Tripods: The Pool Of Fire Suite – music by Ken Freeman

Tripods: The Pool Of Fire SuiteIncluded as a bonus feature of the long-delayed (and long, long overdue) compelte series DVD set of the 1980s BBC SF series The Tripods, and also available as a download for those with no interest in the DVDs, the Pool Of Fire Suite is an interesting experiment: original Tripods TV composer Ken Freeman, a master of synthetic textures, composed new music for key story points in the season of the show that was never made. Despite the fact that over 20 years have passed, Freeman makes an effort to make it sound as though this music is coming out of his synth rig circa 1986/87 – with minimal hints of the massive advances that have been made in synthesizers and/or sampling in the intervening two decades.

“A Plan Of Action” immediately sets the tone with an extended, minor-key statement of the Tripods theme, but this time slowed down to a dirge: it’s easy to imagine this music covering the scenes picking up from the second season’s cliffhanger, in which Will and his friends discover that the base from which their resistance movement has been fighting the Earth-dominating Tripods has been laid to waste. As easy as it is to picture these things, Freeman is free to explore the material without the timing constraints of composing to picture.

Freeman delves into a surprisingly bluesy, guitar-centered sound with a percolating ’80s-style synth backing in “A Drink With Ruki”, an a similarly upbeat brass riff lightens things up in “The Pool Of Fire” itself. “Summer Wind” also keeps things light for a portion of the story involving the view from a hot air balloon.

After the triumphant strains of “Freedom”, “The Conference Of Man” brings the Tripods theme back to the fore, this time in a much more confident (and less mournful) interpretation, but there’s still dissonant unease waiting in the wings: without the Tripods to unit humanity in a fight against a common cause, the newly freed human race risks splintering into factions fighting over its own resources. Where this storyline could have gone is anyone’s guess: there were no further books carrying the story forward, and of course there were no further TV adventures. So we’re still treated to an unresolved cliffhanger – albeit a purely musical one.

4 out of 4I’ve always been a huge fan of the original Tripods music, so the very notion that the BBC would commission Ken Freeman to provide music for adventures never filmed is a huge hit with me. The music is sensational – and I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that it’s the BBC’s (and the audience’s) loss that a third season wasn’t made that could have featured music like this.

Order this CD

  1. A Plan Of Action (3:46)
  2. The Green Man (6:40)
  3. A Drink With Ruki (7:32)
  4. The Pool Of Fire (6:31)
  5. Summer Wind (4:40)
  6. Freedom (5:30)
  7. The Conference Of Man (5:33)

Released by: BBC Video (as part of The Tripods: The Complete Series DVD box set)
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 40:12

Cybertech Part II: Pharos

Cybertech Part II: Pharos soundtrackAn interesting and somewhat obscure release, Pharos is the second collection of musical atmospheres by Cybertech (a.k.a. Michael Fillis and Adrian Pack). The two Cybertech CDs share a common thread: they try to evoke the atmosphere of past eras of Doctor Who music and, at the same time, pay tribute to what was the only source of new Who in the early 90s, Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who: The New Adventures novels. In a way, Cybertech’s works are rather like the Doctor Who equivalent of the infamous Star Wars soundtrack-to-a-book release Shadows Of The Empire. Pack and Fillis composed original scores for specific scenes of some of the books (with the relevant passages quoted with permission in the CD’s lavishly illustrated booklet), while other adventures are given a score more evocative of a general mood, and some are accompanied by original, non-novel fiction. A few pieces unrelated to any specific book are dotted throughout the disc as well.

Lending the proceedings more of a stamp of Who authenticity are brief cameo appearances by Sylvester McCoy and the late Jon Pertwee, and their respective fellow time travelers Sophie Aldred and Caroline John. McCoy and Aldred’s appearances are “in character” as the Doctor and Ace, even though they each only speak a handful of lines of dialogue in their respective tracks. On the other hand, Jon Pertwee and Caroline John don’t seem to be playing the roles of the third Doctor and Liz Shaw, but instead act as narrators delivering the overall mood in the album’s opening and closing tracks. Mark Gatiss also makes a vocal appearance for the musical theme to his own novel, “Nightshade”.

And the music itself? Pack and Fillis toy around with the Doctor Who sounds of both the 70s and 80s, and nail some of the best approximations of those eras’ moods I’ve heard. Some of the non-story-specific pieces pick up the pace a little bit with more of a dance beat, but nothing terribly incongruous. It’s all very atmospheric, 4 out of 4and right in line with where the music of Doctor Who left off when the series vacated the small screen.

So, overall, what do I think of Pharos? I think Big Finish Productions should really be talking to these guys about joining their rotating cast of composing characters. They’re that good.

Order this CD

  1. Precipice (1:45)
  2. The Pharos Project (3:12)
  3. Time’s Crucible (3:15)
  4. Prometheus Bound (6:45)
  5. Prometheus Unbound (2:50)
  6. First Frontier (3:45)
  7. Yeti (9:15)
  8. Iceberg (8:00)
  9. Nightshade TV Theme (4:20)
  10. Trevithick’s Monsters (5:55)
  11. Interstitial Time: A Static Vortex (1:20)
  12. Legacy (3:20)
  13. Type 40 (3:20)
  14. Master Mind (10:30)
  15. Cyberia (4:45)
  16. Wavelength (2:00)

Released by: Jump Cut Records
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 75:25

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire

Star Wars: Shadow of the EmpireWhen I saw this one on the store shelf, it sure surprised me. Here’s a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist! In case you haven’t been keeping up, “Shadows Of The Empire” is Lucasfilm Ltd.’s desperate attempt to make sure no one can forget the Star Wars franchise between now and whenever George Lucas finally gets around to doing a new Star Wars film, which is itself an uncertainty. In the interim, starting in 1990, Lucasfilm began authorizing other parties to play with his characters and settings in the forms of books and comics whose continuity with the original films was closely monitored and engineered by Lucasfilm. After the first four of those books, I lost interest in the Star Wars universe as seen by authors other than Lucas, and so it remained until I spotted this album. To say that a new dose of Star Wars music piqued my interest would be an understatement. I’ve always considered John Williams’ body of work from 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back to be the best film score ever conceived, and much of the its predecessor’s music comes in not far behind.

One of my first hesitations about this CD was that the music is by Joel McNeely, not John Williams. McNeely is a George Lucas discovery who has scored episodes and TV movies of Young Indiana Jones, as well as Lucas’ film Radioland Murders and the recent rehashing of Flipper. Shadows Of The Empire opens with the immortal main Star Wars theme by Williams, indeed treating the album as if it’s a movie in its own right. Other material originated by Williams is incorporated in the album, though only sparingly – it keeps the royalty expenditures to a minimum, I imagine! McNeely seems to be trying to compose music in the Williams/Star Wars vein, but rather like the soundtrack album from Battlestar Galactica, it reaches my ears as John Williams pastiche. There are a few passages that show promise, but too much of this music seems to be trying to emulate Williams’ bombast instead of trying to find its own identity.

One good step in the right direction is the utilization of a large orchestra and a choral component that made some of Return of the Jedi’s more climactic moments all the more weighty. Specifically, McNeely conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus, a combined ensemble with a complement that rivals the size of Williams’ favored London Symphony. The choir is used to wonderful effect, at times reciting a poem by Ben Burtt (who created all the strangely effective alien languages for the Star Wars movies) which gives the whole thing a surprisingly epic, quasi-religious ambience.

The most effective piece on the entire disc is the final track, a space battle scene lasting nearly eleven minutes which has its own flaws – in places, it’s just too loud, too jarring, too apocalyptic…in short, too much! Other selections are guilty of sounding too bouncy and lighthearted (which is very much a John Williams artifact, a sometimes out-of-place Korngold-esque celebratory sound).

I really cannot recommend that anyone approach or avoid Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire; it’s growing on me slowly, but will take time to really sink in. It is not authentic John Williams, and isn’t even particularly good Williams Lite. It’s fine music in its own way, but no one ever should have tried to pass it off as a new entry in the Star Wars musical lexicon. Even Williams’ own music for Oliver Stone’s recent film Nixon – most assuredly not a science fiction movie, depending on how stalwart your political affiliations were in 1972 – smack much more of Star Wars than this album. I must also confess I haven’t read the “Shadows Of The Empire” books and really don’t intend to partake of them, so maybe knowing the story would help to grasp 3 out of 4this work better. Again, no recommendations or caveats – approach this item at your own speed. It’d be a great body of work if it were possible to go into it with no preconceptions, but who can live up to the standard set by John Williams in 1977 and 1980? The prejudice can’t be avoided with the words “Star Wars” on the front cover of the disc.

Order this CD

  1. Main Theme from Star Wars and Leia’s Nightmare (3:41)
  2. The Battle of Gall (7:59)
  3. Imperial City (8:02)
  4. Beggar’s Canyon Chase (2:56)
  5. The Southern Underground (1:48)
  6. Xizor’s Theme (4:35)
  7. The Seduction of Princess Leia (3:38)
  8. Night Skies (4:17)
  9. Into the Sewers (2:55)
  10. The Destruction of Xizor’s Palace (10:44)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 66:16