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

Twister – music by Mark Mancina

TwisterEvery 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

Burials In Several EarthsThe 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