Christopher Franke – New Music For Films, Volume 2

New Music For Films, Volume 2In 1994, after Babylon 5’s first season premiered in syndication and I was firmly hooked on all aspects of it, I went looking to see if anything had previously been released by Christopher Franke, and promptly found the then-fairly-recent New Music For Films Volume 1. A pretty good chunk of that compilation of cuts from various Franke film scores sounded authentically Babylon 5-ish, so I was more than happy with it. When actual Babylon 5 music finally appeared, I snatched it up eagerly, though I’ll admit to having balked numerous times when the “episodic CDs” appeared with frequently-reused music and an almost trading-card approach to the soundtrack market.

I passed on New Music For Films Volume 2 when it came out – a year after the last of the Babylon 5 episodic CDs – because I was, frankly, Franke’d out. Having now gotten it and listened to it, I wonder if the problem wasn’t that I was Babylon 5’ed out – or maybe Franke was too, resulting in a fatigued composer and a fatigued audience who both needed a break. This second volume of New Music shows that not Franke was stretching his wings further than the B5 signature style already, with much of this music being contemporary with the show’s final season. In other words, there’s stuff on here that doesn’t sound like Babylon 5.

One area where Franke will never be able to escape the similarity is with action music. His signature low pulsing string arrangements give him away like snare-drum Americana gives John Williams away. His action cues tend to sound the same from project to project, and given that there are few such pieces on this compilation, it’s hard not to wonder if he knows that too.

Where this second volume of New Music excels is in this places where it sounds like nothing Franke has done before. There are a couple of tracks with choral sections, but they sound completely different from the operatic choral elements Franke used frequently on Babylon 5. As his label, Sonic Images, had just opened sublabels for world music and electronica at the time, here Franke seems to be trying those styles on for size to see if they fit the project he’s working on. The result is, in places, something that sounds much more up-to-date than a 2000 release. Middle Eastern influences, processed percussion, and more piano than I’m used to from Franke all make appearances.

Rating: 3 out of 4If you watch The Lost Tales and find yourself yearning for more of the Christopher Franke sound than can be found on the somewhat brief Lost Tales CD, this is certainly an album that can deliver, and maybe it’ll introduce you to a whole new Christopher Franke sound as well.

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  1. Opening (3:17)
  2. Morning Ride (2:23)
  3. Attack On The Village (2:40)
  4. Damaged Goods (1:49)
  5. Jane’s Arrival (5:10)
  6. The Dam Breaks (1:05)
  7. Broken Dreams (2:55)
  8. Escape (2:05)
  9. A New Friendship (1:40)
  10. The Chase (2:13)
  11. Deadly Flight (6:31)
  12. Near Death (1:38)
  13. Dance Lesson (1:17)
  14. The Race (4:05)
  15. Fight For Opar (5:10)
  16. Finale (3:32)

Released by: Sonic Images
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 47:31

Namco Video Game Music

Namco Video Game MusicEven though we now live in an age where ringtones outstrip them with actual sampled sounds, I’ve always thought the bite-sized video game music cues of yesteryear were really catchy in their own hypnotic way. Granted, they weren’t exactly great music in cases, and some of them weren’t even particularly complex – but with repeat exposure, they had a way of lodging themsselves in my brain all the same.

Namco Video Game Music is a CD that gives you a chance to hear those sounds away from the games that inspired them. In come cases, that’s brilliant, while in others, it comes across as little more than a sound effects disc for serious retrogaming enthusiasts. It’s hard to take it to task too much, however, for this is a CD pressing of one of the very earliest releases of video game music in the world, having originally appeared on vinyl in Japan around 1986.

There’s a decent balance struck here between popular games whose sounds everybody will recognize, and obscure, less obvious titles. Phozon and Libble Rabble never even made it to North American arcades, but they each boast some outstanding pieces of intricate music. On the other hand, as familiar and popular as Pac-Man is, it really only has a couple of pieces of music; much of its track is taken up by the sound of the game being played. You could hook up any machine running Namco Museum to your stereo and get much the same effect.

Other games have great music that are a little bit buried behind sound effects. When the Pole Position track finally got to the end of its “sound effects” section and started playing the game’s numerous post-game ditties in a row, I found that I remembered each one of them well (and while I’m sure some would say “well, that’s because you’ve been playing it nonstop for 24 years!”, I don’t really go reaching for a Pole Position fix that often – the music is, in fact, that catchy).

The first and final tracks, however, are the real bonus fruit at the end of the round. The track devoted to Xevious kicks off with a wonderfully authentic arcade soundscape, with the sound of that game front and center in the mix. Gradually, though, it segues into something else: the repetitive Xevious background tune becomes the backdrop for an Art Of Noise-esque collage of samples from the game, carefully arranged to provide their own beat. Given the original release date of this album, and the fact that Art Of Noise was only just catching on at the time in its original form, this means Namco Video Game Music was way ahead of its time.

The final track kicks off with what sounds like a Galaga audio chip test, cycling through all of the possible sounds and musical interludes that the game contains, until it settles upon the almost hypnotic post-game tune that accompanies your final score and hit ratio statistics. Again, new instrumentationRating: 3 out of 4 is gradually added to the mix, with not-quite-lounge-style organs expanding on and developing that tune until it’s actually upbeat and relaxing. Given the way that the sparse music from these two games is developed into music that stands on its own, it’s really a shame that the rest of the album wasn’t along the same lines.

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  1. Xevious (6:15)
  2. Bosconian (0:15)
  3. Pac-Man (2:57)
  4. Phozon (2:12)
  5. Mappy (3:36)
  6. Libble Rabble (3:35)
  7. Pole Position (2:43)
  8. New Rally-X (3:11)
  9. Dig Dug (1:30)
  10. Galaga (4:23)

Released by: Scitron Digital
Release date: 2003 (originally released in 1986)
Total running time: 30:37

Super Xevious – video game remixes by Haruomi Hosono

Super XeviousVideo game music legend Haruomi Hosono turns his remixing talents to some of Namco’s classics with this EP-length CD single. Curiously tagged Super Xevious, this remix CD essentially revolves around the music that game shared with its predecessor, Xevious. Hosono stretches the game’s few signature tunes out to a whopping eight minute remix; as you might expect, there’s quite a bit of musical repetition, but the music evolves by the layers of rhythm and other elements Hosono piles on top. A somewhat shorter remix of Hosono’s remix is included as the last track.

The track of music from Gaplus is essentially a layered reworking of the third-level music from that game; nothing is really changed from the original game music, but again, elements are added over the top 3 out of 4of it. A very brief track of music from Tower Of Druaga is also included, though even at its short length, this track doesn’t exactly invite repeat listening.

Perhaps a bit pricey for its meager running time, Super Xevious does include some interesting remix material that is, for the most part, a fun listen for fans of the 80s arcade classics.

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  1. Super Xevious (8:51)
  2. Gaplus (5:20)
  3. The Tower of Druaga (1:47)
  4. Super Xevious – Gust Notch Mix (3:46)

Released by: Scitron Digital
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 19:47

Namco Classic Collection Volume 1

Namco Classic Collection Volume 1Think of it as the Star Trek sound effects CD for computer game fanatics; Namco Classics Collection Vol. 1 (no relation to the Namco Classics remix CD by Techno Maniax reviewed here earlier) is the soundtrack – such as it is – to a multi-game coin-op which includes three of the company’s vintage video game chestnuts, Galaga, Mappy and Xevious, each in both their original and updated “Arrangement” versions. The Arrangement tracks tend to rehash the music of the original games with a more modern sound (though not too modern), and are actually neat; and having heard it many a time while playing one of the 4 out of 4bonus games on Xevious 3-D/G+, I can vouch for the unmatched low-key cool of Xevious Arrangement‘s level 1 background music.

Nice stuff, and flawlessly captured on disc, but really only for the faithful and devoted fans of “the oldies.”

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  1. Classics Starting Over (0:06)
  2. Classics Opening (0:35)

    from Galaga

  3. Kurejitto Oto (0:05)
  4. Geimu Staato Myuujikku (0:09)
  5. Ekusutendo Oto (0:05)
  6. Charenjingu Steiji Staato Myuujikku (0:05)
  7. Charenjingu Steiji Paafekuto Myuujikku (0:09)
  8. Charenjingu Steiji Nonpaafekuto Myuujikku (0:10)
  9. Maishippu Tsurasarare Oto (0:15)
  10. Maishippu Torikaeshi Oto (0:05)
  11. Kyaputibu Gosha Oto (0:15)
  12. Haiscoa Neimu Ire Myuujikku (0:27)
  13. Neimu Ire Myuujikku (0:21)
  14. Insert Coin! (0:06)
  15. Game Start (0:10)
  16. Stage Indication (0:04)
  17. BGM: Stage 1 (1:04)
  18. BGM: Stage 2 (1:08)
  19. BGM: Stage 3 (1:02)
  20. BGM: Stage 4 (1:10)
  21. BGM: Stage 5 (1:15)
  22. BGM: Stage 6 (1:05)
  23. BGM: Challenging Stage (0:47)
  24. BGM: Challenging Stage Clear! (0:09)
  25. BGM: Final Stage (1:15)
  26. BGM: Indicating Your Score (0:10)
  27. BGM: Hi Score Name Entry (0:20)
  28. BGM: Name Entry (0:22)
  29. BGM: Continue (0:25)
  30. BGM: Game Over (0:20)
  31. BGM: Ending (1:18)

    from Xevious

  32. Kurejitto Oto (0:05)
  33. Staato Myuujikku (0:07)
  34. Geimu BGM (0:24)
  35. Ekustendo Oto (0:05)
  36. Ikurai Neimu Ire Myuujikku (0:19)
  37. Ikurai Neimu Ire Myuujikku (0:28)
  38. BGM 1 (4:35)
  39. BGM 2 (4:25)
  40. BGM 3 (3:50)
  41. BGM 4 (1:34)
  42. Staato Mae Manga BGM (0:07)
  43. Kurejitto Oto (0:04)
  44. Mein BGM (1:11)
  45. Ekusutendo Myuujikku (0:05)
  46. Mein BGM (Hurry Up!) (0:54)
  47. Raundo Kuria Myuujikku (0:06)
  48. Boonasu Raundo Staato Myuujikku (0:06)
  49. Boonasu Raundo BGM (0:40)
  50. Boonasu Raundo Oobaa Myuujikku (0:13)
  51. Misu Oto (0:05)
  52. Neimu Ire Myuujikku (0:36)
  53. Neimu Ire Shuuryou Myuujikku (0:14)
  54. Geimu Oobaa Myuujikku (0:12)
  55. Insert Coin! (0:04)
  56. Game Start! (0:08)
  57. BGM: Area 1 (1:42)
  58. Round Clear! – Area 1 (0:05)
  59. BGM: Area 2 (2:06)
  60. Round Clear! – Area 2 (0:06)
  61. BGM: Area 3 (1:54)
  62. Round Clear! – Area 3 (0:06)
  63. BGM: Area 4 (2:01)
  64. Round Clear! – Area 4 (0:05)
  65. BGM: Area 5 (2:27)
  66. Round Clear! – Area 5 (0:05)
  67. BGM: Area 6 (2:11)
  68. Round Clear! – Area 6 (0:06)
  69. Opening Fanfare! – Bonus Round (0:04)
  70. BGM: Bonus Round (0:43)
  71. Result – Bonus Round (0:14)
  72. Winner’s Fanfare – Bonus Round (0:04)
  73. BGM: Boss Round (1:24)
  74. BGM Hurry Up! Boss Round (0:33)
  75. Round Clear! Boss Round (0:06)
  76. BGM: Oops! I Missed! (0:06)
  77. BGM: Game Over (0:11)
  78. BGM: Continue (0:35)
  79. BGM: Name Entry (1:36)
  80. BGM: Name Entry Over (0:14)
  81. BGM: Ending (1:25)

Released by: Wonder Spirits
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 56:18

Namco Classic Collection

Namco Classic CollectionHere it is, possibly the weirdest tie-in album ever. You’ve seen music devoted to Muppets, Teletubbies, Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls, and any number of other bizarre mascots. But what about a modern-day musical tribute to Pac-Man and his fellow retro-video game stars? That’s the idea behind this limited edition Japanese CD licensed by the jolly joystick giants at Namco, one of the few game manufacturers to have weathered the various storms of the game industry, so naturally the album focuses on the characters of Namco’s arcade game properties some two decades ago.

Naturally, your ability to get anything out of this album will rely very heavily upon your ability to handle house music, as well as how familiar you are with the sounds of various and sundry video games which are now, technically, old enough to drink.

The “Pac-Man Remix” is whimsical, funny, and loaded with audio samples from the game, but when one takes into account that everyone from Aphex Twin to D.J. Maui has already mined that territory adequately, I’m not sure this mix stands out. The track devoted to obscure sequel/upgrade kit New Rally-X is a little more low-key, with game samples not making their first appearance until nearly two minutes into the proceedings. This trend is carried further in the first track devoted to Galaga, my favorite game ever to emerge from Namco’s stable, in which no samples or even musical themes from the game appear, resulting in some rather repetitive dance music with no audible ties to its inspiration. The guitar-driven Dig Dug tune bears somewhat more resemblance to the omnipresent tune that accompanies the game of the same name. The second Mappy mix brings actual samples of the game’s sounds back to the fore, along with appropriately sped-up “mouse” voices counting off “1, 2, 3, 4!” at various intervals throughout the song – though the mind-bendingly staccato drum machine beat tries even my patience. The mix devoted to Xevious leans heavily on samples, and is actually one of the best tracks of the whole collection. The honors ultimately go to the “Pac-Man Remix” and the eight-minute “Galaga: Tiny Voice Production Remix” – which even quotes the musical greeting from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind along with various game sounds (!). Those two tracks are really the epitome of what I was expecting – no, scratch that, hoping for – with this CD.

So, to wrap it up, will anyone aside from me enjoy this CD? Well, it’s entirely possible that I may be the only one. Even thought I walked into this one with an open mind, such tracks as the “Galaga: Feel Like Makin’ Jazz” mix and the “Mappy: Latin Makes You Happy” Remix (both, incidentally, remixed by Akakage) suffer from a total disconnect from their titular inspiration, and made me want to hit the “skip track” button on my CD player. On the other hand, I was greatly relieved that Ryosuke Imai’s Galaga remix, the best thing on here, was also the longest track on offer. But in some ways…the music from the various Namco Museum games for the Playstation is superior, sticking much more closely to the source material musically, if not necessarily using samples. (Why Namco didn’t throw this in as a bonus, or perhaps as a proof-of-purchase premium, with its aforementioned retro game collections is a mystery to me. That’s their target audience!) The packaging is eye-catching, and includes a sticker of the colorful cover art (dozens of CGI Pac-Men wearing headphones and eating musical notes).

3 out of 4This is one of those way-way-out-there entries in my vast library which, like Sharkbait’s Blowtorch Facelift CD, will probably mean something different to everyone who hears it. I liked most of it, but it’s not going to be everyday listening – the mood would definitely have to hit me to sit down and pour some of these tracks into my ears.

Order this CD

  1. Mappy: Latin Makes You Happy Remix – remixed by Akakage (6:23)
  2. Pac-Man Remix – remixed by Yoshihiro Sawasaki (4:27)
  3. New Rally-X: Checkered Flag Mix – remixed by Yoshiaki Onishi (6:00)
  4. Galaga: Feel Like Makin’ Jazz Mix – remixed by Akakage (6:24)
  5. Dig Dug: Pro Action Replay Remix – remixed by Takeo Sasada (3:05)
  6. Mappy Remix – remixed by Yoshihiro Sawasaki (5:09)
  7. Xevious: Maximum Power of Triple Z80 Remix – remixed by Seiya Nakano (4:38)
  8. Galaga: Tiny Voice Production Remix – remixed by Ryosuke Imai (8:01)

Released by: Pony Canyon, Inc.
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 44:07

Nixon – music by John Williams

Nixon soundtrackIt’s appropriate enough that the controversial Oliver Stone would call upon John Williams to underscore the director’s newest retelling of a deceased American President’s life story. Where Williams’ treatment of JFK seemed experimental, electronic and appropriately unsettling, his take on the life of Richard Nixon (as told by Stone) seems much more serene and traditional in comparison. There’s also some outstanding solo trumpet work. Interestingly, two tracks actually do bear a strong resemblance to Williams’ JFK soundtrack, one being a recap of the decade leading up to Nixon’s presidency (which includes 1963), the other piece accompanying the Watergate 4 out of 4break-in itself. And somewhat more pleasingly, the Nixon soundtrack contains only one non-original piece – a brief statement of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – and the rest of the album consists of the movie’s score (as opposed to JFK‘s 1960s hit parade). Highly recommended, and the best Williams movie score in years.

Order this CD

  1. The 1960s: The Turbulent Years (5:04)
  2. Main Title…the White House Gate (4:17)
  3. Growing Up In Whittier (2:42)
  4. The Ellsberg Break-In and Watergate (2:43)
  5. Love Field: Dallas, November 1963 (4:51)
  6. Losing a Brother (3:18)
  7. The Battle Hymn of the Republic (1:03)
  8. Making a Comeback (2:20)
  9. Track 2 and the Bay of Pigs (4:47)
  10. The Miami Convention: 1968 (3:19)
  11. The Meeting with Mao (3:09)
  12. “I Am That Sacrifice” (4:49)
  13. The Farewell Scene (5:01)

Released by: Hollywood Records
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 68:13

Christopher Franke – New Music for Films, Volume One

New Music for Films, Volume OneBrought to you by the same Tangerine Dream alumnus responsible for the music on Babylon 5 every week. Pretty much the same style as his other work here with a few interesting variations…but very few interesting variations. I’d only advise this album for those really, really into Franke’s trademark sound. In fact, Franke later recycled music from track 17, “Lurking Shadow” (ironic, eh?), for the Babylon 5 episode Endgame.

  1. 2 out of 4 Main Title (2:28)
  2. Big Country (2:55)
  3. Dramatic Ride (2:07)
  4. The Run (0:34)
  5. Getting Ready To Attack (2:21)
  6. Memories of Maria (1:40)
  7. The Attack (2:25)
  8. Will He Return? (1:34)
  9. Order this CD Quiet Ocean (1:10)
  10. The Battle Begins (0:30)
  11. The Victory (2:10)
  12. Hidden Tears (1:22)
  13. The Fight (1:16)
  14. Romance Become Pain (4:00)
  15. The Battle Continues (2:20)
  16. Mysterious Discovery (1:23)
  17. Lurking Shadow (6:05)
  18. The Shock (7:36)
  19. Dream Sequence (0:58)
  20. Doomer (4:13)
  21. Threatening (3:17)
  22. Quiet Ocean – reprise (1:10)
  23. Creepy (3:26)
  24. Steven Stole It (1:55)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1993
Total running time: 59:48