Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Volume 1 – music by Alan Silvestri

When 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

Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The Future

Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The FutureRemembered these days primarily as a controversy magnet representing an ugly peak in the debate over children’s TV and toy tie-ins, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was also an attempt on the part of its creators to craft a mature sci-fi saga for kids. Sadly, this goal was often elbowed out of the way by Mattel demanding lengthier sequences to trigger features of their quasi-interactive Captain Power toys, and despite actually achieving a lot of what they set out to do, the writers were justifiably disgruntled at the thought of serving two masters. (The story editor, J. Michael Straczynski, ditched Captain Power to take a similar position on the writing staff of an relaunch of the decidedly more adult Twilight Zone.). Captain Power’s meditations on duty, honor, freedom, rights, and war are seldom remembered as often as the series’ status as a half-hour toy commercial.

Also seldom remembered is that this show had a great soundtrack. Assembled by Gary Guttman from his master tapes, the Captain Power soundtrack CD is a testament to the series’ surprising grab for orchestral grandeur befitting its mature storytelling style. Once past the predictably bombastic series theme, the Captain Power soundtrack is ful of startlingly effective dramatic music, wearing its John Williams/Star Wars influence on its sleeve unashamedly. The contrast to the usual kids’ show fare is huge: some shows from this era seemed to repeat a small handful of synth-and-drum-machine loops and call it a day. That Guttman and the producers of Captain Power were willing to go further is impressive, and so is this soundtrack as a result.

The “Love Theme” is more sweeping and romantic than you’d expect from a half-hour live-action kids’ series about a dystopian, cyborg-ruled future, straddling the line between John Williams and James Horner at his best, while action pieces like “Big Battle”, “Soaron”, “Pursued” and “Air Battle”, while obviously performed by a smaller ensemble than the average Star Wars soundtrack, still pack a powerful punch thanks to skillful orchestration. Some of the quieter cues are the bigget revelations here (my personal favorite is the short, sweet, and mysterious “Eerie Mood 3”).

A great many of the album’s tracks are under a minute, which brings us to perhaps the most amazing thing about the Captain Power soundtrack: Guttman composed and recorded all of the music without any footage in hand, essentially creating a library of shorter cues that could be strung together by the series’ music editor as needed. The number of tracks exceeding two minutes in length can be counted on one hand. But it’s a testament to the composer’s work (and, admittedly, the music editor’s work) that the material was composed with the actual footage sight unseen, and yet seems to fit it perfectly.

3 out of 4And all this for an underbudgeted half-hour show about a war against cyborg oppression (and, yes, about a line of toys too). This soundtrack is an impeccable reminder of an era when orchestral scoring for TV, esven kids’ TV, wasn’t the rarity that it is now.

  1. Captain Power Opening (1:32)
  2. Get Ready (1:45)
  3. Love Theme (1:53)
  4. Order this CDBig Battle (2:12)
  5. Sad Heroic Vamp (0:32)
  6. Pursued (1:37)
  7. Jumpship 1 (0:19)
  8. Air Battle (1:41)
  9. Sad Heroic (1:45)
  10. Bursting Through (1:17)
  11. Abandoned Streets (1:14)
  12. Stinger (0:22)
  13. Quiet Buildup (2:25)
  14. Soaron (0:30)
  15. Pursued Vamp (0:41)
  16. Eerie Mood 2 (0:25)
  17. Action Filler 1 (0:14)
  18. Captain Power Beware (0:21)
  19. Land Battle (1:23)
  20. Volcania (0:17)
  21. Sneaking Around (1:24)
  22. Eden 2 (0:47)
  23. Captain Power Vamp (0:32)
  24. Beware Of Dread (0:23)
  25. Power On – Alternate (0:19)
  26. Light Moment (0:31)
  27. Eerie Mood 3 (0:26)
  28. Captain Power To The Rescue (0:53)
  29. Action Filler 2 (0:34)
  30. Quiet Buildup Alternate (0:35)
  31. Action Filler 3 (0:13)
  32. Triumphant Battle (2:02)
  33. End Of Act (0:16)
  34. Captain Power End Title (1:04)
  35. Castle Volcania 2 (0:44)
  36. Seconds Ticking (1:11)
  37. Serious – Somber (2:16)
  38. Flame Street (0:58)
  39. Dark Mist (1:53)
  40. Captain Power Opening: 2012 Version (1:26)

Released by: Goddard Film Group
Release date: September 25, 2012
Total running time: 40:52

Cloak & Dagger – music by Brian May

Cloak & Dagger - music by Brian MayThe early ’80s saw a spate of video-game-oriented films, trying to cash in on the public’s seemingly unstoppable infatuation with that new entertainment medium. Cloak & Dagger, starring Henry Thomas (still a fixture in the public eye thanks to his then-recent appearance in E.T.) and Dabney Coleman (the king of early ’80s video game / computer flicks, having already appeared in WarGames, was easily the most kid-oriented of the first wave of video game movies.

For some reason, my memory had cheated a little bit in recalling this movie’s music. I hadn’t actually seen Cloak & Dagger since just a few years after its release, and for some reason I had it in my head that the soundtrack was somewhat similar to the music from WarGames, which was constantly on-edge and, thanks to some synth work, hip to the audience’s expectations from a movie featuring computers as a key plot point. In fact, Cloak & Dagger – getting its first soundtrack release thanks to Intrada – is nothing like that. For a supposedly tech-oriented movie, it’s startling just how old-school the soundtrack is.

Scored by the late Australian composer Brian May (not Queen’s lead guitarist, who’s still alive and dividing his time between astronomy and being the world’s best axe man), Cloak & Dagger‘s old-fashioned, strictly-orchestral scoring is almost out of place: it skews a lot older than the rest of the movie. Even the way the music was arranged, and the way the recording sessions were miked and mixed, makes the music sound older than the 1980s – in a strange way, it sounds like a recording from the ’60s or early ’70s, and not like the music from a kiddie techno-thriller at all. It’s nice music, but just seems strangely unhip next to the images it accompanies.

The action sequences fare better than the more contemplative moments. Coleman’s swaggering hero Jack Flack gets a nice signature theme, which gets turned around into a nice reveal toward the end of the movie when Thomas’ character realizes that it’s not military superhero/action figure Jack Flack, but his father (also played by Coleman), who has come to his rescue.

Cloak & Dagger could probably have done with a punchier, “younger” soundtrack, and it’s a great example of how misremembered a piece of movie history can be. As always, Intrada packs the accompanying CD booklet with a wealth of information about the movie (including something I’d missed: the plot of Cloak & Dagger is so close to Hitchcock’s Rear Window that the writer of the short story upon which Rear Window was based actually gets a story credit for Cloak & 2 out of 4Dagger). Aside from a mostly-forgotten arcade game by Atari (whose attempt at a movie product placement for an upcoming Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger game – represented here by footage of the arcade game – turned out to be a product placement for vaporware), this may be the only other merchandise Cloak & Dagger has ever inspired. It’s a decent soundtrack… for the wrong movie.

Order this CD

  1. Jack Flack Arrives (0:59)
  2. The Tower Of Life (3:33)
  3. Help, Police!… Murder (4:13)
  4. Return From The Mission (5:32)
  5. I Guess We’re On Our Own (1:38)
  6. Davey Gets Away (1:20)
  7. Run, Davey, Run (3:34)
  8. Nightmare Drive (5:05)
  9. Parking Lot Chase (3:56)
  10. We Gotta Save Kim! (1:06)
  11. Back To The River (2:01)
  12. Run Like The Wind (1:55)
  13. The Cross Fire Gambit (4:42)
  14. I Don’t Wanna Play (1:10)
  15. The End Of Childhood (2:21)
  16. Airport Prelude (1:28)
  17. Davey A Hostage! (1:22)
  18. Captain Jack Flack (6:49)
  19. Cloak & Dagger (End Credits) (3:49)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 57:13

Caprica – music by Bear McCreary

CapricaI’m reviewing this slightly out of order, as it was released a few months before the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 soundtrack (which runs a damn good chance of being the best film music release, by anyone, in any medium, anywhere this year), and indeed I listened to Caprica before the Galactica soundtrack arrived. I held back on a review to see if a closer listen to both at the same time would reveal more connecting tissue, musically speaking, than there appears to be at first.

On reflection, though, I’m not sure why I’d expect there to be; Capirca isn’t Galactica. It’s a landlubber show as opposed to its spacefaring forebear, serving as a prequel to Galactica, with its events taking place over half a century before the destruction of the twelve colonies. Musically, it’s more traditional than Galactica; as the show takes place in a society that’s modeled somewhat on post-WWII America (except that there are maglev trains and interplanetary travel, and racial and political tensions to go with them), the music is in a minimalist orchestral vein. The exotic instrumentation of Galactica is replaced with a more traditional string ensemble here.

That’s not to say that there aren’t hints of Galactica here and there; a few tracks in particular jump out as being the very connecting tissue I was looking for. Galactica’s wall-of-percussion sound returns for three key scenes: “Terrorism On The Lev”, “Zoe Awakens” and “Cybernetic Life Form Node”. All three of these cues accompany pivotal moments that are just the beginning of putting Caprica on the road to hell, and two of them involve the very first Cylon.

There’s a subtler reference back to Galactica with the instrumentation of “Monotheism At The Athena Academy”, hinting at the “ancient” Mediterranean sound of Caprica’s predecessor, and an overt reference in “The Adama Name”, which is a warm, string-based rendition of “Wander My Friends”, a song from Galactica’s first season which became the theme for Bill Adama (not coincidentally, this music accompanies virtually the only major scene in Caprica’s pilot movie for Adama, who’s still a child at this point).

Much – if not most – of the rest of the score revolves around variations on “The Graystone Family”, the first thing you hear on the CD. And indeed that family’s story is absolutely vital to Caprica, but the funereal tone of the soundtrack here makes it all seem to blur together at times. I’m reluctant to pass judgement on the Caprica soundtrack because it is just the pilot – think about how much bearing the soundtrack from the 2003 Battlestar Galactica miniseries has on, say, the music from the series finale. (And at the same time, if that same downer “feel” pervades the show and not just the music, I might pass on Caprica altogether.)

3 out of 4The booklet accompanying the CD gives the impression that Galactica house composer Bear McCreary wasn’t necessarily considered a shoo-in for the job on Caprica. But at the same time, there’s no reason for him to not have automatically gotten the job; in the end, Battlestar Galactica’s music was one of the best things about the show, and as the story got murkier and more depressing, the music was honestly one of the few things that kept me around at times. If the tone of the pilot movie is any indication, Caprica’s going to need him too.

Order this CD

  1. The Graystone Family (3:02)
  2. Terrorism On The Lev (3:15)
  3. Grieving (3:46)
  4. Lacey and Zoe-A (4:08)
  5. Cybernetic Life Form Node (3:16)
  6. Zoe’s Avatar (3:04)
  7. Daniel Captures The Code (2:29)
  8. A Tauron Sacrifice (2:46)
  9. Amanda Graystone (3:05)
  10. Joseph and Daniel (4:18)
  11. Tamara’s Heartbeat (1:42)
  12. Delivering The Message (2:56)
  13. Monotheism At The Athena Academy (3:34)
  14. Children Of Caprica (2:30)
  15. Irrecoverable Error (2:47)
  16. The Adama Name (1:39)
  17. Zoe Awakens (2:22)
  18. Caprica End Credits (3:38)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 54:17

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

Cybertech – music by Adrian Pack & Michael Fillis

CybertechCybertech is the first compilation of Adrian Pack and Michael Fillis’ fan-made music inspired by Doctor Who, and I almost dubbed it “unofficial,” and yet it’s impressive enough that John Nathan-Turner chose a track from this CD (from its earlier release as a single) to open and close the oft-maligned charity reunion special Dimensions In Time in 1993, so it can’t be that unofficial.

Cybertech is an homage, more than anything else, to the sounds and music created for Doctor Who by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The feel of music-almost-becoming-atonal-sound-effects is perfectly captured, and while no specific compositions are imitated, Fillis and Pack manage to evoke the unmistakable mood of that era spectacularly. There are tracks on Cybertech that could be slotted between actual early/mid 1980s Doctor Who music indistinguishably.

Some of the later tracks on the CD almost seem to be reaching back further in time, paying tribute to the Radiophonic Workshop’s more abstract sounds in the 1960s. “Dead Planet?” and “We, The Machines” in particular would stand nicely alongside some of the more atmospheric tracks from BBC Radiophonic Music. Some later tracks are an homage to the Vangelis/Jarre-inspired “wall of sound” that drenched 4 out of 4early 80s episodes such as The Leisure Hive.

Cybertech was an interestingly experimental tip of the hat to the history of electronic music in Doctor Who, and it was successful enough to actually make it on the air via Dimensions In Time. Fillis and Pack would return for another round with a slightly different focus in Cybertech II.

Order this CD

  1. Cybertech (Voc Mix) (4:37)
  2. Pull To Open (0:49)
  3. Doctor Who Theme (2:13)
  4. Technopolis (5:44)
  5. Eocene Park (4:11)
  6. Dreamsnake (6:41)
  7. These E Devils… (4:24)
  8. Dead Planet? (6:08)
  9. We, The Machines (4:36)
    A Dark Infinity suite
  10. I. The Doppler Experiment (4:37)
  11. II. Time Travel (5:10)
  12. III. Regeneration (4:48)
  13. Cybertech (Dum Mix) (6:34)
  14. Time Loop (10:18)

Released by: Jump Cut Records
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 70:50

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