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

When 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

Twister – music by Mark Mancina

Every once in a while, a soundtrack appears that you just kind of order on sight. This was one of those. I was no stranger to Mark Mancina’s propulsive, all-American-sounding score from the 1996 tornado disaster flick Twister, as I already had the original release of the score from that year, but the thought of a complete Twister score release was enough to lighten my wallet a bit…mainly for the love of a single piece of music omitted from the ’96 CD.

One of the film’s best sequences follows a somewhat introspective series of vignettes that nail home, none too subtly, the emotional stakes for the movie’s characters. After a hasty retreat from a decidedly southern meal, the ragtag storm chasers led by Bill Paxton’s character do a bit of ill-advised off-roading without being entirely sure where they’re going to wind up. The orchestral part of the soundtrack begins churning in a steady rhythm with the signature battery of cellos that anchor the entire score, eventually transitioning into “Humans Being”, the song Van Halen contributed to Twister‘s “songtrack” album. It’s quite possibly the best integration of score and tie-in song I’ve ever heard Hollywood pull off, and…it was missing from the original album.

That track, “Walk In The Woods”, tapers off rather than crashing into rock music territory (the Van Halen song can still be found on the readily available song CD), but it sold me on this whole remaster. Unlike some past reissues which doubled the amount of music available or blew our minds with alternates or unused takes, there are probably fewer than ten minutes of truly “new” music to be found on this reissue. But in conversing with fellow soundtrack afficionados, I found that “Walk In The Woods” was the tipping point for them picking this one up too.

4 out of 4The familiar tracks from the original album are renamed and shuffled around a bit from the original 1996 release, but it’s all there – with one exception. Missing from this new release is the snippet of movie dialogue (well, singing, really) in which a couple of the storm chasers sing a bit of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (particularly badly); if you’re a fan of that few seconds of silliness, you need to hang on to the 1996 release as well as this one.

Order this CD

  1. Wheatfield (film version) (1:25)
  2. The Hunt Begins (3:50)
  3. The Sky (1:03)
  4. Dorothy IV (film version) (1:57)
  5. The First Twister (0:49)
  6. In the Ditch / Where’s My Truck? (2:00)
  7. Waterspouts (2:49)
  8. Cow (5:42)
  9. Walk In The Woods (2:05)
  10. Bob’s Road (2:13)
  11. Hail No! (2:43)
  12. Futility (film version) (2:17)
  13. Drive-In Twister (2:57)
  14. Wakita (film version) (5:19)
  15. Sculptures (film version) (3:06)
  16. House Visit (4:47)
  17. The Big Suck (film version) (1:47)
  18. End Titles (2:25)
  19. Wheatfield (alternate) (1:28)
  20. Waterspouts (alternate) (2:50)
  21. The Big Suck (alternate) (1:14)
  22. End Title / Respect the Wind (9:20)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: January 20, 2017
Total running time: 64:07

The Radiophonic Workshop: Burials In Several Earths

The Radiophonic Workshop is back, minus the BBC. If the band’s retinue of veteran analog electronic music pioneers can keep turning out original material like this, it might result in a new generation of fans wondering why they were slumming it for the BBC for so long. The Radiophonic Workshop is made up of former members of the storied BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental electronic music & effects department of the BBC founded in the late 1950s to provide unique music and sounds for the steadily growing output of the BBC’s radio and television channels. The work, in those days before samplers and digital synthesizers, was grueling; membership in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was always fairly limited because you had to love what you were doing, working with oscillators a beat and tone generators and analog reverb and tape loops. The Workshop remains, perhaps unjustly, best known for the original Doctor Who theme music dating back to 1963, but its body of work spread so much further than that…until the BBC closed the Workshop’s doors in the 1990s.

But its members, it turns out, weren’t averse to workshopping their unique sound without Auntie Beeb paying the bills. Having spent over a decade as a touring group recreating their sound the old-fashioned way for audiences who already knew their work and audiences only just discovering them, the Radiophonic Workshop has now gifted us with a new album with the unmistakable sound that gained them a following in the 1960s and ’70s. Is it abstract? At times, yes – about 13 minutes into the lead track, you’d swear they were trying to make a musical instrument out of the sound of the Liberator’s teleport from Blake’s 7. Everything from white noise to whalesong crops up. But what’s amazing is how tuneful it is at times. Echoing piano is a constant presence, along with actual guitar work (Paddy Kingsland, whose Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide scores in the early ’80s were ear-wormingly hummable, take a bow). There are a few places where a groove emerges from the soundscape and the Radiophonic Workshop proceeds to rock out.

Not a bad feat considering that some of these gentlemen are past what many touring musicians would consider retirement age.

4 out of 4The real fascination of Burials In Several Earths is that it’s electronic music created in a way that has almost been lost to time and the march of technology. That description doesn’t really do it justice though – that sounds more like the description of a tech demo. The Radiophonic Workshop is making actual music this way, delighting audiences on stage, and bolting new chapters onto a legacy of ridiculously hummable short tunes from a bygone age. At times ethereal, at times exciting, the one thing Burials isn’t is boring.

Order this CD

  1. Burials In Several Earths (18:58)
  2. Things Buried In Water (22:01)
  3. Some Hope Of Land (25:15)
  4. Not Come To Light (3:58)
  5. The Stranger’s House (11:23)

Released by: Room 13
Release date: May 19, 2016
Total running time: 1:21:35

Fight For Space – music by Ron Jones

Ron Jones is an inspired choice to score a space documentary, even if you’ve never heard of him. Mention his name in a room full of diehard Star Trek: The Next Generation fans and you’ll probably get a conversation started: during that show’s first four years, he kicked over numerous restrictive rules put in place by the producers, who wanted the music to be “wallpaper”, and did his own thing…until the showrunners responded in kind by simply ceasing to engage his services any further.

But the producers of that particular series seem to be the only ones who don’t remember him fondly. The makers of computer games such as Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Command availed themselves of his services, as did the backers of last year’s 50th anniversary concert tour, commissioning him to write new music in a Trek vein, which was also recorded for the recent 50th anniversary soundtrack album.

It’s those recent compositions that his music from Fight For Space most closely resemble: noble, yearning, vaguely nautical. But there are other flavors that aren’t exactly Trekkish: quiter, piano-led tracks, even a couple of somewhat comical pieces. Then there are the real surprises, a full-on rock ‘n’ roll track titled “Chaos Never Stopped Us”, whole other tracks such as “The Greatest 4 out of 4Possibilities” and “The Letter That Killed Space” combine the sonic palettes of orchestra and rock band.

But it’s all recognizably Ron Jones – the sound that no sane showrunner ever would have jettisoned from the Star Trek franchise. Whether it’s for the 24th century, or the 21st century struggle of a chronically underfunded NASA to live up to its 20th century glories, that sound is a perfect fit. Those who have missed Jones’ odes to the final frontier will enjoy this one a lot.

Order this CD

  1. Space Calls Us (4:23)
  2. Cold War Fears (2:02)
  3. Moving a Nation (2:39)
  4. The Spin Offs (1:51)
  5. Earthrise (1:02)
  6. The Hope Killers (6:34)
  7. First Homes Off Earth (2:54)
  8. Messy Politics of Space (4:22)
  9. Rockets and Budgets to Nowhere (7:42)
  10. Chaos Never Stopped Us (5:34)
  11. The Letter That Killed Space (3:35)
  12. Why arn’t We There Yet? (4:41)
  13. Progress and Fear (2:16)
  14. The Greatest Possibilities (7:42)
  15. The Universe Awaits (6:44)
  16. First Sketches and Themes (3:45)

Released by: SkyMuse Records
Release date: March 29, 2017
Total running time: 1:07:46

Star Trek Beyond (Deluxe) – music by Michael Giacchino

Varese Sarabande’s handling of the soundtracks from the modern Star Trek movies has made me wise up: I didn’t even bother with Michael Giacchino’s score from Star Trek Beyond until the 2-CD Deluxe Edition was released. I’m just not in a position to fall for the double dip every time.

Sadly, the irony is that, while Beyond got the current iteration of Star Trek back “on message”, preaching the virtues of peace and compassion over the values of a violent, twisted being out for revenge, Giacchino’s third visit to the Trek well seems to be his least inspired of the three movies he’s scored to date.

That’s somewhat understandable: the after-the-fact heaping of criticism on the second movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, had to have a palpable effect on those involved in making it. (Ironically, Giacchino’s score from Into Darkness was one of the very, very few things I could find to enjoy about that otherwise lamentably derivative entry in the franchise.) It could be that his creative energies were sapped by the time he went to work on Beyond.

There are highlights, though. The appearances of Starbase Yorktown, a marvel of alternative-23rd-century Starfleet construction that would dwarf a 24th century Borg cube, are graced with a gorgeous fanfare, featuring a long melody line of the kind that seems like it went out of style after John Williams re-educated everyone about uses of the leitmotif. There are some nice cues covering the series of vignettes following the surviving members of the Enterprise crew trying to simply survive on the surface of the planet over which their ship was brought down, though those tend toward brevity.

The action scenes involving Krall’s attack on the Enterprise are frenetic and noisy, probably with the idea that they’d be competing with frenetic and noisy sound effects for dominance in the movie’s audio mix. As a listening experience with no accompanying visuals, they’re a bit much – compare to Giacchino’s more gracefully Williams-esque action scenes from Rogue One for an exercise in contrast.

Though I know some uppity Star Trek fans may recoil against the thought of including a track that could be even remotely considered R&B on their precious soundtrack albums – one can still hear the howls of protest over “Ooby Dooby” and “Magic Carpet Ride” 20 years after Star Trek: First Contact – I’m a bit disappointed to find that, even with a second disc worth of material and more breathing room – Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer” single wasn’t included here. I know there’s licensing, label politics, and yes, that whole blow-up among fans about whether the singer had any business dipping her toe into the world of Star Trek, a pointless
2 out of 4kerfuffle that, let’s face it, exposed some shocking racism among fans of a franchise that rails against racism at every turn. The song still belonged here, and I was disappointed to see it omitted.

At the time of this writing, there’s still no solid word on whether or not there will be a fourth movie with this cast, or indeed a fourth movie with Giacchino at the podium. In that context, it’s a bit of a bummer that he may well be leaving the Star Trek franchise on the weakest note that he had yet provided for it.

Order this CD

    Disc 1

  1. Logo And Prosper (1:47)
  2. Trick Or Treaty (:45)
  3. We Come In Pieces (1:17)
  4. Thank Your Lucky Star Date (2:14)
  5. Night On The Yorktown (5:36)
  6. To Thine Own Death Be True (3:32)
  7. We Make A Good Team (:22)
  8. The Dance Of The Nebula (2:22)
  9. A Swarm Reception (2:30)
  10. Krall Hell Breaks Loose (3:04)
  11. The Evacuation Variations (2:47)
  12. Hitting The Saucer A Little Hard (6:10)
  13. Scotland’s Worst Cliffhanger (:23)
  14. A Hive And Kicking (3:30)
  15. Port Of Krall (:52)
  16. Jaylah Damage (2:50)
  17. No Enterprise For Guessing (:37)
  18. In Artifacts As In Life (1:51)
  19. She’s One Hell Of A Dish (1:26)
  20. Make No Escape About It (2:04)
  21. Eat My Thrusters (3:56)
  22. The Krall Of The Wild (2:10)
  23. Spock’s Vulcan Grip On Death (1:31)
  24. Captain On Ice (:42)

    Disc 2

  25. Franklin, My Dear (2:50)
  26. Transporting Good Time (3:43)
  27. Krall Work And No Play (:37)
  28. A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy (5:17)
  29. The Cost Of Abronath (2:35)
  30. MotorCycles Of Relief (3:18)
  31. Mocking Jaylah (3:27)
  32. Jaylah House Rock (3:18)
  33. Bright Lights Big Velocity (Part 1) (:57)
  34. Bright Lights Big Velocity (Part 2) (2:59)
  35. Spock Speaks Hive (3:10)
  36. Crash Decisions (3:16)
  37. Krall-y Krall-y Oxen Free (4:23)
  38. Shutdown Happens (4:35)
  39. The Root Of Krall Evil (1:31)
  40. Cater-Krall In Zero G (2:17)
  41. The Dreaded Rear Admiral (2:02)
  42. Par-tay For The Course (2:46)
  43. Space, The Final Frontier (2:42)
  44. Jaylah’s Theme (2:36)
  45. Yorktown Theme (4:32)
  46. Star Trek Main Theme* (3:44)
  47. Krall Things Being Equal (4:25)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: December 12, 2016
Disc one total running time: 54:42
Disc two total running time: 1:11:18

Jodorowsky’s Dune – music by Kurt Stenzel

A unique documentary about a movie that almost, but didn’t, get made, the musical treatment for Jodorowsky’s Dune is a novel one: score the documentary with the music that the unmade movie should’ve gotten. Chronicling, as it does, an abortive attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s genre-redefining novel to the big screen in the 1970s, Jodorowsky’s Dune is graced with a fittingly ’70s-style score awash with analog synths (or very good approximations of them).

Think of early Tangerine Dream (composer Kurt Stenzel’s auditory reference point), or the all-synth, almost-abstract score of Enter The Dragon, or the music of Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who: that sound in your head is the sound of the Arrakis that was never meant to be. It’s the sound of a Dune that would’ve starred the likes of Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger, rather than Kyle MacLachlan and Sting. The music is authentically trippy – as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s vision for Herbert’s epic likely would’ve been – and anyone born in the ’70s or steeped in ’70s genre cinema will likely find the wobbly analog synth sounds are a comforting old friend.

On a few tracks, there is dialogue from the documentary itself, and depending on my mood I can come down on either the “no, just let me hear the music, please” or the “oh, that’s kinda neat and it helps set the tone” side of the fence. It’s only on a few tracks. Stenzel sequences the album as a four-sided double LP, staying true to the medium that would’ve been available to a soundtrack album from the unmade movie. Tracks blend together as ethereal suites and reach an end point whereupon, in some alternate universe where Jodorowsky beat David Lynch to the punch, someone presumably turns the record over.

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mid-1970s attempt to change how sci-fi reached the big screen never happened, and Dune languished in Hollywood turnaround hell while a little movie about the last of the Jedi Knights became the film that changed the entire playbook in 1977. That movie, of course, redirected movie music back onto a 4 out of 4European-inspired orchestral course, almost exactly 180 degrees away from the music Stenzel imagines here (and 180 degrees away from Jodorowsky’s pie-in-the-sky dream of having post-Syd-Barrett-era Pink Floyd score his vision of Dune). But Kurt Stenzel’s realization of the course on which movie sci-fi soundtracks could have continued is an incredible, atmospheric listen.

Order this CD

  1. Coming of a God (5:27)
  2. Greatest Movie Never Made (1:01)
  3. Parallel World (1:41)
  4. Parallel World (outro) (1:03)
  5. Leap of Faith (0:43)
  6. Time and Space (2:04)
  7. Optical World (2:55)
  8. Nebula (1:25)
  9. Invitation (1:02)
  10. Point of View (2:36)
  11. Moebius (4:48)
  12. Arrakis (1:58)
  13. Millions of Stars (0:21)
  14. Into the Galaxy (1:26)
  15. O’Bannon Meets Jodo (1:18)
  16. Finding the Others (0:57)
  17. Spiritual Warriors (1:36)
  18. Conception of Paul (2:01)
  19. Ships With Souls (1:51)
  20. The Pirate Spaceship (5:23)
  21. Rescue From a Sandworm (2:36)
  22. Mad Emperor (0:23)
  23. Burning Giraffes (1:42)
  24. Baron Harkonnen (0:33)
  25. Giger’s Theme (1:06)
  26. Deepest Darkness of the Soul (1:15)
  27. Feyd Rautha (4:17)
  28. Total Extermination (2:16)
  29. I Am Dune (6:00)
  30. Hollywood (2:22)
  31. Fingerprints (4:16)
  32. Open the Mind (3:38)
  33. Try (2:30)

Released by: Cinewax
Release date: November 13, 2015
Total running time: 75:31

Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage – Music from the 50th Anniversary Concert Tour

Star Trek: The Ultimate VoyageA 2-CD collection commemorating the touring concert experience paying homage to 50 years – give or take a few years off here and there – of Star Trek music, The Ultimate Voyage is basically a cover album for Trek fans. Every facet of the franchise is touched upon, with both the primary themes and individual episode scores from nearly every series and movie revisited. The only main themes not covered here are the ever-controversial choice of theme song for Enterprise, a series represented by only a single score cue from one of its final episodes, and the criminally underrated theme music from the animated series (a corner of Trek that is left completely by the wayside in this collection).

If there’s anything that holds this back from being a crowd-pleaser instead of merely a concert souvenir, it is, quite simply and sadly, the performances. For a professional studio recording, the number of fluffed notes is a little uncomfortably high. The fact that they made it into the finished product would seem to indicate that this was a rush job to get the discs pressed in time to be in the gift shop after every concert – one take and only one take.

Where the performances are on-the-money, they’re a wonderful representative cross-sample of Star Trek’s musical history, performed well and arranged nicely for live concerts. Some of the best bits are hidden in the pieces of individual episode scores: Jay Chattaway’s pennywhistle theme from The Inner Light, Ron Jones’ apocalyptic cliffhanger from The Best Of Both Worlds, the almost-patriotic-sounding swell 2 out of 4of hope under Kirk’s speech from The Omega Glory‘s “courage, the order of the day” scene, the aforementioned music from Archer’s address to the nascent Federation council from Enterprise…we’ve all heard the themes about thousand times by now. Hearing the episodic music in a concert setting is a nice change of pace.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Main Title from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1:30)
  2. Main Title from Star Trek: Generations (1:59)
  3. The Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (6:02)
  4. Klingon Battle from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (5:20)
  5. Ancient Combat / 2nd Kroykah from Star Trek (5:12)
  6. Ba’Ku Theme from Star Trek: Insurrection (2:53)
  7. Starship / Kirk’s Philosophy from Star Trek (1:28)
  8. Kirk Does It Again from Star Trek (3:48)
  9. Main Title from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2:06)
  10. Ilia’s Theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (3:06)
  11. Revealed / Reaching Out from Star Trek: TNG (4:50)
  12. Courage / Saved Again from Star Trek: TNG (1:54)
  13. Main Title from Star Trek: Voyager (1:50)
  14. Main Title from Star Trek IV (2:41)
  15. Red Alert from Star Trek: First Contact / Captain Borg from Star Trek: TNG (3:15)
    Disc Two

  1. Opening from Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (4:07)
  2. Epilogue / End Titles from Star Trek II (7:33)
  3. First Contact from Star Trek: First Contact (2:45)
  4. Defiant Ending from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (3:12)
  5. I Can Live With It from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2:09)
  6. The Inner Light from Star Trek: TNG (6:41)
  7. Set Course For Home from Star Trek: Voyager (2:03)
  8. Enterprising Young Men from Star Trek (2009) (2:41)
  9. The Captain from Star Trek: Voyager (2:43)
  10. End Credits Suite from Star Trek VI (4:18)
  11. Up Your Alley from Star Trek: Enterprise (3:33)
  12. Archer’s Speech from Star Trek: Enterprise (1:52)
  13. Overture from Star Trek: Generations (4:18)
  14. To Live Forever from Star Trek: Generations (2:47)
  15. Main Theme from Star Trek (3:44)

Released by: CineConcerts
Release date: 2016
Disc one total running time: 48:54
Disc two total running time: 54:26