Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Volume 1 – music by Alan Silvestri

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Volume 1When the original Cosmos, hosted by Carl Sagan, premiered in 1980 on PBS, it was tracked with a hand-picked combination drawing from the classical orchestral repertoire and the synth-heavy works of Vangelis. It defined the show beautifully. Doing something even remotely resembling Cosmos in the 21st century, however, has a whole different list of demands. Photorealistic CGI allows actual images from space to be incorporated into beautifully choreographed and detailed simulations of space. It’s movie quality. The music should probably step up and meet that definition of epic as well.

With that in mind, it was no surprise to see veteran Hollywood composer Alan Silvestri selected to bring the new Cosmos to musical life. Silvestri’s score for the film version of Sagan’s Contact was one of the highlights of that movie, and if you understand the musical vocabulary of awe and wonder that his music brought to Contact, you’ll dig this, for that’s the same sensibility he brings to the 2014 series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Four generous albums of music from the series have been available digitally for some time, but this is their first official CD release, and the discs bring previously unreleased material with them (the music from a sequence covering the planet Venus and an alternate version of the deceptively gentle main theme).

The 21st century Cosmos has a sense of awe and wonder worthy of the original, but its more filmic sensibilities get a wide-screen musical treatment that would do any sci-fi movie proud. It’s unapologetically bold and adventurous, and very much the real thing – a real orchestra and choir are embellished, but very seldom overtaken, by electronics. Each episode featured at least one lavishly animated tale of a pioneering scientific mind, and Silvestri deftly navigated the narrow strait between “music from the part of the world that person was from” and “ethnic musical stereotypes”, usually by erring primarily on the side of scoring it like straight-up live-action drama. This volume’s suite of music from the sequence depicting the life of Giordano Bruno is really its emotional center, an island of human drama in an album of what might otherwise be considered “space music”.

4 out of 4But there’s nothing bland here – every moment of music has mystery and drama propelling it, much of it originating from that first episode in which Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us that we’re all starstuff. This soundtrack would be equally at home on the flight deck of Tyson’s “ship of the imagination”, or on the bridge of any movie or TV starship you care to name. Best of all, it accompanies a story much more grounded in reality. Just a beautiful listen, and if the existing downloads are any indication, the later volumes are even better.

Order this CD

  1. Cosmos Main Title (1:38)
  2. “Come With Me” (2:00)
  3. “The Cosmos Is Yours” (6:23)
  4. Virgo Supercluster (4:05)
  5. Multiverse (2:10)
  6. Giordano Bruno (2:39)
  7. Revelation of Immensity (3:57)
  8. The Inquisition (3:35)
  9. The Staggering Immensity of Time (2:11)
  10. Star Stuff (4:12)
  11. Chance Nature of Existence (3:27)
  12. New Years’ Eve (3:49)
  13. “Our Journey Is Just Beginning” (3:04)
  14. Venus (2:50)
  15. Cosmos Main Title – Alternate (1:54)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: June 13, 2017
Total running time: 48:31

Doctor Who: Day Of The Doctor / Time Of The Doctor

Day Of The Doctor / Time Of The DoctorSo it turns out I owe Murray Gold an apology.

As I watched Day Of The Doctor for the first time, I was mildly annoyed that its score seemed to be a cut-and-paste of “greatest hits” of themes from the modern series dating back to 2005. Not new versions of those themes, mind you, but the same recordings we’d been hearing for years now. It seemed like an uninspired choice, but as it was already known that the BBC had asked for an episode 30 minutes longer than the usual 45-minute shows, in 3-D, with big-name guest stars, without increasing the budget much beyond that of the typical 45-minute episode, it seemed likely that the decision had been made to edit together a score from the music of past episodes. After all, what’s a decadal Doctor Who anniversary special if it’s not a kiss to the past?

As it turns out, the truth is even sadder than that: Day Of The Doctor did have a brand-new score custom-made for its requirements, and a dandy one at that. In various interviews, Gold has hinted that the heavily-promoted special had more cooks in the kitchen than usual, resulting in Hollywood-style second-guessing of creative decisions that rarely occurs with the series’ weekly episodes. Reading between the lines, the answer is simple: some BBC suits, freaked out by a fantastic original score which not only brought back numerous musical themes but paid homage to the show’s long history by incorporating various vintage synthesizer sounds into the orchestral mix, insisted that Day Of The Doctor should largely be “tracked” with existing music, not unlike the original Star Trek. The result is a soundtrack which was either buried in the sound mix or, in some instances, not used at all.

Some of the most eye-opening fun you can have with the Day Of The Doctor half of this 2-CD set is to cue up the DVD to key scenes, turn your TV down, and let the music be heard as originally intended. “He Was There”, which takes us from outside the National Gallery into the three-dimensional painting of the Time War, is a knockout cue that works outstandingly well; the rising howl as we zoom through the painting until we settle on the War Doctor is hair-raising stuff. On TV, this material was dropped in favor of the choral Dalek music from The Stolen Earth, but in the original unused cue, Gold holds off on quoting that theme until the Daleks show up in person. His opening volley, meant to accompany Clara’s motorcycle ride into the TARDIS control room, is an electro dance piece omitted in its entirety. A great many of his more interesting, “radiophonic” sounding pieces were either savagely dialed down in the sound mix or covered/replaced with “whooshy” sound effects to emphasize the show’s all-important (for one night only before the BBC abandoned the technology) 3-D. Even the final scene – all the Doctors dreaming of home – was scored differently, building up to a triumphant flourish that quotes the Doctor Who theme itself as a heroic fanfare: all left on the cutting room floor.

The second disc contains the music from The Time Of The Doctor, and in this case, at least, what you hear is what was heard in the show itself – unless it’s just not on the album, such as the criminal omission of the haunting choral piece heard as Clara bellies up to the crack-in-the-wall that has follow the eleventh Doctor through his entire tenure, appealing to the Time Lords to help the Doctor survive. How that didn’t make the album, I’ll never know.

Highlights of Smith’s final episode as the Doctor include “The Crack” and the bite-sized but propulsive “Rhapsody Of War”. Even some of the more obscure cues, like the John-Williams-esque morsel “Papal Mainframe”, are fun. But the show is stolen by the solid wall of music that takes up the last 25% of the show; “Never Tell Me The Rules” is the accompaniment of modern Doctor Who’s extension of the “explosive regeneration” to ridiculous extremes, while “Trenzalore / The Long Song / I Am Information” – its title giving away that it’s a mashup of themes already established in the previous season of the show – accompanies Smith’s record-settingly long send-off speech. “Hello Twelve”, naturally, rings in the Doctor’s new face in the form of Peter Capaldi.

4 out of 4So it turns out I owe Murray Gold an apology. Here I thought that, out of budgetary necessity, he’d had to phone in one of the most pivotal installments in the entire series, but whether it’s the seventh Doctor’s straw hat, the eleventh’s Fez, or the first Doctor’s shapeless lump of an astrakhan hat, I hereby eat that hat – Murray Gold did his best to honor the show’s sonic history, only to be let down by the marketing department. At least this 2-CD set lets us hear it all in its original intended glory.

Order this CDDisc 1: The Day of the Doctor

  1. I.M Foreman (1:10)
  2. Will There Be Cocktails? (0:40)
  3. It’s Him (The Majestic Tale) (2:04)
  4. He Was There (4:22)
  5. No More (1:05)
  6. The War Room (1:42)
  7. Footprints In The Sand (1:42)
  8. Who Are You (4:37)
  9. England 1562 (1:02)
  10. Nice Horse (1:43)
  11. The Fez And The Portal (2:44)
  12. Two Doctors (1:01)
  13. Three Doctors (1:56)
  14. Somewhere To Hide (1:50)
  15. Rescue The Doctor (1:08)
  16. 2.47 Billion (4:28)
  17. Zygon In The Painting (1:34)
  18. Man And Wife (1:32)
  19. We Don’t Need To Land (2:27)
  20. We Are The Doctors (0:49)
  21. The Moment Has Come (3:06)
  22. This Time There’s Three Of Us (The Majestic Tale) (7:03)
  23. Song For Four/Home (3:41)

Disc 2: Time Of The Doctor

  1. The Message (1:15)
  2. Handles (2:07)
  3. The Dance Of The Naked Doctor (2:12)
  4. You Saved It (0:56)
  5. Papal Mainframe (0:44)
  6. Tasha Lemm (1:06)
  7. Bedroom Talk (1:48)
  8. The Mission (0:54)
  9. Christmas (2:26)
  10. The Crack (5:24)
  11. Rhapsody Of War (0:52)
  12. Back To Christmas (3:09)
  13. Snow Over Trenzalore (Song For Four) (2:45)
  14. Beginning Of The End (2:46)
  15. This Is How It Ends (3:06)
  16. Never Tell Me The Rules (3:11)
  17. Trenzalore/The Long Song/I Am Information (Reprise) (4:03)
  18. Hello Twelve (0:39)

Released by: Silva Screen Records
Release date: November 24, 2014
Disc one total running time: 53:26
Disc two total running time: 39:23

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