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

Judge Dredd (newly expanded edition) – music by Alan Silvestri

Judge DreddIn my mind, Judge Dredd was one of a glut of ’90s genre films that abandoned optimism for the future in favor of a future as a dystopia filled with antiheroes (though to be sure, both subgenres had always existed). As a not-entirely-faithful Hollywoodization of the star character of Alan Moore’s 2000 A.D. comics from the U.K., Judge Dredd wasn’t exactly a perfect adaptation of its source material, but it was enjoyable in its own right.

The original release of the soundtrack alongside the movie’s 1995 release date was mostly devoted to songs used in the movie, with a scant few selections from Alan Silvestri’s score. Intrada’s remastered 2-CD set presents the full score to the movie, including unused alternate cuts and, after a couple of decades of fans begging for it, Jerry Goldsmith’s trailer music, which may be better remembered than Alan Silvestri’s score. In short, this expansion of the original release should make everyone happy.

While the movie uneasily mixed the comics’ gloomy violence with the bright-and-flashy millieu of still-trying-to-ape-Star-Wars Hollywood sci-fi of the late ’80s, Alan Silvestri’s music 4 out of 4is bright, brassy, and not apologizing one bit for being in your face. It’s heroic music for a character who can, in his original source material, barely be considered a hero. Hewing slightly closer to the tone of the source material is Jerry Goldsmith’s custom-scored trailer music, the original recording of which has never seen the light of day until this release.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Main Title Revised (4:59)
  2. Block War Revised (5:01)
  3. I’ve Heard It All Revised (2:24)
  4. Aspen Revised (3:28)
  5. It Ends (0:42)
  6. The Law (1:46)
  7. Pawn Shop (1:45)
  8. Parking Penalty (0:55)
  9. Dredd’s Arrest (1:33)
  10. Say It Ain’t So (2:24)
  11. Judgement Day (4:26)
  12. Hidden Photo (0:40)
  13. Shuttle Crash (1:38)
  14. Access Denied (1:06)
  15. Angel Family Values (6:02)
  16. We Created You (3:48)
  17. New Order Montage (1:14)
  18. Hershey’s Close Call (0:17)
  19. Janus! (0:57)
  20. Council Chaos Revised (7:31)
  21. Hershey’s Apartment (1:15)
  22. Twice You Owe Me (1:18)
  23. Griffin Gets It (1:00)
  24. Send In the Clones (1:18)
  25. New World Revised (7:50)
  26. Judge Dredd: Trailer – music by Jerry Goldsmith (0:51)
    Disc Two

  1. Main Title (4:56)
  2. Block War (3:06)
  3. I’ve Heard It All (0:37)
  4. Dredd and Fargo (0:35)
  5. You’re a Legend (0:25)
  6. Aspen (2:29)
  7. Aspen – Alternate (2:29)
  8. I Judged Him (0:58)
  9. Hershey Objects (0:24)
  10. Bon Appetite (1:45)
  11. Brief Reunion (1:33)
  12. Council Chaos (5:47)
  13. Choose (5:18)
  14. Choose Alternate (4:44)
  15. Choose Revised (5:17)
  16. New World (2:27)
  17. New World Alternate (2:29)
  18. Judgement Day – Original 1995 Soundtrack Assembly (5:54)
  19. Block War – Original 1995 Soundtrack Assembly (4:42)
  20. Angel Family – Original 1995 Soundtrack Assembly (5:40)
  21. New World – Original 1995 Soundtrack Assembly (9:16)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: May 12, 2015
Disc one total running time: 68:09
Disc two total running time: 70:51

Back To The Future – music by Alan Silvestri

Back To The Future (2009 re-release)Back To The Future is back! It’s not that there’s never been a Back To The Future soundtrack before; on the contrary, it was quite a hit, leaning heavily on the popular songs by Huey Lewis and the News. It featured a couple of snippets of the orchestral score by Alan Silvestri, and the rest has remained unreleased until now. That’s why this is a big deal. Fans of ’80s movie music speak in glowing terms of such things as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, Excalibur, the Conan movies, songtracks such as The Breakfast Club (and just about anything else John Hughes produced or directed), and the increasingly synth-dominated scoring of movies like Blade Runner. I’m not sure that Alan Silvestri’s music for this movie and its sequels have ever really gotten their due. This 2-CD set should rewrite that particular bit of history nicely – Doc Brown would be proud.

Soundtrack specialty label Intrada felt it was a big deal too – big enough to merit a 2-CD deluxe release, and big enough to take the very unusual step of not limiting Back To The Future‘s print run to 3,000 copies, the typical allocation for a soundtrack release, especially a “vintage” release like this. Very much like this year’s expanded re-release of the soundtrack from Star Trek II, Intrada was aware of – and is banking on – wider interest in this soundtrack than an older score would normally see.

Already having more than a passing familiarity with Back To The Future and its sequels, I was amazed with how many surprises awaited me in this package. I learned quite a few things from the booklet that I didn’t know before, and the music itself was a real revelation in places. How the theme from Back To The Future has managed to escape being enshrined among the movie themes that the general public considers “hummable” is beyond me – it’s very memorable, and Silvestri proves – as he does in much of his other work – that it’s infinitely adaptable: fast, slow, major keys, minor keys, it’s carefully crafted to fit any of those needs.

But there’s much more here that’s memorable: Silvestri’s playful three-note mysterioso “stingers” practically put you right back in the movie, and with action setpieces like “Skateboard Chase” and especially the amazing feat of wall-to-wall action music that is “Clocktower”, this isn’t music that’ll put you to sleep. I was reminded of how dramatic some of the scoring is for a movie that most viewers remember as a comedy. Silvestri does a lot of the legwork in selling some of the movie’s most serious, high-jeopardy moments.

The entire score from Back To The Future fits on the first disc, so what’s on the second disc? It’s an early version of key moments of the movie score. The early version is still recorded with a full orchestra; it’s not an early enough draft to be rough synth sketches or anything less evolved. But there are changes in timing (sometimes sections of the music were replaced to accomodate editing changes) and changes in emphasis: the “’55 Town Square” cue is presented in two early versions, one with trumpets and French horns at full blast, and one with muted brass, and the difference in feel is remarkable. Some of the rescored sections are actually significantly different; Silvestri “lightened” the music in some places for the final version, with the original cues sometimes being a little too dramatic and dark. For the most part, it’s the same music, with changes in the emotional tone – a treat for listeners who are students in how films are scored.

4 out of 4The pop music used in Back To The Future has been more than adequately released, so this presentation of the orchestral score is long overdue – and with the early drafts and extensive liner notes, Intrada has made the wait worthwhile. We can’t really go back in time to give this soundtrack its just recognition down through the years, but this is more than good enough.

Order this CDDisc One

  1. Logo (0:23)
  2. DeLorean Reveal (0:49)
  3. Einstein Disintegrated (1:25)
  4. ’85 Twin Pines Mall (4:45)
  5. Peabody Barn / Marty Ditches DeLorean (3:13)
  6. ’55 Town Square (1:20)
  7. Lorraine’s Bedroom (0:49)
  8. Retrieve DeLorean (1:17)
  9. 1.21 Jigowatts (1.39)
  10. The Picture (1:08)
  11. Picture Fades (0:20)
  12. Skateboard Chase (1:41)
  13. Marty’s Letter (1:21)
  14. George To The Rescue, Part 1 (0:53)
  15. Marvin Be-Bop (source cue) (2:27)
  16. George To The Rescue, Part 2 (2:37)
  17. Tension / The Kiss (1:35)
  18. Goodnight Marty (source cue) (1:33)
  19. It’s Been Educational / Clocktower (10:33)
  20. Helicopter (0:21)
  21. ’85 Lone Pine Mall (3:49)
  22. 4 x 4 (0:43)
  23. Doc Returns (1:16)
  24. Back to the Future (End Credits) (3:18)

Disc Two

  1. DeLorean Reveal (0:43)
  2. Einstein Disintegrated (1:26)
  3. Peabody Barn (2:08)
  4. Marty Ditches DeLorean (1:58)
  5. ’55 Town Square #1 (Trumpet Open) (1:37)
  6. ’55 Town Square #2 (Trumpet Mute) (1:38)
  7. Retrieve DeLorean (1:17)
  8. 1.21 Jigowatts (1:38)
  9. The Picture (1:09)
  10. Skateboard Chase (1:42)
  11. George To The Rescue (4:16)
  12. Tension / The Kiss (1:43)
  13. Clocktower (10:57)
  14. ’85 Lone Pine Mall (3:49)
  15. Doc Returns (1:22)
  16. Ling Ting Ring (unused source cue) (2:01)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 49:15
Disc two total running time: 39:24

CHiPS: Season Two – music by Alan Silvestri

CHiPS: Season Two - music by Alan SilvestriYes. You read that right. We’re talking CHiPS. Ponch and Jon. Erik Estrada and…that other guy. On motorcycles. Set to the sounds of unashamedly disco-fied music. And this is that music.

For those needing a justification, remember that Michael “Worf” Dorn guest starred in numerous episodes as a recurring fellow cop back at the precinct, and that this is a CD of music from the second season, mostly composed by Alan Silvestri, later of The Abyss, Contact and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? fame. Needless to say, CHiPS represents a very early entry in Silvestri’s career, but as far as disco goes, this CD – an unlikely entry from the guys at Film Score Monthly – certainly makes it sound like he swaggered into that career with confidence.

Things open up with the main theme, which Silvestri didn’t compose, but did rearrange for his first year in residence on the series. I’d actually forgotten how brassy and fun the CHiPS theme is, and Silvestri poured on extra layers of synthesizers, drenched with a flanging effect, for his arrangement. If that’s the packaging on the outside of the box, then Silvestri’s library of score cues is exactly what’s advertised on the box: definitely ’70s, with in-your-face brass and strings backed up by a cheerful rhythm section of flanged guitar, drums, bass and synths.

Silvestri has always been on the bleeding edge of bringing synthesizers into film scoring, earning a lot of attention for being one of the first relatively big-name mainstream composers to make heavy use of the Synclavier in the late 1980s. He’s not shy about putting synthesizers front-and-center here, either. There’s also a track of music composed by Bruce Broughton, another big name these days, created for a Halloween-specific episode, which uses synths to good effect, as well as some familiar string section horror effects – all with that ’70s beat underneath it. You almost expect it to break into “Other Galactic Funk” at any second.

3 out of 4Is it cheesy? Yes, it is – but when you’ve got a big CHiPS publicity photo on the front cover of the CD’s booklet, you really shouldn’t be prepared for anything but. If you grew up with CHiPS on television, this’ll probably bring back memories of sitting in front of your grandmother’s tiny color TV, wolfing down Cheetos and Dr. Pepper. (Actually, no, that’s my childhood – get your own.)

Order this CD

  1. CHiPS Main Title composed by John Parker / arranged by Alan Silvestri (1:19)
  2. Peaks And Valleys (3:55)
  3. Family Crisis (5:44)
  4. Disaster Squad (6:22)
  5. Neighborhood Watch (3:36)
  6. High Flyer (6:18)
  7. Trick Or Treat composed by Bruce Broughton (5:59)
  8. The Grudge (5:15)
  9. The Sheik (5:48)
  10. Return Of The Turks (5:40)
  11. Supercycle (2:48)
  12. High Explosive (4:49)
  13. Down Time (2:51)
  14. Repo Man (2:15)
  15. Mait Team (4:07)
  16. Pressure Point (2:46)
  17. Rally ‘Round The Bank (2:28)
  18. Matchmakers (2:42)
  19. Ponch’s Disco (4:00)
  20. CHiPS End Credits composed by John Parker / arranged by Alan Silvestri (0:29)

Released by: Film Score Monthly
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 79:11

Contact – music by Alan Silvestri

Contact soundtrackOne of the most atypically-scored science fiction films of the 1990s, Contact is also yet another chapter in the long-running collaboration between director Robert Zemeckis and composer Alan Silvestri (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Forrest Gump). While not as epic an ongoing partnership as, say, Spielberg and John Williams, the Zemeckis/Silvestri pairing has resulting in some fine marriages between imagery and music, and Contact may well be the best of those collaborations.

Before I get much further with my rantings about how atypical a science fiction movie score this is, it’s also worth pointing out that Contact is hardly a typical science fiction movie. It does have imagination-sparking ideas and some fine action and special effects set pieces, but it’s also a character study at its heart. So given those moments of intense action, and the even greater scenes of awe and wonder, Contact gets a surprisingly subdued musical treatment; a good chunk of the almost eight-minute-long end credits is solo piano, as are some of the other cues selected for the soundtrack album.

I did like Silvestri’s equally low-key moments of menace and revelation, however: “The Primer”, which plays during one of the movie’s most pivotal moments, is one of those cues that just opens up like a flower at a certain point, introducing a slithering, arpeggiating synth motif that shows up a few other times in conjunction with the aliens’ message and technology. That sound weaves its way in and out of what is otherwise a much more acoustic, orchestral score, and while it makes for a noticeable contrast, it’s subtle enough to never quite become jarring.

When the opportunity arrives to do big action scenes, Silvestri doesn’t hold back – “Ellie’s Bogey”, “Good To Go” and “Test Run Bomber” are great examples of those moments, even if they’re not necessarily the heart of the movie or its music.

Overall, it’s probably not quite what you’d expect, but the same could be said of the movie itself. (And for all 4 out of 4those who have written me over the years to tell me that Contact the movie bears almost no resemblence to “Contact” the novel, I get the message, thanks.) If not one of the best – that’s really subjective – it’s certainly one of the most interesting SF film scores of the late 1990s, and I recommend it at least for that.

Order this CD

  1. An Awful Waste Of Space (1:43)
  2. Ellie’s Bogey (3:25)
  3. The Primer (6:21)
  4. Really Confused (1:18)
  5. Test Run Bomber (4:27)
  6. Heart Attack (1:31)
  7. Media Event (1:25)
  8. Button Me Up (1:19)
  9. Good To Go (5:11)
  10. No Words (1:42)
  11. Small Moves (5:35)
  12. I Believe Her (2:32)
  13. Contact – End Credits (7:59)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 44:31

The Abyss – music by Alan Silvestri

The Abyss soundtrackI’ve been enjoying the hell out of the new double DVD release of James Cameron’s 1989 underwater opus, and that prompted me to dig out my CD of the soundtrack. With other major films such as Roger Rabbit and Contact to his credit, Alan Silvestri is hardly an obscure composer. But The Abyss may be one of his most under-appreciated scores. The opening notes, which accompany the otherwise credit-less opening title of the film, proclaim the main choral figure of the entire score, an inspirational wall of voices that sounds appealingly like a hymn that should already belong to the classic musical canon, but doesn’t. This brief statement quickly gives way to a sustained burst of military snare drums, shattering the moment of wonder as the story begins. The next few tracks take place much further into the movie, as Michael Biehn’s character leads Ed Harris and his civilian divers on a recovery mission into a wrecked nuclear sub. The music takes on foreboding and mysterious atmospheres in turn as the threat of Beihn’s paranoid Navy SEAL character grows, and as the presence of the undersea beings becomes more evident with time. “The Fight” is much more percussive and electronic, and the relentless “Sub Battle” track leads into two of Silvestri’s best works ever: “Lindsey Drowns” and “Resurrection”. Those who have seen the movie will no doubt remember exactly what scenes this music covers.

If there are but two drawbacks to the CD release of The Abyss soundtrack, they are that Varese Sarabande is notorious for cutting corners and producing very short-duration releases that take up only a little over half the storage capacity of a compact disc (this one runs a mere 47:02, thirty minutes less than a CD’s maximum storage), and that the CD was pressed three years before the Special Edition, which contained many extended and missing scenes that Silvestri rescored. I’m hoping that, as with other scores such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Superman, The Abyss may see a more 4 out of 4complete re-release of its score, perhaps prompted by the DVD release. But realistically, I’m not expecting this, since The Abyss has enjoyed cult success, but not a critical mass of public appeal. It’s a pity the DVD doesn’t contain an isolated score track – the CD will simply have to do. But for what’s there, it’s definitely worth a listen.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Main Title (1:31)
  2. Search The Montana (1:56)
  3. The Crane (2:00)
  4. The Manta Ship (6:23)
  5. The Pseudopod (5:37)
  6. The Fight (1:46)
  7. Sub Battle (3:18)
  8. Lindsey Drowns (4:43)
  9. Resurrection (1:59)
  10. Bud’s Big Dive (6:09)
  11. Bud On The Ledge (3:14)
  12. Back On The Air (1:40)
  13. Finale (6:46)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 47:02