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8 Bit Weapon – Class Apples

8 Bit Weapon - Class ApplesI remember the Apple II. By way of the Franklin ACE 1000 clone that was later sued off the market, I grew up with the Apple II as my first computer. I programmed it – or tried to – endlessly. Trying to get music and sound right with the native Apple II speaker was an especially bruising experience: endless data tables, pokes, and very seldom getting what I wanted out of the machine. A whole sub-industry was born to bolt better audio capability onto the Apple II via add-ons like the Mockingboard sound card. It was never as easy as just plugging a MIDI-capable keyboard into it and just playing what was in your head.

Except that now, it is. And that’s how we got Class Apples – a new MIDI controller interface, and a modern-day software hack allowing for samples to expand the sound of the Apple II, and 8 Bit Weapon doing what 8 Bit Weapon does. The entirety of Class Apples is performed on Apple II computers, with minor post-production tweaks providing the finishing touches that the Apple itself can’t (reverb, stereo tricks, a bit of flanging here and there). It’s still the same lo-fi machine that it always was, but the Apple II can do more musically thanks to persistent fans of the machine grafting new abilities onto it, inspired by technological developments that have taken place since the Apple II’s heyday.

The music here is all from the classical repertoire, and heavy on pieces with complex counterpoint. Everything has a beat to it, and there’s a strong Hooked On Classics vibe to the whole thing. It’s hard to nominate any one track as a standout – each of them have their own charms – though I’m always a sucker for “Ave Maria” and, well, just about any flavor of Bach.

4 out of 4Computer music may be nothing new, and classics filtered through computer music may be nothing new, but there is something new here – significant musical capabilities have been grafted onto a machine that was known for little more than the plaintive PR#6 “BEEP” that accompanied a startup or reset. Just as 8 Bit Weapon helped alert the public to the possibilities of the NES and Game Boy as musical instruments, the same can now be said of the not-especially-musically-inclined Apple II. It’s a musical tech demo that is, if you know anything about the Apple II’s native sound capabilities, surprisingly listenable. You had me at INIT HELLO,S6,D1.

Order this CD

  1. Sheep May Safely Graze (Bach – 2:55)
  2. Two Part Invention (Bach – 1:03)
  3. Prelude and Fugue 1 in C Major (Bach – 1:29)
  4. Für Elise (For Elise) (Beethoven – 2:14)
  5. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) (Mozart – 5:24)
  6. Invention 8 (Bach – 0:51)
  7. Prelude in C Minor (Bach – 1:35)
  8. Rondo Alla Turca (Mozart – 2:07)
  9. Invention 14 (Bach – 1:13)
  10. Air Tromb (Bach – 1:29)
  11. Ave Maria (Bach & Gounod – 2:52)
  12. Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven – 4:43)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: July 22, 2017
Total running time: 27:55

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