribute to the 8-bit sound of the early video gaming era. Those are two really strong selling points for a listener in the right frame of mind for something different.

Order this CD

  1. Beep Movie – Main Theme (1:17 )
  2. Banana Seat (5:28)
  3. Karin Originals (5:21)
  4. Orange Shag (3:31)
  5. Buckwheat Pancakes (4:03)
  6. Riverbank (4:10)
  7. Ankylosaurus Almonds (2:12)
  8. Rotary Dial (3:07)
  9. Dave’s Atari (1:58)
  10. Skipping Rocks (7:45)
  11. Half Steppin’ (Genesis Remix) – Freaky DNA (1:21)
  12. Help Steppin’ – Freaky DNA (3:07)
  13. Beep Logo (0:06)
  14. Magic Hour (4:20)
  15. Pluto (4:43)
  16. Galaxies (2:30)
  17. Googol (3:31)
  18. Crusin’ The Cosmos (4:50)
  19. Quadra Sunrise (3:54)
  20. Wood Bug (2:06)
  21. Backyard Flight (4:10)
  22. Beep Movie – Closing Theme (2:40)

Released by: Bandcamp
Release date: September 16, 2016
Total running time: 1:16:10