51 Shades of Geek

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

Wendy Carlos – Digital Moonscapes

Wendy Carlos - Digital MoonscapesHaving given her new studio its shakedown cruise during the recording
sessions for the score of Disney’s inscrutably futuristic 1982 movie Tron, composer Wendy Carlos turned to a new challenge – recording a new series of compositions, directly from digital synthesizers with no samples, microphones or any other acoustic recording techniques, fine-tuned until it souded not completely unlike a new piece for orchestra. Jokingly attributing the sounds to the “LSI Philharmonic” (for the large-scale intregrated chips in her new digital synths and recording gear), Carlos created what was almost a modern-day companion piece to Holst’s The Planets, inspired by the then-recent pictures sent back from Jupiter and Saturn by NASA’s Voyager space probes.

Given that my interest in Carlos’ work started with Tron, I’m almost embarrassed to make the comparison, but it must be made – Digital Moonscapes, recorded immediately after the score from that movie, does indeed sound like it could be music from a lost Tron sequel. (And careful listening makes this similarity more than just a coincidence: the piece devoted to Jupiter’s restless volcanic moon Io is actually a rejected cue for Tron‘s light cycle sequence; listening to “Io” side by side with “Light Cycles” from the second volume of Carlos’ Rediscovering Lost Scores reveals the two pieces to be one and the same.) As much as I hate to fall back on a banal comparison, if you liked the music from Tron, Digital Moonscapes is right up your alley.

Trying to get away from that comparison for a moment, Digital Moonscapes is interesting on its own, in some places a little more conventionally classical than that movie soundtrack I keep comparing it to. The other comparison I’ve made, to Holst, deals only with the subject matter. Nowhere in her own liner notes does Wendy Carlos try to draw that comparison, and we’re talking about two completely different kinds of music. As much effort as was put into making Digital Moonscapes sound fully orchestral, there’s no mistaking it for anything but synthesizer music, and ’80s synthesizer music at that. This CD release postdates the original LP by nearly 20 years, though I have an enormous amount of respect for the decision to not tweak the original recordings with more modern technology, because it has a unique character all its own (though I’m a little selfishly disappointed that the thought didn’t occur to add new Rating: 3 out of 4material to accompany Voyager 2’s discoveries at Uranus and Neptune). In tracks such as “Titan”, “Europa”, and portions of the three-part “Cosmological Impressions” suite, Carlos comes dangerously close to achieving that orchestral sound.

It’ll never shake its distinctly ’80s sound, but in some ways, that’s the charm of Digital Moonscapes, and that’s enough to get a recommendation from me.

    Order this CD in the StoreCosmological Impressions

  1. Genesis (7:12)
  2. Eden (4:30)
  3. I.C. (Intergalactic Communications) (3:41)

    Moonscapes

  4. Luna (8:20)
  5. Phobos and Deimos (3:28)
  6. Ganymede (4:25)
  7. Europa (4:19)
  8. Io (4:26)
  9. Callisto (4:29)
  10. Rhea (1:51)
  11. Titan (3:46)
  12. Iapetus (5:50)

Released by: East Side Digital
Release date: 1984 (re-released on CD in 2003)
Total running time: 47:31

Soylent Green / Demon Seed

Soylent Green / Demon Seed soundtrackThis disc brings together the sparse scores for two futuristic ’70s techno-dystopia flicks for their first official release, complete with the usual wealth of knowledge that’s packed into the CD booklet on any of Film Score Monthly’s releases.

In the past, Soylent Green has been mentioned on this site as “a great place to see a pristine Computer Space machine,” but it turns out that, away from the dialogue of this Charlton Heston hand-wringer, the music is another oustanding feature of Soylent Green that stands up over time. Fred Myrow’s music for the movie’s introductory montage is an absolute revelation, blending rhapsodic strings, experimental electric guitars, and an honest-to-God hip-hop shuffle, years before anyone was calling it that. It starts out quiet and rather relaxing, and then builds to a busy, bustling peak about 2/3 of the way in, a musical illustration of the movie’s overpopulation problem. It’s just a great little piece of underscore – I think I listened to that track five times in a row when I first listened to this CD, because it’s just so stunning.

The various themes the run throughout the rest of the score are established in those opening titles as well, though in slightly different forms. It all adds up to a very cohesive score, and quite an impressive musical feat overall. I like the movie itself as a guilty pleasure, but I have no qualms about saying that the music is better than the movie, and I’m glad it can be heard here.

In a completely different vein musically is the 1977 techno-horror thriller Demon Seed, whose score was composed by original Star Trek veteran Jerry Fielding. If you’re expecting it to sound even vaguely like a classic Trek score, think again – Fielding goes largely electronic here, befitting the movie’s theme of a rapacious supercomputer that decides it needs to reproduce (with Julie Christie, no less). Rather like Soylent Green, Demon Seed hasn’t really aged very gracefully, though its sometimes abstract music was ahead of its time. Fans of early ’70s analog synth music should give this one a shot. Heard without dialogue or effects, it’s some very interesting music.

Rating: 4 out of 4Though one might not normally think of these two films at the same time, this album is one of the best (and naturally, one of the more obscure) gems in Film Score Monthly’s library, and I highly recommend it.

    Order this CD in the StoreSoylent Green

  1. Prologue / Opening City Music (4:20)
  2. Can I Do Something For You? (1:47)
  3. Out For A Walk / Nothing Like This / Assassin Approaches / Necessary To God / New Tenant (5:29)
  4. Stalking The Pad (1:41)
  5. Tab’s Pad / Furniture Party (3:43)
  6. Shirl And Thorn (2:08)
  7. Home Lobby Source (2:58)
  8. Sol’s Music (6:29)
  9. Symphony Music (Tchiakovsky / Beethoven / Grieg) (6:17)
  10. Infernal Machine / Thorn In Danger / Are You With Us? / Alternate City Opening / End Credits (5:13)

    Demon Seed

  11. Birth Scene / Speaking Room / Elk Herd (3:17)
  12. Proteus Requests / Light On / Your Phone Is Out (8:25)
  13. Visiting Hours / Probed And Put To Bed (3:24)
  14. The Gaz Chamber / Rape Of The Earth / How? / Hypnosis / Chimes (8:23)
  15. Pre-Trip / Big Wind / Sperm / Spirograph / Tetra Waltz (7:18)
  16. Last Voyage (2:35)
  17. Closing Crawl (2:03)
  18. End Credits (3:59)

Released by: Film Score Monthly
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 79:49