Black Mirror: Hang The DJ – music by Alex Somers & Sigur Ros

Arguably the 21st century’s most legitimate and enduring successor to the O’Henry-inspired twisted morality tales of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror began on Channel 4 in the U.K. before migrating to Netflix and gaining an international audience beyond C4’s reach. Each of its stories are couched in the technology we have, or the technology we’re all but destined to invent given current trends of both technology and society. While many an episode of Black Mirror ends with a dark twist, Hang The DJ has a much happier one, an oddball among the show’s typical cynicism.

Hang The DJ‘s score is an exercise in barely-tonal minimalism. The episode concerns itself with an omnipresent matchmaking system, Coach, which pushes couples together for relationships of various lengths as it tries to determine their ideal match. Failure to abide by Coach’s matches risk banishment beyond an unspecified wall around the city/county/country in which the story happens, but when the alternative is being permanently paired with someone who isn’t one’s ideal match, and one is forbidden from doubling back to a former match, is that really such a threat?

Rather than hewing closely to the contours of the two protagonists’ budding-but-uncertain romance, the score almost seems to be providing accompaniment for Coach and its influence on the lives of everyone seen on screen: it’s atonal at times, almost a background drone that only foregrounds itself in melodic terms when the two main characters’ attraction increases. Even at the end, when they seriously contemplate climbing over the wall themselves rather than waiting for banishment, there’s little in the way of urgency or traditional tonality. It’s not an action scene, and the momentousness of it isn’t signalled by the score.

4 out of 4Things become more melodic and “human” once they’ve escaped – the constant drone of Coach’s presence is gone, and along with it the rigid matchmaking system that dominates everyone’s lives, and suddenly it’s Sigur Ros doing the music.

Hang The DJ is a fairly brief score, one whose impact and meaning may be a little hard to grasp when heard in isolation. But despite its brief duration, much like the story it accompanies, the score makes an impact.

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  1. All Mapped Out (1:26)
  2. Sorry (2:58)
  3. Hours, Days, Months (1:31)
  4. Into Place (3:31)
  5. Match (1:31 – Sigur Ros)
  6. Out There (1:43)
  7. Sleeps (0:48)
  8. See You (1:53)
  9. Treasured (1:34)
  10. Ruined It (3:19)
  11. One Year (2:09)
  12. Doubts (1:58)
  13. Three, Two, One (1:12)
  14. We Agreed (0:33)
  15. One, Two, Three, Four (0:39)
  16. There’ll Be A Reason (1:28)
  17. End (4L58 – Sigur Ros)
  18. Over And Over Again (1:07)

Released by: Lakeshore Records
Release date: December 30, 2017
Total running time: 34:18

Roving Mars – music by Philip Glass

Roving MarsHaving each lasted well over three years beyond their original planned three-month design life, the two Mars Exploration Rovers are the closest NASA has come, in the first decade of the 21st century, to matching the designed-for-the-short-term-but-built-to-last legacy of the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. That these two Rovers overcame mishaps and triumphed in the post-Columbia-disaster lull that still stands as the American space program’s lowest ebb is what makes them worthy of their own movie. (Now, we’ll set aside for the moment that the movie was bankrolled by Lockheed / Martin, the aerospace giant that actually constructed the two Rovers for NASA.)

When it came to the music for this low-key documentary about a couple of little robots who could, an inspired choice was made. I don’t really count myself a die-hard Philip Glass fan, but I’m not sure who could’ve done a better job of scoring a Mars Rover movie. With the film’s emphasis on engineering and scientific brilliance, Glass turns in a perfect series of tunes whose musical intricacy matches and melds with the mechanical intricacy of the subject matter. There’s more than a little bit of sentimentality here and there, but Glass wisely avoids pouring on the musical equivalent of anthropomorphizing. His music depicts the Mars Rovers as plucky, determined, patient little machines, and gives them more character (without giving them too much character) than any press release NASA’s ever issued on the subject.

4 out of 4The highlight is easily “Spirit Vs. Opportunity”, but singling out one piece of music above the others isn’t to imply that there are any that I really didn’t like. Bringing things to a close is a selection of Icelandic rock act Sigur Ros’s patented brew of alternative rock and world music. Roving Mars is a good example of well-judged music for a film that requires a certain sense of wonder.

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  1. Opening Titles (3:21)
  2. Robot Geologist (2:06)
  3. Origami Spacekraft (1:20)
  4. Spirit And Opportunity (0:49)
  5. Eyes, Hands, Wheels (3:31)
  6. So Much Of Our Hopes (0:36)
  7. 7 Months After Launch (2:52)
  8. Unfolding (2:17)
  9. Sediments (3:59)
  10. Landing (3:41)
  11. Opportunity Vs. Spirit (5:23)
  12. Floating In Space (2:00)
  13. Life Itself (2:02)
  14. Glósóli performed by Sigur Ros (6:16)

Released by: Lakeshore
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 40:13