Raymond Scott Rewired

Raymond Scott RewiredSo, stop me if you’ve heard this one already: three remix producers walk into a bar, suddenly gain access to the complete recorded works of the late big-band-leader and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, and go back to their studios to do their own thing. Actually, it’s not certain if there was a bar involved, but that minor detail aside, that’s how you get this album.

And what a fun album it is! From a near-nonsensical mash-up of Scott’s electronic music and his extensive work in the realm of commercial jingles (“The Night & Day Household Greyhound”) to a career-spanning mash-up that somehow manages to encapsulate everything Raymond Scott was about (“A Bigger, More Important Sound”) to truly tuneful remixes that almost transcend their source material (“Cindy Byrdsong”, “Hey Ray”), every approach from very light remixing to almost rewriting the DNA of the original music is tried out here. Piling the output of Scott’s legendary homemade analog synthesizer/sequencer, the Electronium, on top of most conventional acoustic sounds does wonders (“Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat”), but that’s no less enjoyable than a cut-and-splice treatment of Scott’s narrated notes on a new piece of recording gear (“Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid”). At the end of the album, it’s all hands on deck as all three producers pay tribute to Scott’s most enduring creation (thanks to its heavy use in Carl Stalling’s cartoon music), “Powerhouse”.

4 out of 4I can’t help but think that Raymond Scott would have approved. The man devised and implemented a new instrument combining the functions of analog synths and sequencers in one massive box, in a near-total vacuum of information as to how one would create such a beast, because these ideas were new to everyone at the time. (No less a later electronic music pioneer than Bob Moog himself would go on to say that Scott was a huge influence on him.) A mind that could jump from big band stylings to otherworldly sounds for which there was no frame of reference…one can’t help but think that, had he been born a bit later, Raymond Scott himself would be doing some remixes of his own.

Order this CD

  1. A Bigger, More Important Sound by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (1:38)
  2. The Toy Penguin by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (3:12)
  3. Cindy Byrdsong by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (4:09)
  4. Ripples on an Evaporated Lake by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (4:10)
  5. Sleigh Ride To A Barn Dance in Sorrento by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:01)
  6. The Night & Day Household Greyhound by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:50)
  7. Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:25)
  8. (Serenade On) Carribea Corner by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (4:08)
  9. In An 18th Century Discotheque by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (3:35)
  10. The Sleepwalking Tobacco Auctioneer by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:10)
  11. Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:22)
  12. Hillbilly Hostess In Haunted Harlem by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:28)
  13. Good Duquesne Air by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:06)
  14. Hey Ray by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:54)
  15. Mountain High, Valley Higher by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:35)
  16. Siberian Tiger On An Ocean Liner by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:35)
  17. Shirley’s Temple Bells by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:12)
  18. Tick Tock Cuckoo On Planet Mars by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (1:56)
  19. Powerhouse by Various Artists (3:29)

Released by: Basta
Release date: January 14, 2014
Total running time: 54:55

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – music by John Williams

Star Wars: The Last JediStar Wars fandom may never be a cohesive whole again once the post-original-trilogy trilogy wraps up. The Force Awakens was knowingly derivative – on purpose, so we’re told in hindsight – to bring a new, younger audience into the familiar story beats of a Star Wars movie, while The Last Jedi‘s iconoclastic approach to the story’s remaining original trilogy characters seemed to split Star Wars fandom down the middle. The one unchanging constant in this whirlwind, however, has been John Williams, the architect of the orchestral Star Wars sound.

The soundtrack from The Last Jedi, appropriately for the middle chapter of a trilogy, leans heavily on themes already established. Themes for Rey, Kylo Ren/the First Order, and Poe/the Resistance are holdovers from The Force Awakens, with Rey’s theme given a great deal of development here. From the original trilogy, the Force theme (also frequently associated with Obi-Wan Kenobi) gets plenty of play here, as does a theme for another Jedi Master long past. The TIE Fighter battle theme is back as the Millennium Falcon shakes off its pursuers on Crait, with maybe two seconds of whimsy dropped in for Chewie’s new Porg sidekick. (Not heard on the album: the re-use of the Emperor’s theme for Snoke – perhaps a tacitly tuneful admission that the two were nearly interchangeable?) Luke and Leia’s reunion gets a somber, low-key treatment of their theme from Return Of The Jedi, tagged out by a short reference to Han and Leia’s love theme before Luke strides into battle against Kylo Ren.

Virtually the only truly new theme here is reserved for Finn’s winsome new partner, Rose (though that description should, perhaps, be the other way around). This leaves the movie’s major action setpieces for the majority of “new” material – percussive, raging battle music for Rey and Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards, Finn’s final fight with Phasma, and naturally Luke’s climcactic duel with Kylo Ren. “The Battle Of Crait” rolls out a low, threatening motif for the oncoming First Order forces, as well as a choral interlude for Finn’s futile attempt to sacrifice himself for the Rebel cause.

The introduction to Canto Bight has an opulent opening (hearkening back to some of the “Coruscant” music from the prequel trilogy, which then segues into a boisterous jazz tune that sounds like it’s played by the same ensemble as the original Star Wars‘ Cantina Band music. It’s not a callback to that specific tune, but very much a delightful callback to its style. “The Fathiers”, accompanying the scenes of Finn and Rose lowering Canto Bight’s property value with large, four-legged help, is a callback of another kind – it sounds like a theme from an Indiana Jones movie slipped into the Star Wars universe.

I can handle a soundtrack falling back on old favorites more gracefully than I can handle the entire script of a movie doing so, and – spoiler alert – John Williams gives Luke Skywalker and Leia a truly epic sendoff, the 5 out of 4former with a mythic choral treatment, and the latter with her theme from Star Wars arranged for piano during the end credit tribute to the late Carrie Fisher.

With J.J. Abrams back in the driver’s seat for Episode IX, the question isn’t whether John Williams’ final Star Wars outing is worthy of the franchise. The question now becomes whether or not the movie itself will be worthy of Williams’ grand finale.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title and Escape (7:26)
  2. Ahch-To Island (4:23)
  3. Revisiting Snoke (3:29)
  4. The Supremacy (4:01)
  5. Fun with Finn and Rose (2:34)
  6. Old Friends (4:29)
  7. The Rebellion is Reborn (4:00)
  8. Lesson One (2:10)
  9. Canto Bight (2:38)
  10. Who Are You? (3:04)
  11. The Fathiers (2:42)
  12. The Cave (3:00)
  13. The Sacred Jedi Texts (3:33)
  14. A New Alliance (3:13)
  15. Chrome Dome (2:03)
  16. The Battle of Crait (6:48)
  17. The Spark (3:36)
  18. The Last Jedi (3:04)
  19. Peace and Purpose (3:08)
  20. Finale (8:28)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: December 15, 2017
Total running time: 77:49

L’uomo Puma (The Pumaman) – music by Renato Serio

The PumamanKnown to the English-speaking world as the infamously cheesy, MST3K-mocked movie Puma Man, L’uomo Puma boasts a score that, heard in isolation, outclasses its accompanying movie in nearly every inportant way. Well, for the most part.

Let’s quantify the outclassing being done by the score here: this isn’t “the first Star Trek movie was okay, but Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking score made it even better” territory. Instead, the orchestral portions of L’uomo Puma‘s score class up the adventures of Tony (the hapless nerd who receives “the powers of a puma”) and Vadinho just enough to give the perhaps mistaken impression that money was spent on the movie as a whole (spoiler: it really wasn’t).

This long, long overdue CD release – this score’s first release on any format – was issued by Italy’s Beat Records in late 2017 in a ridiculously small pressing of 500 units, and to be quite honest, its track titles are opaque and unhelpful at best, managing to completely obscure where that track falls in the movie unless you’re a Puma Man scholar who has memorized the movie (a status which your reviewer is slightly embarrassed to admit he may be approaching).

There are three primary themes in the Puma Man score: a noble-but-mysterious theme for the alien visitors who conferred “the powers of a puma” upon a selected member of the human race, an ominously menacing theme for the machinations of the character played by Donald Pleasence (whose sole instruction from the movie’s director must have been “that’s nice, but can you do it more like Blofeld?”), and of course, the goofily late-’70s-supermarket-commercial-jingle feel of Puma Man’s theme.

The former two categories of music are where the most praise is deserved; they’re nicely composed, marvelously played, and well-engineered. The hollow echo treatment on the cellos lend them more menace than usual. Composer Renato Serio, known primarily to Italian audiences, wasn’t fooling around here; this music outclasses the movie it’s in easily.

If you’re even slightly enamoured of late ’70s scoring that tries to force an orchestra to play to a disco beat, then you’ll be a sucker for the Puma Man theme, a cheery recurring theme that seems oblivious to 3 out of 4the fact that its hero seems to have stumbled upon his superpowers and doesn’t really know how to use them. There’s something hilariously compelling about it – you’ll find yourself humming or whistling it for days afterward.

Earlier, the small pressing of 500 copies of L’uomo Puma was described as ridiculously small; maybe it is. Or maybe it’s just right, given how far underground this movie’s cult following must be. But for those who enjoy this slab of finest Italian-made cheese, it’s almost certain to earn a place of honor on the soundtrack shelf.

Order this CD

  1. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 1 (2:14)
  2. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 2 (2:13)
  3. Puma Man #1 (2:03)
  4. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 3 (2:38)
  5. Puma Man #2 (2:07)
  6. Puma Man #3 (3:13)
  7. Puma Man #4 (1:43)
  8. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 4 (2:04)
  9. Puma Man #5 (2:26)
  10. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 5 (2:36)
  11. Puma Man #6 (2:28)
  12. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 6 (2:07)
  13. Puma Man #7 (2:26)
  14. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 7 (2:40)
  15. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 8 (2:24)
  16. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 9 (1:42)
  17. Puma Man #8 (1:57)
  18. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 10 (2:15)
  19. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 11 (2:22)
  20. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 12 (2:14)
  21. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 13 (1:35)
  22. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 14 (2:03)
  23. Puma Man #9 (2:38)
  24. Puma Man #10 (1:49)
  25. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 15 (2:46)
  26. Puma Man #11 (2:13)
  27. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 16 (2:08)
  28. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 17 (2:38)
  29. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 18 (1:54)
  30. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 19 (2:04)
  31. Puma Man #12 (3:14)
  32. Puma Man #13 (2:45)

Released by: Beat Records
Release date: October 20, 2017
Total running time: 75:12

Into The Darkness: 4 Themes – music by Cliff Eidelman

If an unused cue from a TV or movie music score is the musical equivalent of a deleted scene, an entirely unused/rejected score (or, in this case, demos) are the musical equivalent to a completely different cut that never escapes the editing room. Such is the case with Into The Darkness: 4 Themes, a download-only EP by Cliff Eidelman, the composer who steered the Star Trek film franchise into dark, operatic territory with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The four themes in question here are a four-track demo submitted by Eidelman to the producers of the then-yet-to-premiere Star Trek: Discovery, at their request.

What’s interesting about that request is that it didn’t come from Discovery creative consultant (and Star Trek VI director) Nick Meyer, but instead came from Discovery’s initial (and later dismissed) showrunner, Bryan Fuller. Reports have since emerged that Fuller had some very different ideas for launching a new Star Trek series for CBS, but had to rein some of his wilder ideas in. Eidelman’s track titles so specifically reference events in Discovery’s first two episodes that it’s clear that music was auditioned late in the process (as it usually is). “Battle Of Two Worlds” is a minor word swap away from Battle At The Binary Stars, the second hour of the series, and “Mutiny In Darkness” also references incidents in that second episode. So we can say with certainty that Eidelman’s music would have – if the composer had landed the assignment – accompanied a story very much like what actually played out on screen (with Jeff Russo’s accompaniment).

That being said, there’s something a bit less than pulse-pounding about the music presented here. It isn’t just that it’s a synth demo standing in for what was undoubtedly expected to be a full orchestra – I can cut it a break on that front knowing that it’s a demo – but it just doesn’t go anywhere. I’ve probably heard the actual Discovery theme as used on the show itself 20-25 times, and I can hum it. I’ve listened to Into The Darkness about as many times – and why not, when there’s no official Discovery soundtrack release as yet? – and I can scarcely remember Eidelman’s main recurring theme a couple of hours later. I do like his take on music involving the Klingons, as it gives a nod to the guttural, percussive brutality present in themes introduced for the Klingons down through the years by the likes of Goldsmith and Horner and Ron Jones, but that’s almost all I can remember of this EP later.

2 out of 4Scoring film and TV is a collaborative process. It’s entirely possible that even Jeff Russo didn’t hit it right out of the park on his first attempt at a theme, and that he received notes from the producers asking for either refinement or a from-the-ground-up rethink. It is, perhaps, unfair to judge Eidelman’s demos too harshly on the basis that they don’t represent a finished, polished product of that same collaborative evolution. I find the very idea of recruiting an experienced Trek composer fascinating in the extreme. But as a listening experience goes, Into The Darknes: 4 Themes shows perhaps too much restraint and not enough of the in-your-face brassiness that made so many of us fans of Star Trek’s music way back in the day.

Order this CD

  1. Into The Unknown (1:27)
  2. Battle Of Two Worlds (2:16)
  3. Mutiny In Darkness (2:13)
  4. Resolve (1:10)

Released by: Cliff Eidelman
Release date: October 20, 2017
Total running time: 7:06

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