51 Shades of Geek

The Voyager Golden Record (remastered)

The Voyager Golden RecordThis isn’t a typical music review, because it can’t be. There’s no single artist whose style can be latched onto and studied; it’s a various artists greatest hits from the breadth and depth of humanity. Perhaps it’s best treated as a historical document than a collection of music.

In 1977, with mere weeks to go before the launch of Voyager 2 (the first Voyager spacecraft to leave Earth), Carl Sagan, Jon Lomberg, Ann Druyan, Frank Drake, Linda Salzman, and Timothy Ferris won last-minute approval to assemble a kind of “time capsule” to attach to each Voyager. Copyright clearances had to be obtained, greetings had to be recorded, the whole thing had to be edited, mastered and pressed onto gold-plated copper records, to be encased in aluminum covers attached to the spacecraft…all in a matter of weeks. Photographs are also encoded onto the records, and those too had to be selected, annotated, and cleared for copyright. It was really something of a shotgun wedding as far as putting a record together goes – and at numerous stages of its development, there were high-ranking NASA officials who made it clear that, as far as they were concerned, Sagan’s greatest hits record could stay on Earth with him. The Golden Record was a bear to put together, and it was a constant struggle to keep it on the flight manifest.

The rapid ramp-up from idea to execution, as well as the state of the art in 1977, means that there’s some unavoidable tape hiss from the original recording media. Ozma Records has done a marvelous job of cleaning everything up as far as sound quality, but sometimes you can’t overcome the limitations of the original medium. The track list is exactly as it was on the LP attached to the Voyager spacecraft (which, as a result of being mastered at a lower speed than 33 1/3, could hold more information).

If you spring for the physical package of either vinyl records or CDs, a book is included with the complete selection of photos included on the original records, as well as essays and memoirs from those involved with the Golden Record who are still with us. I backed the initial Kickstarter for the project, but only up to the digital download level due to budgetary concerns on my end; I’m seriously considering circling back around and buying the Golden Record compilation a second time just for the book.

If there’s a feeling one gets from listening to this message-in-a-bottle thrown through the outer solar system and right through the heliosphere, it’s one of feeling humbled. The wide variety of life and experiences on Earth is mind boggling, and some of the sequencing is canny – the launch of a Saturn V rocket followed by the cries of a human baby. We’re still in our infancy, pushing our way into the universe by brute force, and still trying to figure out how we can survive a journey to another planet within our solar system. The Voyagers are going further – one of the Golden Records has already left the solar system, never to return – bearing a snapshot of our hopes and dreams circa the summer of 1977.

And in the troubled summer of 2017, maybe we need to revisit those hopes and dreams too.

This title is not being given a rating due to its unique nature.

Order this CD

  1. Greetings from the Secretary General of the United Nations – Kurt Waldheim (0:43)
  2. Greetings in 55 languages (3:46)
  3. United Nations greetings / Whalesong (4:04)
  4. The Sounds of Earth (12:18)
    • Music of the Spheres by Laurie Spiegel
    • Volcanoes
    • Earthquake
    • Thunder
    • Mud Pots
    • Wind
    • Rain
    • Surf
    • Crickets
    • Frogs
    • Birds
    • Hyena
    • Elephant
    • Chimpanzee
    • Wild Dog
    • Footsteps
    • Heartbeat
    • Laughter
    • Fire
    • Speech
    • The First Tools
    • Tame Dog
    • Herding Sheep
    • Blacksmith
    • Sawing
    • Tractor
    • Riveter
    • Morse Code
    • Ships
    • Horse and Cart
    • Train
    • Tractor
    • Bus
    • Auto
    • F-111 Flyby
    • Saturn 5 Lift-off
    • Kiss
    • Mother and Child
    • Life Signs
    • Pulsar

  5. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047: I. Allegro – Munich Bach Orchestra/Karl Richter (4:44)
  6. Ketawang: Puspåwårnå (Kinds of Flowers) – Pura Paku Alaman Palace Orchestra/K.R.T. Wasitodipuro (4:47)
  7. Cengunmé – Mahi musicians of Benin (2:11)
  8. Alima Song – Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest (1:01)
  9. Barnumbirr (Morning Star) and Moikoi Song – Tom Djawa, Mudpo, and Waliparu (1:29)
  10. El Cascabel (Lorenzo Barcelata) – Antonio Maciel and Los Aguilillas with Mariachi México de Pepe Villa/Rafael Carrión (3:20)
  11. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry (2:41)
  12. Mariuamang? – Pranis Pandang and Kumbui of the Nyaura Clan (1:25)
  13. Sokaku-Reibo (Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest) – Goro Yamaguchi (5:04)
  14. Bach: Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: III. Gavotte en Rondeau – Arthur Grumiaux (2:58)
  15. Mozart: The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), K. 620, Act II: Hell’s Vengeance Boils in My Heart – Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Wolfgang Sawallisch (3:00)
  16. Chakrulo – Georgian State Merited Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance/Anzor Kavsadze (2:21)
  17. Roncadoras and Drums – Musicians from Ancash (0:55)
  18. Melancholy Blues – Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven (3:06)
  19. Mu?am – Kamil Jalilov (2:35)
  20. Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), Part II—The Sacrifice: VI. Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One) – Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky (4:38)
  21. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C Major, BWV 870 – Glenn Gould (4:51)
  22. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67: I. Allegro Con Brio – Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer (4:38)
  23. Izlel e Delyu Haydutin – Valya Balkanska (5:04)
  24. Navajo Night Chant, Yeibichai Dance (Ambrose Roan Horse, Chester Roan, and Tom Roan (1:01)
  25. Anthony Holborne: The Fairie Round – Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow (1:19)
  26. Naranaratana Kookokoo (The Cry of the Megapode Bird) – Maniasinimae and Taumaetarau Chieftain Tribe of Oloha and Palasu’u Village Community (1:15)
  27. Wedding Song – Young girl of Huancavelica (0:42)
  28. Liu Shui (Flowing Streams) – Guan Pinghu (7:36)
  29. Bhairavi: Jaat Kahan Ho – Kesarbai Kerkar (3:34)
  30. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground – Blind Willie Johnson (3:32)
  31. Beethoven:String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Opus 130: V. Cavatina – Budapest String Quartet (6:41)

Released by: Ozma Records
Release date: 2017
Total running time: 1:51:04

WALL-E – music by Thomas Newman

WALL-EThis is the soundtrack of a movie whose composer was either in love with the assignment, or lived in fear of it. Most movie scores are tasked with the job of underlining the emotional intent of any given scene, but with most movies this job is occasionally obscured by dialogue or sound effects. WALL-E had sound effects aplenty, but instead of dialogue, virtually the first half hour of the movie is expressed in terms of “robotic” processed grunts and exclamations. There are visual cues to the emotions being expressed, but the bulk of the legwork falls to the music: a unique opportunity for any composer to shine, but also a daunting task for modern-day composers accustomed to dialing the music back to make room for dialogue.

Thomas Newman, who had already worked with Pixar on Finding Nemo, took on the task and delivered what may be one of the best film scores of the 2000s, hands down. There’s a lot of music on the CD – and there’s a heap of music in the movie as well. Occasionally there’s a little burst of sound effects and “robot dialogue” from the movie in between songs, but to its credit, it never overlaps the music – and to be honest, I’d buy a whole CD of Ben Burtt’s brilliant soundscapes because the former Star Wars sound guru topped himself here.

The three songs heard prominently in the movie are heard here – the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and the two numbers from Hello Dolly! – as well as Peter Gabriel‘s hammer-the-theme-of-the-movie-home end credits song “Down To Earth” (which, to be honest, I liked better than either of the albums he’s foisted on us since being involved with this movie).

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up with Newman’s intricate, well-thought-out score, though. In some ways, he does the same thing Jerry Goldsmith did with Logan’s Run, but in reverse order: the “exterior” scenes on Earth and treated orchestrally, but once WALL-E boards the Axiom and enters the woeful artificial environment now inhabited by the descendants of the human race, our glimpses into life aboard that ship and the scenes involving the Axiom robots are given an electronic (but still melodic and playful) sound. As the action centers more and more on the fate of the sample of a live plant from Earth, the music returns to the orchestral vein, because the Earth is what’s at stake.

Tracks such as “The Spaceship”, “Worry Wait”, “EVE Retrieve”, “Hyperjump” and “WALL-E’s Pod Adventure” are orchestral spectaculars befitting just about any big-screen science fiction epic you could name. The music here has the entire weight of carrying the implications to the audience, and does the job brilliantly. Newman treats these scenes as Serious Events without worrying about scaring the kids off with spooky or scary music – so much so that even my own son has been asking me what the music “means,” enabling me to kick open some interesting conversations about soundtrack music and music in general with him. At the age of four. Thank you, Mr. Newman, for not “talking down” to the audience.

That’s not to say that the soundtrack doesn’t have a sense of humor. “First Date,” accompanying a montage of WALL-E sheltering the inert EVE from the elements (scenes that director Andrew Stanton reportedly wanted set to the vapid tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”), gets the kind of music you’d expect from a first date movie montage, except that most movies don’t have the girlfriend sitting comatose and unresponsive throughout the proceedings. The music is deceptively cheerful and becomes its own punch line.

Aboard the Axiom, there are some standout electronic and electronic/orchestral tracks – “Foreign Contaminant”, “Repair Ward” and “72 Degrees And Sunny” among them – which convey the robotic precision of the Axiom’s automated crew a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion and a lot of intricate guitar progressions from George Doering (a veteran session guitarist who’s also played on numerous Star Trek soundtracks). The dreamy “Define Dancing” was rescored late in production so Newman could hint at “Down To Earth,” which he co-wrote with Peter Gabriel.

Late in the movie, as the humans have to shake off the shackles of their own mechanical support systems in order to regain some semblance of a human existence and return to Earth, tracks like “March Of The Gels”, “Tilt”, “Desperate EVE” and “Mutiny!” – the latter of which sounds in places like it could’ve been part of The Matrix, of all things – combine the two approaches.

4 out of 4It’s a brilliantly cohesive collection of music for a movie that actually has meaning, and I applaud Disney for putting an entire album of orchestral score out there for the young set. The soundtrack album from WALL-E may just have the effect on my son’s generation that the soundtrack from Star Wars had on me. And that’s not a bad thing at all. This is one of the best genre soundtracks of the past decade from one of the best genre movies of the past decade.

  1. Put On Your Sunday Clothes performed by Michael Crawford (1:17)
  2. Order this CD2815 A.D. (3:28)
  3. WALL-E (2:00)
  4. The Spaceship (1:42)
  5. EVE (1:02)
  6. Thrust (0:41)
  7. Bubble Wrap (0:50)
  8. La Vie En Rose performed by Louis Armstrong (3:24)
  9. Eye Surgery (0:40)
  10. Worry Wait (1:19)
  11. First Date (1:19)
  12. EVE Retrieve (2:19)
  13. The Axiom (2:24)
  14. BNL (0:20)
  15. Foreign Contaminant (2:06)
  16. Repair Ward (2:20)
  17. 72 Degrees and Sunny (3:12)
  18. Typing Bot (0:47)
  19. Septuacentennial (0:15)
  20. Gopher (0:40)
  21. WALL-E’s Pod Adventure (1:13)
  22. Define Dancing (2:23)
  23. No Splashing No Diving (0:47)
  24. All That Love’s About (0:37)
  25. M-O (0:47)
  26. Directive A-113 (2:05)
  27. Mutiny! (1:28)
  28. Fixing WALL-E (2:08)
  29. Rogue Robots (2:03)
  30. March of the Gels (0:54)
  31. Tilt (2:00)
  32. The Holo-Detector (1:07)
  33. Hyperjump (1:04)
  34. Desperate EVE (0:57)
  35. Static (1:43)
  36. It Only Takes a Moment performed by Michael Crawford (1:07)
  37. Down to Earth performed by Peter Gabriel (5:58)
  38. Horizon 12.2 (1:27)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 61:54