Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 – music by Wendy Carlos

Film composer and synth innovator Wendy Carlos’ second disc of restored original score recordings focuses on her attempts to meld synthesizers and orchestral music in the 1970s and early 80s.

The second in a series of releases of “recovered” movie scores from Wendy/Walter Carlos’ library, this disc focuses on collaborations (and sometimes, collisions) between synthesizer and orchestra. Carlos provides her own liner notes both on the music itself and on the painstaking process of recovering it from the damaged master tapes upon which it had originally been recorded, which involved literally baking each reel of tape (quite literally in an oven) at a precise temperature for a precise amount of time; it wasn’t a process where you could put something back in the oven, either – there was one shot at getitng it right and preserving the original material. That same procedure allowed the composer to recover her original master tapes in time for the 20th anniversary release of the Tron score, and so it’s somehow appropriate that more music from Tron – both previously released and previously unreleased – can be heard here, along with music from equally iconic films.

Feel free to call me predictable, but of course what drew me to this volume (not having bought the first CD) was, naturally, the promise of new music from Tron. Fair warning: if that’s the only reason you’re thinking about getting this disc, maybe you should think twice. There isn’t a huge amount of new material presented here for the Tron fanatic, and a goodly chunk of it has been heard before: “Lightcycle Battle” was made available on the 20th anniversary edition DVD, and “Trinitron” – a.k.a. that part of the end credits that was covered up by Journey’s “Only Solutions” – has always been available as part of the end credit suite on the soundtrack releases, going all the way back to the 1982 LP release. (In the liner notes, Carlos makes it sound like this is the first time anyone’s ever heard it. Nope. It’s been my favorite piece of Tron music for 28 years running now!) The various other short tracks, which didn’t even make it into the movie, are interesting to hear…but they’re so short. It’s nice to have track-by-track liner notes for them though.

The material from The Shining, I barely remember, having seen that movie very few times (as opposed to having seen Tron about a zillion times); what I can tell you is that it sounds as sharp as the remastered Tron material, apparently baked to perfection. There’s also a healthy sampling of material from Carlos’ soundtrack to a movie I’ve never heard of, called Woundings.

Included as a couple of bonus tracks are two test tracks Carlos assembled for Dolby Laboratories, and they’re vintage Carlos material – 3 out of 4making use of very Bach-like counterpoint in the synth realm, and throwing in just one or two small musical in-jokes (i.e. “That’s all folks!”).

The second volume of Rediscovering Lost Scores is a nice cross-section of Carlos’ movie material, but it’s really not an entry-level album – this one is definitely for listeners who are either already fans of Carlos’ work, or of the movies whose music is included.

Order this CD

    The Shining

  1. Shining Title Music (3:54)
  2. Paraphrase For ‘Cello (3:26)
  3. Where’s Jack? (5:24)
  4. The Overlook (3:57)
  5. Psychic Scream (1:29)
  6. Day Of Wrath (1:07)
  7. Paraphrase For Brass (1:37)
  8. Title Music ‘Dies’ (3:46)
  9. Clockworks ‘Dies’ (2:23)
  10. Tron

  11. Creation Of Tron Vol. I (0:36)
  12. Creation Of Tron Vol. II (0:36)
  13. Lightcycle Games (2:06)
  14. Anthem (Studio Version) (1:24)
  15. Little Interludes (0:56)
  16. Trinitron (2:19)
  17. Split Second

  18. Visit To A Morgue (1:24)
  19. Return To The Morgue (2:50)
  20. Woundings

  21. Woundings Title Music (3:12)
  22. Angela’s Walk (1:05)
  23. Jimmy (1:38)
  24. Louise (0:56)
  25. Doug Does Angela (1:37)
  26. Scattering Ashes (1:33)
  27. Angela’s Aftermath (3:47)
  28. Jimmy Kills Louise (2:33)
  29. In A Cemetery (0:57)
  30. Fly Away And End (1:40)
  31. Two Dolby Demos

  32. Jiffy Test: Bee Dee Bei Mir (1:25)
  33. Listen: Tannhauser (2:18)

Released by: East Side Digital
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 61:55

Wendy Carlos – Digital Moonscapes

Wendy Carlos - Digital MoonscapesHaving given her new studio its shakedown cruise during the recording
sessions for the score of Disney’s inscrutably futuristic 1982 movie Tron, composer Wendy Carlos turned to a new challenge – recording a new series of compositions, directly from digital synthesizers with no samples, microphones or any other acoustic recording techniques, fine-tuned until it souded not completely unlike a new piece for orchestra. Jokingly attributing the sounds to the “LSI Philharmonic” (for the large-scale intregrated chips in her new digital synths and recording gear), Carlos created what was almost a modern-day companion piece to Holst’s The Planets, inspired by the then-recent pictures sent back from Jupiter and Saturn by NASA’s Voyager space probes.

Given that my interest in Carlos’ work started with Tron, I’m almost embarrassed to make the comparison, but it must be made – Digital Moonscapes, recorded immediately after the score from that movie, does indeed sound like it could be music from a lost Tron sequel. (And careful listening makes this similarity more than just a coincidence: the piece devoted to Jupiter’s restless volcanic moon Io is actually a rejected cue for Tron‘s light cycle sequence; listening to “Io” side by side with “Light Cycles” from the second volume of Carlos’ Rediscovering Lost Scores reveals the two pieces to be one and the same.) As much as I hate to fall back on a banal comparison, if you liked the music from Tron, Digital Moonscapes is right up your alley.

Trying to get away from that comparison for a moment, Digital Moonscapes is interesting on its own, in some places a little more conventionally classical than that movie soundtrack I keep comparing it to. The other comparison I’ve made, to Holst, deals only with the subject matter. Nowhere in her own liner notes does Wendy Carlos try to draw that comparison, and we’re talking about two completely different kinds of music. As much effort as was put into making Digital Moonscapes sound fully orchestral, there’s no mistaking it for anything but synthesizer music, and ’80s synthesizer music at that. This CD release postdates the original LP by nearly 20 years, though I have an enormous amount of respect for the decision to not tweak the original recordings with more modern technology, because it has a unique character all its own (though I’m a little selfishly disappointed that the thought didn’t occur to add new Rating: 3 out of 4material to accompany Voyager 2’s discoveries at Uranus and Neptune). In tracks such as “Titan”, “Europa”, and portions of the three-part “Cosmological Impressions” suite, Carlos comes dangerously close to achieving that orchestral sound.

It’ll never shake its distinctly ’80s sound, but in some ways, that’s the charm of Digital Moonscapes, and that’s enough to get a recommendation from me.

    Order this CD in the StoreCosmological Impressions

  1. Genesis (7:12)
  2. Eden (4:30)
  3. I.C. (Intergalactic Communications) (3:41)

    Moonscapes

  4. Luna (8:20)
  5. Phobos and Deimos (3:28)
  6. Ganymede (4:25)
  7. Europa (4:19)
  8. Io (4:26)
  9. Callisto (4:29)
  10. Rhea (1:51)
  11. Titan (3:46)
  12. Iapetus (5:50)

Released by: East Side Digital
Release date: 1984 (re-released on CD in 2003)
Total running time: 47:31

Tron (2002 remaster) – music by Wendy Carlos

Tron (2002 remaster)I’ve waxed rhapsodic about this outstanding, pioneering score which combines synthesizers, orchestra and chorus; long a favorite, Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack from Tron has never been officially available on CD. Bootlegs have been circulating for years, as have MP3s, both of them usually sourced from the vinyl LP. In the intervening years, Carlos restored and remastered the original tapes on her own time, patiently waiting to release it on her own label, or perhaps on Disney’s label. Fans eagerly awaited a release date for years, but considering that Tron, like The Black Hole, seemed to be a film that Disney was all but ashamed of, it didn’t seem like a good idea to hold one’s breath.

Fast forward with us now to late 2001. Disney has an eagerly awaited new collector’s edition 2-DVD set of Tron on store shelves, featuring some new material but also a lot of repurposed material from the highly sought-after laserdisc version. Even the toys have been re-released, and most improbable of all, director Steven Lisberger has been approached to write and perhaps direct a sequel to the original Tron. In short Tron is suddenly a hot property once again to Disney, which is looking to exploit that property in any way possible.

Someone at Disney must’ve asked, “What about the soundtrack?” And, as with the DVD extras, the studio was keen on taking the fastest and cheapest way out of that question – they called composer Wendy Carlos and asked if she just happened to have CD-ready masters of the music on hand that could be used to press a re-release.

As it just so happens, Carlos spent the late 1990s restoring the original analog tapes of the scoring sessions for Tron, and it was no easy task. As has been chronicled on her website, Carlos found that much of her late ’70s/early ’80s work was all but lost due to a serious quality problem with her chosen brand of reel-to-reel audiotape. The tape had all but melted, and had to be “baked” in carefully controlled conditions for there to be any chance of retrieving the material ever again. In the case of Tron, it worked, and as early as 1999 Carlos had a shiny new digital master of the tape ready to go – but Disney had a stranglehold on the rights, preventing her from rereleasing it on her own label. In other words, Disney’s last minute marketing decision finally brought Tron‘s soundtrack to CD.

And I, for one, thank them. This new CD is everything the fans had hoped – and there are even previously unreleased tracks, such as the wonderful “The Break-In” (for strings, cello and celeste), which added so much of the playful-cum-menacing atmosphere to the scenes where Flynn, Alan and Lora break into the ENCOM labs. Also included is an early version of “TronAction”, loaded with enough wild dissonance to scare off some listeners (this version was also used in some pre-release showreels sent to theater owners and distributors), and a harpsichord sketch of the movie’s main theme, played with “no gimmicks and no overdubs” by Carlos herself.

Surprisingly absent from the disc is the unused music from the light cycle chase; the music can be heard as an alternate scene on the DVD, but isn’t included here. It would’ve been nice to add that to the package as well.

4 out of 4Even the two Journey songs – “Only Solutions” and the instrumental “1990s Theme” (ha!) – are intact, and the original LP tracks are featured in the original running order.

It’s so nice to finally have a Tron soundtrack CD that didn’t come out of someone’s CD burner. The music has more than earned a real release, and now – at last – it’s got one.

Order this CD

  1. Creation Of Tron (0:49)
  2. Only Solutions performed by Journey (3:42)
  3. We’ve Got Company (2:19)
  4. Wormhole (2:30)
  5. Ring Game And Escape (2:57)
  6. Water Music and TronAction (2:25)
  7. Tron Scherzo (1:47)
  8. Miracle And Magician (2:41)
  9. Magic Landings (3:44)
  10. Theme From Tron (1:37)
  11. 1980’s Theme performed by Journey (2:08)
  12. Love Theme (2:08)
  13. Tower Music – Let Us Pray (3:48)
  14. The Light Sailer (2:37)
  15. Sea Of Simulation (3:24)
  16. A New Tron And The MCP (5:11)
  17. Anthem (1:40)
  18. Ending Titles (5:17)
  19. TronAction (Original Version) (1:29)
  20. Break In (for Strings, Flutes and Celesta) (5:35)
  21. Anthem For Keyboard Solo (1:09)

Released by: Disney
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 58:59

Tron – music by Wendy Carlos

TronWhat a wild, weird and misunderstood musical score this is! Let’s set the record straight – this was a movie about video games. Not Mortal Kombat or Doom, but games from the era of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. The era where an Ensoniq sound chip capable of polyphony was quite a major coup for a quarter-grabbing arcade machine. The music is supposed to be electronic-sounding! And it’s not as if traditional instrumentation was nowhere to be found – there are numerous helpings of orchestra and, in some of the more inspired moments of the score, some choral textures bring out an element of the story which was buried by special effects and the script. Some of the least-recognized moments of this score are the most mesmerizing when heard away from the vision of Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges cavorting around in fluorescent tights. “Water Music and Tronaction” benefits from a truly haunting arrangement – when I dug out my battered LP about a year ago and listened, I was hooked all over again, and the Tron motif is used most effectively here outside of the main theme. The “Magic Landings” cue is a gem because the best parts of it – cartoonish action music for Jeff Bridges’ clumsy handling of a robotic vehicle – were mixed out of the movie altogether! “Tower Music” is perhaps the most noteworthy track due to its brilliant subtlety and use of choir to underscore the religious nature of the scene. The end credit music is also 4 out of 4worth a listen, particularly the last half – again omitted from the movie’s sound mix in favor of a Journey song – which neatly ties together the various catchy themes and climaxes in a rousing flourish which was previously only heard when you finished playing the Tron arcade game. Very worthwhile listening, and surprising for its experimental nature.

Order this CD

  1. Creation of Tron (0:45)
  2. We’ve Got Company (2:15)
  3. Wormhole (2:25)
  4. Ring Game and Escape (2:53)
  5. Water Music and Tronaction (2:36)
  6. Miracle and Magician (2:36)
  7. Magic Landings (3:40)
  8. Theme from Tron (1:30)
  9. Love Theme (2:05)
  10. Tower Music – Let Us Pray (3:43)
  11. The Light Sailer (2:32)
  12. Sea of Simulation (3:20)
  13. A New Tron and the MCP (5:45)
  14. Anthem (1:36)
  15. Ending Titles (5:10)

Released by: Disney
Release date: 1982 (this score was later re-released in 2002)
Total running time: 42:17