The Woman Astronaut – music by Penka Kouvena

The Woman AstronautFrom the mind of big-league orchestrator/arranger Penka Kouvena, whose work can be heard in the Gears Of War game series and the soundtracks of such movies as Ender’s Game, Angels And Demons, and Elysium, The Woman Astronaut is a very modern soundtrack without a movie. With no visuals to adhere to and no game whose moods must be matched, it’s pure musical expression, and rather autobiographical at that (her liner notes state that this is really her story: there are fewer female composers actively working in Hollywood than there have been female astronauts in orbit).

By weaving her music around the framework of the ambitions, struggles and triumphs of a fictional female astronaut, there’s a “space” sound that makes this fitting accompaniment to that journey. And it’s awesome, widescreen stuff – there are some big-name soloists and a full orchestra, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign backed by fans, Twitter followers, and even fellow composers, among them Lolita Ritmanis (Batman: The 4 out of 4Animated Series). Any movie would do well to have such a soundtrack, and something tells me we’ll be seeing Kounevic credited as a composer, not just an orchestrator, in the future. So here’s an idea: let’s find a project worthy of Penka Kouvena’s talents and her message. Is that Honor Harrington movie adaptation still a go? Because here’s a completed soundtrack practically waiting for the movie to happen.

Order this CD

  1. Earth (4:51)
  2. Starry Way (3:$8)
  3. The Forest (2:45)
  4. Land Of Burning Fields (2:10)
  5. Looking Up (2:36)
  6. Training (3:53)
  7. Broken (1:57)
  8. Taking Flight (5:12)
  9. Alarm And Rescue (2:18)
  10. In Space (4:06)
  11. Insomnia (3:43)
  12. Siren (3:20)
  13. Goodbyes In Zero Gravity (3:12)
  14. Solar Flare (4:17)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: July 10, 2015
Total running time: 48:08

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

WALL-E – music by Thomas Newman

WALL-EThis is the soundtrack of a movie whose composer was either in love with the assignment, or lived in fear of it. Most movie scores are tasked with the job of underlining the emotional intent of any given scene, but with most movies this job is occasionally obscured by dialogue or sound effects. WALL-E had sound effects aplenty, but instead of dialogue, virtually the first half hour of the movie is expressed in terms of “robotic” processed grunts and exclamations. There are visual cues to the emotions being expressed, but the bulk of the legwork falls to the music: a unique opportunity for any composer to shine, but also a daunting task for modern-day composers accustomed to dialing the music back to make room for dialogue.

Thomas Newman, who had already worked with Pixar on Finding Nemo, took on the task and delivered what may be one of the best film scores of the 2000s, hands down. There’s a lot of music on the CD – and there’s a heap of music in the movie as well. Occasionally there’s a little burst of sound effects and “robot dialogue” from the movie in between songs, but to its credit, it never overlaps the music – and to be honest, I’d buy a whole CD of Ben Burtt’s brilliant soundscapes because the former Star Wars sound guru topped himself here.

The three songs heard prominently in the movie are heard here – the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and the two numbers from Hello Dolly! – as well as Peter Gabriel‘s hammer-the-theme-of-the-movie-home end credits song “Down To Earth” (which, to be honest, I liked better than either of the albums he’s foisted on us since being involved with this movie).

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up with Newman’s intricate, well-thought-out score, though. In some ways, he does the same thing Jerry Goldsmith did with Logan’s Run, but in reverse order: the “exterior” scenes on Earth and treated orchestrally, but once WALL-E boards the Axiom and enters the woeful artificial environment now inhabited by the descendants of the human race, our glimpses into life aboard that ship and the scenes involving the Axiom robots are given an electronic (but still melodic and playful) sound. As the action centers more and more on the fate of the sample of a live plant from Earth, the music returns to the orchestral vein, because the Earth is what’s at stake.

Tracks such as “The Spaceship”, “Worry Wait”, “EVE Retrieve”, “Hyperjump” and “WALL-E’s Pod Adventure” are orchestral spectaculars befitting just about any big-screen science fiction epic you could name. The music here has the entire weight of carrying the implications to the audience, and does the job brilliantly. Newman treats these scenes as Serious Events without worrying about scaring the kids off with spooky or scary music – so much so that even my own son has been asking me what the music “means,” enabling me to kick open some interesting conversations about soundtrack music and music in general with him. At the age of four. Thank you, Mr. Newman, for not “talking down” to the audience.

That’s not to say that the soundtrack doesn’t have a sense of humor. “First Date,” accompanying a montage of WALL-E sheltering the inert EVE from the elements (scenes that director Andrew Stanton reportedly wanted set to the vapid tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”), gets the kind of music you’d expect from a first date movie montage, except that most movies don’t have the girlfriend sitting comatose and unresponsive throughout the proceedings. The music is deceptively cheerful and becomes its own punch line.

Aboard the Axiom, there are some standout electronic and electronic/orchestral tracks – “Foreign Contaminant”, “Repair Ward” and “72 Degrees And Sunny” among them – which convey the robotic precision of the Axiom’s automated crew a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion and a lot of intricate guitar progressions from George Doering (a veteran session guitarist who’s also played on numerous Star Trek soundtracks). The dreamy “Define Dancing” was rescored late in production so Newman could hint at “Down To Earth,” which he co-wrote with Peter Gabriel.

Late in the movie, as the humans have to shake off the shackles of their own mechanical support systems in order to regain some semblance of a human existence and return to Earth, tracks like “March Of The Gels”, “Tilt”, “Desperate EVE” and “Mutiny!” – the latter of which sounds in places like it could’ve been part of The Matrix, of all things – combine the two approaches.

4 out of 4It’s a brilliantly cohesive collection of music for a movie that actually has meaning, and I applaud Disney for putting an entire album of orchestral score out there for the young set. The soundtrack album from WALL-E may just have the effect on my son’s generation that the soundtrack from Star Wars had on me. And that’s not a bad thing at all. This is one of the best genre soundtracks of the past decade from one of the best genre movies of the past decade.

  1. Put On Your Sunday Clothes performed by Michael Crawford (1:17)
  2. Order this CD2815 A.D. (3:28)
  3. WALL-E (2:00)
  4. The Spaceship (1:42)
  5. EVE (1:02)
  6. Thrust (0:41)
  7. Bubble Wrap (0:50)
  8. La Vie En Rose performed by Louis Armstrong (3:24)
  9. Eye Surgery (0:40)
  10. Worry Wait (1:19)
  11. First Date (1:19)
  12. EVE Retrieve (2:19)
  13. The Axiom (2:24)
  14. BNL (0:20)
  15. Foreign Contaminant (2:06)
  16. Repair Ward (2:20)
  17. 72 Degrees and Sunny (3:12)
  18. Typing Bot (0:47)
  19. Septuacentennial (0:15)
  20. Gopher (0:40)
  21. WALL-E’s Pod Adventure (1:13)
  22. Define Dancing (2:23)
  23. No Splashing No Diving (0:47)
  24. All That Love’s About (0:37)
  25. M-O (0:47)
  26. Directive A-113 (2:05)
  27. Mutiny! (1:28)
  28. Fixing WALL-E (2:08)
  29. Rogue Robots (2:03)
  30. March of the Gels (0:54)
  31. Tilt (2:00)
  32. The Holo-Detector (1:07)
  33. Hyperjump (1:04)
  34. Desperate EVE (0:57)
  35. Static (1:43)
  36. It Only Takes a Moment performed by Michael Crawford (1:07)
  37. Down to Earth performed by Peter Gabriel (5:58)
  38. Horizon 12.2 (1:27)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 61:54

WarGames – music by Arthur B. Rubenstein

I’ve always been a big fan of WarGames, so I was more than happy to hear that the imminent reissue of the original movie – which is resurfacing to help promote a direct-to-video sequel – had lit a fire under someone to release the original soundtrack on CD. Selections from the WarGames score were made available about ten years ago on a composer promo CD, The Film Music Of Arthur B. Rubenstein, but that selection amounted to barely half an hour of music. The fine folks at soundtrack specialty label Intrada have dug up the complete original score, remastered it, and made it available at last.

My first thought upon listening to it, however, was that as fond as I was of the movie, I didn’t remember its music being this good. Rubenstein’s score is just sheer genius in how it establishes and then uses motifs and themes for the movie’s characters and ideas. WarGames truly is one of the best film scores of the 1980s. And it’s definitely a creature of the ’80s too, with a couple of new-wave-esque songs anchoring the early themes in the movie. Done in a style slightly reminiscent of Lene Lovich, “Video Fever” and “History Lesson” roll out themes for Matthew Broderick’s character and his playful attempts to hack into the system. The melodies and other elements from those songs are then picked up by the orchestral score and used to great effect. And for source music pieces that are only ever fleetingly heard in the background, the songs are good listening in their own right.

Early in the score, light-hearted bubbly synths pick up the “Video Fever” theme, but as the story’s dramatic tension is ratcheted up, the synths disappear – until they re-emerge in an extremely sinister theme (actually an ominously minor-key variation on “History Lesson”) for the WOPR computer’s attempts to do some hacking of its own to find a launch code enabling it to launch America’s nuclear arsenal.

Perhaps the best-known piece of the score is one that was only heard at two points in the movie, on of them being the end credits. Rubenstein co-authored a third song, “Edge Of The World”, and tried recording it in a number of different format, including a female soloist and a female choir, before it finally all but vanished from the film, becoming the wistful harmonica-led end credit theme. The various tries at a definitive version of “Edge” with vocals are presented here at the end of the disc, offering an interesting look at music that didn’t make it into the movie. I have to say, though, that the end credit music is still my favorite iteration of “Edge”, and has stuck with me since I originally saw the movie in the theater.

4 out of 4Quite a few people have fond memories of this movie, but I’m not sure if it’s ever really sunk into the public consciousness how great the music from the movie is. Perhaps this long overdue soundtrack release will help to redress that balance.

Order this CD

  1. WarGames (3:41)
  2. Video Fever (2:23)
  3. Principal’s Office (1:51)
  4. A New Grade (2:09)
  5. The Game Begins (2:44)
  6. History Lesson (1:46)
  7. Home Movie (1:28)
  8. A Game Of Chess? (3:04)
  9. Nuclear Alert (2:59)
  10. Walk Thru NORAD (2:18)
  11. David Captured (3:55)
  12. David Searches (1:34)
  13. The Sneak (2:21)
  14. NORAD (0:58)
  15. It Could Be War (0:43)
  16. Confidence Is High (1:11)
  17. Off To See Faulken (1:09)
  18. WOPR (2:15)
  19. Maneuvers (1:38)
  20. Faulken’s House (1:55)
  21. Time’s Up (0:19)
  22. I Can’t Swim (1:31)
  23. David’s Concern (2:23)
  24. Helicopter Pursuit / Launch Detected (2:48)
  25. Closing The Mountain (1:52)
  26. Who’s First (2:08)
  27. Joshua! (2:38)
  28. It Might Be Real (0:59)
  29. Tic Tac Toe (1:35)
  30. Winner: None (1:47)
  31. End Credits (3:22)
  32. Edge Of The World – choral version (2:08)
  33. Winner: None – original version (1:47)
  34. Edge Of The World – vocals by Yvonne Ellman (1:52)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 69:11

Witchblade – music by Joel Goldsmith

Pressed in a limited run of 1,000 copies, the soundtrack CD from TNT’s troubled two-season wonder Witchblade is just a few years late to the party, but no less welcome for the wait. (Then again, any kind of DVD release for Witchblade is also long overdue.) Even with the CD being confined largely to cues from a small number of first season episodes, it presents a wildly different style of music from Goldsmith’s well-worn Stargate repertoire. Heavy on ethnic instruments, pounding percussion, distorted guitar, eerie synth pads and trippy tastes of prog-rock, Goldsmith’s Witchblade music fits well alongside the show’s preoccupation with classic rock (excerpts of Blue Oyster Cult and Jefferson Airplane weren’t uncommon, and when the Witchblade itself finally spoke in season 2, it spoke with the voice of Grace Slick).

If this description sounds a little familiar, it’s no coincidence – if you like the music of the new Battlestar Galactica series, this isn’t just like it but it’s in the same neighborhood. The score cues are interspersed with several original songs composed by Goldsmith that featured prominently in the show. Those numbers tend to be rocked-out but very atmospheric techno-metal, with the vocals heavily processed. “The Gauntlet Suite” in particular lives up to the show’s prog rock pedigree, with its trippy synth work and its sheer length.

There are a small number of tracks that appear to have been composed for, but not used in, the series, including one of the aforementioned songs; if there’s just one thing missing from the otherwise fine liner notes booklet – in which the show’s writers and producers wax nostalgic for the challenge of keeping the show on the air and the wonders of hearing Goldsmith’s music for the first time – an explanation of what happened with these pieces of music is it.

4 out of 4Witchblade may have faded into obscurity – there’s been more buzz about the anime version, which has already generated at least two soundtrack CDs of its own, then there’s been reminiscing about the short-lived live action series – but this soundtrack is proof that its brief existence was a flashpoint of intense creativity for all involved. Hopefully Joel Goldsmith will have a chance to spread his wings, with the Stargate franchise losing a bit of steam, and demonstrate this kind of intensity again. Well worth the wait.

Order this CD

  1. Danny’s Funeral (1:18)
  2. The Church (1:58)
  3. Brotherly Love (2:27)
  4. Strange Days (3:36)
  5. Fire Breather (1:27)
  6. Maelstrom (1:00)
  7. Walk Swiftly (1:48)
  8. The Gauntlet Suite (7:44)
  9. Missing Link (2:06)
  10. The Fire Dance (1:58)
  11. A Fine Dream (1:05)
  12. Sarah’s Home (2:16)
  13. Emergence (3:02)
  14. Retro Motorcycles (2:06)
  15. Vague Reckoning (4:47)
  16. Matters Of Truth (2:06)
  17. Milk And Honey (2:57)
  18. Conundrum (1:23)
  19. A Violent Prayer (2:43)
  20. Patience (2:51)
  21. Bad Man (2:14)
  22. A Walk In The Park (2:11)
  23. Very Dark Days (1:58)
  24. Sarah’s Metamorphosis (6:17)
  25. Witchblade Main Title (0:46)
  26. Walking Lightly On Delicate Mist (9:45)

Released by: Free Clyde Music
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 73:48

War Of The Worlds – music by John Williams

War Of The Worlds soundtrackJohn Williams’ War Of The Worlds score is the latest in a long line of John Williams / Steven Spielberg collaborations. Whether one of Spielberg’s summer blockbusters (Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park trilogies, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) or one of his more dramatic films (Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List), Williams’ compositions are an essential component to these films that have added to the emotional impact made by each one of them.

Throughout the War Of The Worlds soundtrack, Williams takes his time building those emotions and delivers a slow ascension of impending disaster in much the same way the film does. Many of the tracks are as suspenseful and heart pounding as scenes from the film itself. You’ll find no catchy themes to whistle the day after here. War Of The Worlds is a horror film, and the soundtrack directly reflects that.

One unique feature of this soundtrack are the opening and closing monologues performed by Morgan Freeman, reprising his role as the narrator from the film. Pure soundtrack fans may find it annoying, but helps set the tone and mood of the story for those who haven’t seen the film.

Overall the soundtrack is eerie and suspenseful, with a bit of terror thrown in for fun. Some of the tracks (“Escape From The Basket”) take over five minutes to develop, building suspense the entire time. Other tracks, like “Escape From The City”, climax quickly and convey the terror and panic from the film’s action scenes.

rating: 3 out of 4Unfortunately the soundtrack, whiile technically impressive, isn’t very entertaining to listen to on its own. The lack of repeating themes or memorable catches will keep it off most people’s favorite lists. As a soundtrack it’s great, as a stand alone album it’s only good.

Order this CD

  1. Prologue (2:52)
  2. The Ferry Scene (5:49)
  3. Reaching The Country (3:24)
  4. The Intersection Scene (4:12)
  5. Ray And Rachel (2:41)
  6. Escape From The City (3:49)
  7. Probing The Basement (4:12)
  8. Refugee Status (3:51)
  9. The Attack On The Car (2:44)
  10. The Separation Of The Family (2:36)
  11. The Confrontation With Ogilvy (4:33)
  12. The Return To Boston (4:29)
  13. Escape From The Basket (9:24)
  14. The Reunion (3:16)
  15. Epilogue (3:11)

Released by: Decca
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 61:07

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds“a ‘Lights Out’ television show, and ‘Amos and Andy’ on the radio”
– Gene Cotton, “Like a Sunday in Salem”

When people think of rock operas, they normally think of Tommy, Ziggy Stardust, I Robot, maybe even Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the movie version of which nearly killed the careers of Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees.) Who would have thought that “War Of The Worlds” would have been ripe for rock opera? Jeff Wayne did.

Released in the United States in 1978, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds features movie legend Richard Burton as The Journalist, with performances by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Chris Thompson of Mannford Mann’s Earth Band, David Essex, and others.

The plot is a fairly standard retelling of the original H.G. Wells novel set at the turn of the century. The Martians invade. We don’t have a chance.

Richard Burton’s reporter is one of the first people on the scene when the cylinders begin landing on the Earth, and he wanders through the English countryside following the devastation caused by the Martians. For the most part, Burton provides a strong performance. At times though, he seems detached, as though he’s reading words on a page, not witnessing “the rout of civilization, the massacre of mankind.”

Julie Covington steals the show as Beth, the wife of Parson Nathaniel, who is played by Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Her crisp, impassioned voice coupled with her lyrics in “The Spirit Of Man” provide the psychological and emotional underpinning of the entire double album, and provides a counterpoint to Lynott’s over-the-top performance.

Musically, JWMVWotW betrays its mid-1970s roots. It’s heavy with synthesizers and tends to fall into a disco-like beat from time to time. But there’s a little bit of something for everyone. More than 20 years later it still sounds fresh. Just as with any good opera, the music establishes moods and becomes an uncredited actor in the proceedings, filling in gaps that aren’t spoken, sung, or otherwise voiced.

The initial uncapping of one of the Martian cylinders and the attack of the heat ray are absolutely hair-raising, and the spread of the red weed is decidedly eerie. At first, the voice of the Martians is goofy and somewhat annoying. But soon, it becomes terrifying and ominous.

“Forever Autumn” (which was released as a single) and “Thunder Child” are the centerpieces that bring hope 4 out of 4and ultimately hopelessness. Later, with “happy” arrangements of most of the musical themes, David Essex explains his vision of a “Brave New World”, which is both stirring and sad.

Overall, JWMVWotW is a nearly flawless synthesis of a strong narrative and an equally strong musical score.

Order this CD

    Disc one: The Coming Of The Martians

  1. The Eve Of The War (9:07)
  2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11:36)
  3. Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (10:37)
  4. Forever Autumn (7:42)
  5. Thunder Child (6:07)
    Disc two: The Earth Under The Martians

  1. Red Weed part 1 (5:53)
  2. Spirit Of Man (11:38)
  3. Red Weed part 2 (5:25)
  4. The Artilleryman Returns (1:27)
  5. Brave New World (12:15)
  6. Dead London (8:35))
  7. Epilogue part 1 (2:31)
  8. Epilogue part 2 – NASA (1:50)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: 1978
Disc one total running time: 45:10
Disc two total running time: 49:36