The Martian – music by Harry Gregson-Williams

The MartianFor the sake of clarification and brevity, it’s important to get one thing out of the way: The Martian is the best Mars movie anyone’s ever made, and its soundtrack is the best Mars music that’s even been made.

The movie’s score (and this is an important distinction, as there are both score and “songtrack” albums from The Martian out there) is a triumph of tone. Harry Gregson-Williams knows when to deploy his full orchestral resources and when to pare things back to a sparer sound fitting Mark Watney’s plight. But here’s where The Martian differs from, say, the overriding bleakness of the later TV miniseries Mars: Gregson-Williams brings percolating synths into play, practically providing a soundtrack for the synapses firing in Watney’s head as he vows to “science the shit out of this” and then proceeds to do precisely that. At times playful, at times dense and technical-sounding, these sequences are the sound of hope and resourcefulness in a movie that many are praising for – somewhat unusually for Hollywood – getting a great deal of the science right.

That’s the difference, both musically and thematically, between The Martian and Mars.

The dramatic stakes are upper orchestrally where appropriate, whether it’s the Ares IV’s initial desperate blastoff to the safety of Mars orbit, or the crew’s even more desperate attempts to recover their crewmate against staggering odds. Where the synth sequences are lighter and energetic, these scenes are heavy on percussion and rumbling bass lines, because Serious Stuff is happening.

It’s easy to forget that there was a great score for this movie when it seems like the studio was so eager to fashion a tie-in album of existing ’70s songs from the movie’s plot device of Commander Lewis’ behind-the-times playlist, but the music for the travelogue of Watney abandoning the safety of his habitat and 4 out of 4setting out on a perilous trek to an already-landed ascent vehicle alone is worth the price of admission here. In terms of both music and movie, it’s scenes like that which keep The Martian as my favorite movie of a year that brought back the Star Wars franchise amid considerable hype. Heat up some potatoes and give this a listen.

Order this CD

  1. Mars (2:25)
  2. Emergency Launch (3:09)
  3. Making Water (2:38)
  4. Spotting Movement (1:49)
  5. Science the S*** Out of This (2:16)
  6. Messages from Hermes (3:31)
  7. Sprouting Potatoes (1:39)
  8. Watney’s Alive! (2:46)
  9. Pathfinder (2:33)
  10. Hexadecimals (2:33)
  11. Crossing Mars (3:36)
  12. Reap & Sow (2:21)
  13. Crops Are Dead (3:26)
  14. Work the Problem (1:58)
  15. See You In a Few (5:11)
  16. Build a Bomb (5:06)
  17. I Got Him! (4:45)

Released by: Columbia Records
Release date: September 30, 2015
Total running time: 51:42

Mars – music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

MarsThe spare, atmospheric sound of National Geographic’s short-run series Mars fits the show’s tone like a glove – the awe and wonder of exploring another world is jettisoned in favor of claustrophobia and worse.

Nick Cave (yes, he of the Bad Seeds) and Warren Ellis can at least claim a coup with the throbbing, foreboding theme song for the show. I’m of the opinion that it’s almost a waste to have Cave score something without singing a few words, and this certainly satisfies that requirement. It may actually be the best thing on the whole album.

The rest of the selections from the Mars score aren’t musically lacking; everything’s nicely produced. But with the show’s dense sound design, almost constant narration or dialogue or documentary sound, and its pace, this is the kind of whole-note synth-pad scoring that has started to seem less in vogue in the 21st century. It can be a bit of a somnolent listen.

And yet you can’t fault the composers for that – they’re responding perfectly to the show’s perhaps-too-bleak tone, which was really my only complaint with the show as a whole. It was all beautifully photographed, the set design and the spacesuits and other hardware were very convincing, and the actors delivered the goods, interspering the fictional story with relevant present-day documentary segments. If you want the music to 3 out of 4reflect something other than the oppressive bleakness portrayed on screen, maybe…put something a little more noble and hopeful and wondrous on screen?

A good listen, but perhaps not all in one sitting. The Mars score is probably just a little too tied into the visuals of the series to be purely a listening experience.

Order this CD

  1. Mars Theme (1:42)
  2. Mars (4:00)
  3. Daedalus (3:00)
  4. Earth (2:11)
  5. Science (2:15)
  6. Voyage (4:52)
  7. Space X (2:42)
  8. Space Station (4:16)
  9. Symphony of the Dead (9:38)
  10. Planetarium (2:43)
  11. Aftermath (4:42)
  12. Towards Daedalus (3:00)
  13. Life on Mars (3:52)

Released by: Milan Records
Release date: December 30, 2016
Total running time: 49:08

Meteor – music by Laurence Rosenthal

MeteorI have a long personal history with this soundtrack – namely, up until Intrada re-re-re-issued it earlier in 2014, I had managed miss every opportunity to obtain it. When the soundtrack was originally issued on LP at the time this all-star TV disaster flick was shown in 1979, I was living in the wrong country (it only came out in Japan). When La-La Land Records gave the Meteor soundtrack its first domestic pressing in 2008, I didn’t have the funds free to partake of it until it was too late (it was a limited edition of 1200 copies). Thankfully, Intrada seems to have turned “reissuing stuff that La-La Land previously released in very limited quantities” into its own lucrative sideline, and so here I am, 35 years after Meteor premiered, holding the soundtrack.

The appeal here is that Meteor is, along with The Black Hole (also released on CD by Intrada), one of the most prominent appearances of the Blaster Beam prior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture all but appropriating the strange-sounding electric instrument for Star Trek purposes only. Laurence Rosenthal (of Clash Of The Titans and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles fame) uses the Beam sparingly as a sonic signature for the meteor as it approaches Earth (it’s really more of an asteroid, but there are probably valid reasons they didn’t call the movie Asteroid instead). The most interesting examples of the beam occur in “Meteor”, “Tatiana” and particularly “The Assault”, which has the Beam slurring notes around like crazy – it’s a fascinating and atypical sound for an instrument that, it must be said, has limited applications.

Rosenthal’s score for one of the last gasps of the Great American Disaster Movie is lush, far more of a big-screen sound than might be expected for television, except that this was “event television” featuring big-name stars like Natalie Wood, Henry Fonds, and a thankfully fully-dressed, post-Zardoz Sean Connery. This was a Big Deal for mere TV, and Rosenthal’s score reflects that. In fact, the liner notes point out that John Williams had originally been offered the job, but as he was so busy with his big screen music assignments, he personally steered the movie’s producers toward Rosenthal.

3 out of 4The only thing that even remotely has a whiff of cheese to it is the fleeting appearance of numerous “spacey” synth effects early on, which are easy to write off as novelty effects thanks to the flavor of the era. Other than that one element that dates the score, Meteor makes for a dandy soundtrack that sounds like it should’ve been on the big screen – and best of all, more than 1,200 copies are in existence now. (If you’re worried about missing out on a meatier Meteor, fear not – the track list is sequenced a bit differently from La-La Land’s release, but the material is the same between the two albums.)

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (4:26)
  2. Challenger Two (2:47)
  3. The Meteor (2:11)
  4. The Russians Arrive (0:57)
  5. Siberia (2:02)
  6. 30,000 M.P.H. (0:54)
  7. Dubov’s Rage (0:58)
  8. Prepare For Aligning Peter The Great (0:50)
  9. Realigning Peter The Great (3:51)
  10. Alpine Innocence (0:59)
  11. Tatiana (2:00)
  12. Countdown (2:34)
  13. Manhattan Splinter (2:27)
  14. Malfunction (2:57)
  15. The Assault (3:22)
  16. Meteor Band March and End Credits (7:03)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2014
Total running time: 40:59

Moon 44 – music by Joel Goldsmith

Moon 44Moon 44, a late ’80s movie starring Michael Pare and Malcolm McDowell (among others), flew under many science fiction fans’ radar (I have to be honest, I only remember it in terms of some “coming attractions” preview articles in Starlog Magazine), and quickly became one of those movies that people had only ever seen on videotape. The soundtrack was released in 1990 alongside the movie by Silva Screen Records, and after years out of print has recently been re-released by Buysoundtrax (BSX) Records.

Moon 44 was not the first movie scored by rising music star Joel Goldsmith (that was the execrable 1977 B-movie – and MST3K fodder – Laserblast), but it was the first time he got to entrust his compositions to a full orchestra rather than leaning on synthesizers. In essence, this was the first time that the junior Goldsmith presented us with the sound that his fans would come to know and love in such future projects as Star Trek: First Contact, Stargate SG-1, Witchblade, Stargate Atlantis, and so on.

And it does sound oddly familiar – in a few places, the soundtrack from Moon 44 resembles Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. You can hear the style and even a few melodic licks that Joel Goldsmith would lean on frequently for his work in the Stargate TV franchise in abundance here. It’s all played proficiently by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra, with Christopher Stone conducting (Stone composed the score for nearly every Phantasm sequel, as well as, more obscurely, early laserdisc arcade games such as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace). If there’s a weak track, it’s the source cue “Shut Out” – a vocal track that sounds a bit more 1985 than 1990.

Ironically, though Goldsmith didn’t wind up working for Moon 44 director Roland Emmerich again, both moved on to bigger and better things: Emmerich and Dean Devlin (who had a small part as an actor in Moon 44) went on to co-write Independence Day and Stargate, among others; Goldsmith scored most of the television spinoff universe spawned by Stargate.

It seems a little unlikely that we’ll be hearing more music from the Stargate universe – Joel Goldsmith’s untimely death in May 2012 cut short many long-touted projects, including a possible release of his music from Stargate Universe – but in lieu of those much-talked about collections which have now entered the realm of vaporware, 4 out of 4Moon 44 is comfortingly familiar. (Goldsmith signed off on this soundtrack’s re-release before his death, and the already-announced release date had the misfortune to follow closely on the heels of his passing.)

As a sampler of the style he would employ in many future projects, Moon 44 is a fitting memorial for Joel Goldsmith – and, on its own, it’s a good listen, too.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title / Felix The Cop (3:04)
  2. First Training Flight (5:14)
  3. So Long Felix (4:06)
  4. Navigator’s Hang Up (1:25)
  5. Armed And Dangerous No. 1 (3:29)
  6. Drones, Drones, Drones (But Not A Drop To Drink)
  7. (2:52)

  8. Sykes Gets Caught (2:10)
  9. Armed And Dangerous No. 2 (4:27)
  10. So You Like It Fast (Hard And Rough)
  11. (1:47)

  12. Jake To The Rescue / Joel’s Outlandish Adventure (2:24)
  13. Lee Bombs Out (3:00)
  14. Welcome To Moon 44 (0:49)
  15. Taxi Driver (“You Talkin’ To Me?”) (2:49)
  16. The Cookie Crumbles / Bumpy Taxi Ride / The End Of Moon 44 (6:04)
  17. Aftermath (1:13)
  18. Heading For Earth (0:59)
  19. Terry On The Moon / Finale (1:12)
  20. Shut Out (vocals: Heather Forsyth) (1:33)

Released by: Silva Screen (original edition) / BSX Records (2012 reissue)
Release date: 1990 (original Silva Screen edition) / 2012 (BSX Records)
Total running time: 49:21

Raymond Scott – Manhattan Research, Inc.

Manhattan Research, Inc.Perhaps unfairly best known for having his music repurposed into the backing tracks for classic Warner Bros. cartoons, the late Raymond Scott has another claim to fame that often gets overlooked – he was one of the true pioneers of electronic music in America. In this area, Scott was a true renaissance man: not only did he pioneer the sound, but he built his own instruments and early devices that presaged sequencers, and he even did some of the first work on multi-track recording, at roughly the same time that Les Paul was experimenting with similar ideas. In the 1950s and 1960s (at roughly the same time as the ascendancy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), Scott was carving out his own path in an entire new genre of music.

Not only that, but Scott was trying his hardest to make his experiments pay for themselves: he marketed his unusual new sounds as music beds and jingles for commercials, with some success. The two-disc Manhattan Research, Inc. collection chronicles and archives that material, with a selection of Scott’s finished spots (both with and without announcers/singers) as well as demos and experiments that never made it to radio. The commercials range from obscurely local/regional campaigns (Baltimore Gas & Electric Company) to major national campaigns (IBM, Bufferin, Vicks, General Motors and a Sprite radio campaign that remains famous enough that it’s now become an ironic cover song). In a way, Scott achieved his aim by getting a new style of music into the ears of millions of listeners – but until now, not with any recognition.

While the commercials are a nostalgia trip that goes back even before the writer of this review was born, some of the purely instrumental pieces are startlingly ahead of their time: the “Night and Day” track on the first disc could’ve caught on in the 1980s had it been revived then. “Take Me To Your Violin Teacher” could easily be mistaken for modern chiptunes performed with 1980s video game hardware… and yet it was recorded in 1969. “Ripples (Montage)” anticipates abstract-but-tuneful electronic film scoring. “Cindy Electronium” sounds like late ’80s/early ’90s video game music.

There are a few throwbacks as well; Scott tries out completely electronic renditions of his existing compositions including “The Toy Trumpet” (which becomes almost unrecognizable) and “Twilight In Turkey”, both of which featured in their original, jazzier forms on Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights. Some of his electronic music beds are also quite obviously very close cousins of the music from his Soothing Sounds For Baby albums. There’s also one very interesting guest star on a few tracks: the voice of none other than Jim Henson graces some tracks recorded in 1969, including “Limbo: The Organized Mind”, a free-form ramble set to Scott’s electronic sounds, and a couple of Bufferin commercials which seem to have sprung from “Limbo” both conceptually and musically.

A lot of this information, incidentally, is included in a book that clocks in at around 140 pages and covers Scott’s entire life and career, not just the material on these two CDs, in a wealth of detail.

3 out of 4Raymond Scott is still overdue for a reassessment of one of the electronic music pioneers in the United States, to say nothing of being a composer whose works influenced generations of children (by way of Warner Bros. cartoons). Manhattan Research, Inc. really isn’t a “general audience” listening experience, but it’s an invaluable archive for anyone interested in how electronic music gained a foothold in our national consciousness: in little snippets, 30 or so seconds at a time, behind commercial announcers and jingle singers.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Manhattan Research, Inc. Copyright (0:11)
  2. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (Instrumental, Take 4) (1:14)
  3. Bendix 1: The Tomorrow People (1:06)
  4. Lightworks (1:52)
  5. The Bass-line Generator (3:10)
  6. Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night! (1:44)
  7. B.C. 1675 (Gillette Conga Drum Jingle) (3:16)
  8. Vim (0:59)
  9. Auto-Lite: Sta-Ful (Instrumental) (0:47)
  10. Sprite: Melonball Bounce (Instrumental) (1963)
  11. Sprite: Melonball Bounce (1963)
  12. Wheels That Go (0:50)
  13. Limbo: The Organized Mind (4:33)
  14. Portofino 1 (2:13)
  15. County Fair (1:01)
  16. Lady Gaylord (1:02)
  17. Good Air (Take 7) (0:38)
  18. IBM MT/ST: The Paperwork Explosion (4:31)
  19. Domino (0:33)
  20. Super Cheer (0:34)
  21. Cheer: Revision 3 (New Backgrounds) (0:39)
  22. Twilight in Turkey (1:32)
  23. Raymond Scott Quote / Vicks: Medicated Cough Drops (1:34)
  24. Vicks: Formula 44 (0:46)
  25. Auto-Lite: Spark Plugs (1:00)
  26. Nescafe (1:06)
  27. Awake (0:35)
  28. Backwards Overload (6:04)
  29. Bufferin: Memories (Original) (0:59)
  30. Bandito the Bongo Artist (1:30)
  31. Night and Day (Cole Porter) (1:45)
  32. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (“395”) (1:07)
  33. K2r (0:19)
  34. IBM Probe (1:56)
  35. GMGM 1A (1:49)
  36. The Rhythm Modulator (3:37)
    Disc Two

  1. Ohio Plus (0:17)
  2. In the Hall of the Mountain Queen (0:49)
  3. General Motors: Futurama (1:04)
  4. Portofino 2 (2:14)
  5. The Wild Piece (a.k.a. String Piece) (4:07)
  6. Take Me to Your Violin Teacher (1:40)
  7. Ripples (Original Soundtrack) (0:59)
  8. Cyclic Bit (1:04)
  9. Ripples (Montage) (4:06)
  10. The Wing Thing (1:00)
  11. County Fair (Instrumental) (1:00)
  12. Cindy Electronium (1:59)
  13. Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night! (Instrumental) (1:45)
  14. Hostess: Twinkies (0:32)
  15. Hostess: Twinkies (Instrumental) (0:32)
  16. Ohio Bell: Thermo Fax (0:24)
  17. Pygmy Taxi Corporation (7:11)
  18. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (Announce Copy, Take 1) (0:29)
  19. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (0:44)
  20. Lightworks (Slow) (1:40)
  21. The Paperwork Explosion (Instrumental) (3:30)
  22. Auto-Lite: Ford Family (1:03)
  23. Auto-Lite: Ford Family (Instrumental) (0:54)
  24. Raymond Scott Quote / Auto-Lite: Wheels (1:50)
  25. Bufferin: Memories (Demo) (0:44)
  26. Space Mystery (Montage) (5:11)
  27. The Toy Trumpet (2:15)
  28. Backwards Beeps (1:05)
  29. Raymond Scott Quote / Auto-Lite: Sta-Ful (1:36)
  30. Lightworks (Instrumental) (1:29)
  31. When Will It End? (3:14)
  32. Bendix 2: The Tomorrow People (1963)
  33. Electronic Audio Logos, Inc. (5:23)

Released by: Basta
Release date: 2000
Disc one total running time: 58:48
Disc two total running time: 63:11

The Mario & Zelda Big Band Live CD

Recorded in concert in September 2003, this CD is literally what the package says – a series of themes and in-game music from Shigeru Miyamoto’s Super Mario and Zelda games, going all the way back to the originals, but arranged for a smokin’ big band. On the surface of it, this may sound a bit silly, but the combination of a great band and some inventive arrangements reveal that there was enough depth in the original music to bring out some swing.

Though the big band pieces are played by the Big Band of Rogues or the Yoshihiro Arita Band, Ashura Benimaru Itoh presses the “start” button with a brief acoustic guitar medley of Super Mario themes to thunderous applause. The early tracks focus primarily on the early games in the Mario series, including a surprisingly effective a capella scat medley of the various original Super Mario themes. For everything that I saw on the tracklist where I laughed at the very thought of it, I was very pleasantly surprised. Bearing in mind that the concert was recorded in Japan, keep in mind that this wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek presentation – the characters from these games are cultural icons there, even moreso than they are across the Pacific.

The beauty and brilliance of this whole thing is that the arrangers were unafraid to reinterpret the material and completely shift some cultural paradigms. There’s a Yoshi theme which is reinterpreted as a pleasant, toe-tapping bluegrass instrumental. The memorable Legend Of Zelda main theme is recast as a dashing flamenco piece. “The Song Of Epona” (from Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time) becomes a lovely Hawaiian-style number – you can almost see palm trees. And it all works. Most of this material I’d never envisioned this way, and now it’s hard for me to imagine it any other way.

4 out of 4There’s one drawback to the whole thing – for some reason, the whole CD is mastered at a surprisingly low level. You have to crank your speakers to hear it in detail, and worse yet, the volume level is not consistent from track to track. As bold and brassy as much of this music is, some more dynamic mastering wouldn’t have come amiss, though a mere three-month gap between the concert itself and the CD’s release may explain that quirk. It’s still worth a listen.

Order this CD

  1. Opening Theme Of Mario (2:23)
  2. Super Mario 64 Opening Theme / Overworld Theme (4:40)
  3. Medley Of Super Mario Bros. (4:24)
  4. Mario Scat Version (Super Mario Sunshine) (2:06)
  5. Go Go Mario (3:36)
  6. Super Mario Bros. 3 Ending Theme (2:42)
  7. Theme Of Athletic (Yoshi’s Island) (4:17)
  8. Yoshi On The Beach (Yoshi’s Story) (3:13)
  9. The Legend Of Zelda: Takt Of Wind – Title Theme (7:27)
  10. Theme Of Dragon Roost Island (4:21)
  11. The Song Of Epona (4:06)
  12. Theme Of The Dolphic Town (4:27)
  13. The Zora Band (4:42)
  14. Theme Of Goron City (3:52)
  15. Theme Of The Shop (3:18)
  16. Medley Of The Legend Of Zelda (4:32)
  17. Ending Theme Of Super Mario Sunshine (4:29)
  18. Encore (Slider) (6:38)

Released by: Scitron Digital
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 75:13

The Martian Chronicles – music by Stanley Myers

The Martian ChroniclesI barely remember the lavish 1979 British/U.S. co-production of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I seem to remember being hyped up about it (as I was about most anything that had to do with space), seeing a little bit of it, and then my mom deciding unilaterally that this miniseries was Not For Me. And oddly enough, I haven’t seen it in its entirety since, despite it being on DVD these days. (That’s a gap in my SF TV knowledge I need to correct one of these days, come to think of it.) But boy, do I remember the music. I had already seen Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers (and, of course, Star Wars) by this point, but The Martian Chronicles clearly had Music From The Future. With its futuristic synth sweeps giving it a foothold in the new wave sound while its orchestral components were firmly tied to the disco-fied ’70s, The Martian Chronicles’ music is bold, brassy, memorable, and that spacey element pushes it just far enough across the line to make it sound, musically, a bit like a science fiction version of Dallas.

Anchoring the entire theme as a heavily-used (and very adaptable) leitmotif is the “Space March”, which appears in its full form several times during the album. (The fullest expression of it is in the track “The Silver Locusts”; the track actually titled “Space March” is much more brief.) Elements of this theme eventually split off on their own and become a brooding, serious theme that recurs in many of the later scenes, as heard in such cues as “Million Year Picnic”. The action and suspense cues turn out to be the bits that haven’t aged gracefully, instantly dating themselves to the 1970s with disco-style guitar work and percussion.

3 out of 4And yet, for all of these things that should be fatal blows, the music from The Martian Chronicles works quite well in its own little continuum. The late British composer Stanley Myers (who composed, among a great many other things, a very early Doctor Who adventure) did a great job of devising very adaptable themes and motifs, and then developing those fully. It may come across as a bit cheesy according to modern sensibilities, but it’s a musical time capsule of sorts, and one that I enjoy returning to quite a bit.

Order this CD

    The Expeditions

  1. Prologue (2:19)
  2. The Martian Chronicles Theme (2:03)
  3. Space March (0:59)
  4. Ylla’s Dream (1:39)
  5. Mask Of Conflict (2:19)
  6. Mr. K Returns (1:22)
  7. Concern For The Future (0:44)
  8. Mrs. Black’s Piano (1:13)
  9. Realization (0:11)
  10. Saying Goodbye (1:24)
  11. Col. Wilder’s Promise (3:14)
  12. Spender’s Anger / One Of Our Own (2:26)
  13. Martian City (2:37)
  14. Hunting Spender / Is This How It Will Be? (3:43)

    The Settlers

  15. The Silver Locusts (2:39)
  16. Lustig’s Visitor (4:03)
  17. Return To The Dead City (2:01)
  18. David Is Confused (1:18)
  19. Chase In First Town (1:25)
  20. Father Peregrine’s Vision (4:55)
  21. Col. Wilder’s Thoughts / Rumors Of War (1:32)
  22. The Martian Appears (0:18)
  23. Parkhill Sees Earth Destroyed (0:40)
  24. Dead Earth (0:37)

    The Martians

  25. Final Conflict (1:56)
  26. Hathaway’s Last Chance (0:52)
  27. Lights In The Sky (2:06)
  28. Ben And Genevieve (2:41)
  29. Never Give Up Hope (0:59)
  30. Hathaway Dies (1:03)
  31. Martian Highway (0:46)
  32. Memories (1:07)
  33. Placing The Explosives / Canal Journey (2:36)
  34. Setting Up Camp (1:13)
  35. The Million Year Picnic (2:53)
  36. End Titles / bonus track: Source Music (4:52)

Released by: Airstrip One Company
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 68:45