Having 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 material 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.
- Genesis (7:12)
- Eden (4:30)
- I.C. (Intergalactic Communications) (3:41)
- Luna (8:20)
- Phobos and Deimos (3:28)
- Ganymede (4:25)
- Europa (4:19)
- Io (4:26)
- Callisto (4:29)
- Rhea (1:51)
- Titan (3:46)
- Iapetus (5:50)
Released by: East Side Digital
Release date: 1984 (re-released on CD in 2003)
Total running time: 47:31