Vangelis piggy bank

vangpigHere’s something of an oddity; a piggy bank designed by Vangelis for charity, sold at auction yesterday for £2,900. Really, the world is crazy enough with Trump in charge across the pond without news stories like this having me convinced I’ve slipped into the Twilight Zone. Vangelis? Piggy bank?  Not words I’d have associated with each other before this past weekend, naturally.

For Vangelis collectors, of course, this one-of-a-kind item must have been irresistible- I suppose I should just thank my lucky stars it wasn’t some one-off edition of a complete Blade Runner soundtrack. Proceeds went to a fine cause – the charity ‘Innocence in Danger’, for the protection of children against sexual abuse.

The selfish fan in me would rather suggest that Vangelis release some of his unreleased albums/material with the proceeds of the sales going entirely to charity, like his original El Greco limited edition back in the early 1990s,  There’s plenty of material in the vaults, I hear, and plenty of fans who would buy it even at the somewhat premium prices some of these ‘superdeluxe’ sets go for, but hey ho, piggy banks it is.

The world is getting sillier by the minute, I fear, and news such as this does nothing to dissuade me otherwise, but its a nice gesture by Vangelis to get involved.

 

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Listening to- Alien 3 OST

a3ost.jpgAfter a few delays at the label due to manufacturing plant issues (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising how few places actually manufacture CDs in this age of downloads and streaming) I finally received my copy of La La Land’s expanded Alien 3 release.  To say its been a great listen over the past few days would be an understatement- its wonderful to finally hear all that underscore that was missing on the original album release (which is also included in this two disc set). The main set-pieces were all on the original album but it left an awful lot out (my personal gripe was the music when Ripley went to the canteen and was among the male prisoners for the first time, its a wonderfully tense and evocative piece). There is a lot of underscore and atmospherics which really give character and weight to the score, and a few surprises unheard in the film. I believe there is about forty minutes of music additional to that found on the original fifty-minute album, with another ten minutes of alternates as a further bonus (the full score assembly totals ninety minutes, which indicates most of the film had music).

Back in 1992 Elliot Goldenthals score was like a breath of fresh air- bold in its orchestration, daring in its use of atmospherics and downright Wagnerian in the brutality of its horror. All these years later it still sounds just as fresh and unique. I suppose Goldenthals absence from blockbuster film scoring has abetted in his unique musical ‘voice’ seeming so unusual and rare, but its clear that there hasn’t been such boldness in mainstream scoring since (the only thing I can recall offhand is perhaps some of Don Davis’ Matrix scores). It reminds me of Vangelis’ Heaven and Hell album in a way; not in content but in the way that the music contrasts moments of serene aching beauty with moments of cacophonous depravity.  Some of it is terribly haunting, emotional and sad and some of it quite terrifying and unsettling- I don’t think I could listen to this on headphones in the dark, frankly the subsequent nightmares aren’t worth risking!

Alien 3 as a film is still a divisive moment in the franchise (I’ve always been a fan myself but I know many felt robbed by it dismissing so much of what they thought was great about Aliens) but I’m sure few could argue that there is anything bad about the music. In this expanded form its clear how much it nods back to Goldsmiths original Alien score in inventiveness and mood and tension. Its a magnificent work and I’m so glad that I can finally, after all these years, put the two-disc Alien 3 set alongside my two-disc Alien release from Intrada on my shelf.  Just goes to show- everything comes to he that waits. Maybe its not too late for a complete Blade Runner from Vangelis after all.

Listening to- Englabörn & Variations by Johann Johannsson

englab.Listening to this is just, frankly,  unbearably sad. Its the first album by the late Johann Johannsson, and now also the last, as it has just been remastered and released by German label Deutsche Grammophon, to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the albums original release, accompanied by a second disc of variations, curated by the composer himself shortly before his death. The music was always melancholy and fragile, as most of Johann’s work was, but listening to it now the album seems to carry a whole new poignancy and depth. It feels like it has become his own requiem, and the second disc just seems to intensify this feeling.

So we seem to have the beginning and end, here, of a tragically short-lived career. It should, of course, be a celebration of his genius and perhaps one day it will be, but at the moment it feels too close to his death for that to be so. The final track of the second disc, a reworking of Odi Et Amo, arranged by Johann for voice (performed by Theatre Of Voices) is just a little too heartbreaking for comfort. It feels as raw as funeral music. What a terrible loss to us his passing is, and how strange to think that his music has now a life all its own, to be listened to for years beyond his death. As a whole this two-disc package is a remarkable piece of work (the first disc really benefits from a thoughtful remastering)-  Englabörn & Variations is genuinely worth anyone checking out to discover what was so special in his music.

I wonder if we will ever hear his abandoned score for Blade Runner 2049? I have no idea how far it had progressed, but as it was replaced fairly late in the post-production of the film I have to think it was almost complete. Perhaps, as director Denis Villeneuve contended, it didn’t really suit the film as it came together (and Johann, to his credit, didn’t seem to make anything like a public contention), but I will always be so very curious to perhaps one day hear it.

Maybe Villeneuve or the films producers will be able to one day set in motion circumstances to release the score once some distance has been gained from the films release date. I cannot imagine, after enough time has passed, that such a release could possibly harm the film or the score it eventually was given by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.

Surely it would be such a shame, if it exists in some near-finished state, to languish in a vault somewhere. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to hear how Johann ‘saw ‘the film in his own eyes compared to what we have become so familiar with. Listening to Englabörn & Variations I am filled with such fantasies of what Johann would have created to be the films soundscape and beating heart.

Listening to- Subliminal Pulse by Bruno Sanfilippo

sublimp.Subliminal Pulse is an ambient album by Argentinian composer Bruno Sanfilippo that dates back to 2011. Its a little alarming to consider that this wonderfully evocative album has been out there for several years prior to me discovering it, but there you go, the world is full of fresh discoveries.

The album consists of nine ambient pieces that are quite varied but which flow well from one to the other, highlights being the fourteen-minute atmospheres of Intrinsic Fluctuations, the vaguely baroque Pulsum Sacrum with its choir echoing from out of unknown depths and then culminating with the masterful Mantram, which is one of the most beautiful, calming and moody ambient pieces I have ever heard. That last track is something of a masterpiece and lifts the whole album to some other, almost mystical level. Already its one of the my favourite pieces of music I have ever heard.

Sanfilippo is a classical composer whose albums tend to be piano-centered instrumentals in an analogue ambient vein, but this album is mostly electronic and benefits from his particular craftsmanship in designing textures of sound and harmony. On first listen Subliminal Pulse seems to offer little new in what is possibly an over-subscribed genre of music but subsequent listenings start to reveal complexities and melodies that reward attention. Certainly while the album as a whole is very good, the last two tracks in particular have fascinated me endlessly on repeat while on my commute to and from work. The two tracks lend curious pathos to the golden sunrises (and oftime grey rains) of my morning commute, and embolden the neon-lit evenings of my late ride home after a twelve to fourteen hour workday on Fridays. The music intensifies the world around me.

Alien 3 Expanded OST!

a3ostThey said it would never happen. No really, they said it wouldn’t. ‘They’ being the people in the biz who would know. Something about the recording session masters being lost. But they said that about the original Conan The Barbarian masters, and that got released a few years ago. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that some Indiana Jones-type at Fox managed to unearth the masters from a dusty vault forgotten somewhere. In anycase, La La Land records have announced the release next week of a two-disc expanded and remastered edition of Elliot Goldenthal’s absolutely superlative horror score for the much-maligned Alien 3. 

This is big news, certainly to me anyway. One of the last great scores that really needed an expanded release, and one of those supposedly least-likely to ever happen, and here it is. Seriously, this is one of the best scores of the past thirty years, it’s that good. Well, my pre-order is in already (limited to 3,500 copies, it might not last as long as you’d think prior to going OOP). Its a really remarkable score, the kind we certainly don’t get anymore and I can’t wait to hear it. Has me of a mind to get my Blu-ray of the restored workprint version out for a watch…

Living in the Age of Airplanes – OST by James Horner

airp1Just arrived at Ghost Hall is the long-awaited (well, by me at least, as I resisted the download for years- call me a very old-fashioned bugger) CD release from Intrada of one of James Horner’s very last scores.

Inevitably, it’s a very bittersweet experience listening to some ‘new’ Horner material years after his passing in an air accident back in 2015- indeed, it’s impossible to ignore that the love of flying that is so infectiously instilled in this score also led to the accident that took his life.  Considering the sadness this carries with it, I have to say this score is so overwhelmingly positive and joyous it’s impossible to resist, and it becomes almost a cathartic celebration of James Horner’s life’s work.  While some of it carries the ‘Hornerisms’ that perhaps dogged his later career (and God knows, I have to say over the last few years I’ve really missed those ‘Hornerisms’ that I used to moan about so much) most of this score sounds incredibly fresh and vibrant and exciting. It really is such a celebration of his music that it is an oddly fitting farewell, almost, to the composer, having fallen in love with his work way back in 1984 and his Brainstorm score. I am pretty certain I may yet have the opportunity to hear some ‘new’ Horner music – I am sure there are scores etc of his that I have not heard- but I doubt any will be such a pleasant and positive experience as this.  Its quite a way to bid farewell, James.

 

 

Black Mirror: Nosedive & San Junipero

I love instances of synchronicity, where image and sound become something special, reaching some other cinematic level through the sublime combination of craft and music.  Here’s two examples; two episodes of Black Mirror that each attain some extra level of greatness because the great scripts and performances are accompanied by utterly perfect soundtracks that enable a special emotional ‘kick’-

nose5Black Mirror: Nosedive

Finally subscribing to Netflix enabled me to at last catch up with Black Mirror and I started with the episode that intrigued me the most- and it was the Max Richter soundtrack that got me there. I’ve been listening to Richter’s music for years and his many original albums and scores have been one of the soundtracks to my life and work commutes, and I’ve been very curious about this particular work. Fortunately the episode itself blew me away.

Nosedive is about a society of social media-obsessed people whose lives revolve about their status, their score that they carry everywhere and which is governed by what everyone else thinks about them, their lives, their achievements, their posts on social media. Peer pressure is everything- you are your score, your rating, and its mostly governed by everyone else. So smile, look happy, be content, and if you mark someone else highly they might do the same for you too. The more people you know, the more likes and ratings and ‘hit’s’ you get, the higher your score, the higher your worth, and the greater your happiness.

nose3It really doesn’t feel that far into the future. Somewhere around the next corner, maybe, and future-fiction in the grandest tradition of The Twilight Zone. Being a Black Mirror story, this is naturally a cautionary tale, a pastel nightmare. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard, utterly wonderful here) lives what is on the surface a fairly idyllic life, but her social standing and life- opportunities are squarely defined by her score of 4.2, a measure openly noted by everyone she comes in contact with. Everybody wears contact lenses that work a little like Google Glass, augmenting what they see with a virtual avatar, like a numeric hologram that floats like a Facebook Halo by their heads. A simple number that somehow summarises everyone’s life and worth.

The insidious part of this is that this number limits your life choices- quality, life-changing loans/discounts are only offered to people rated 4.5,  the quality of your job or the car you drive or the place where you live can all be impacted by your score. In Nosedive, Lacie needs a rating of 4.5 to enable her to receive a discount that will enable her to live in a plush apartment and all the opportunities it will give her. She needs to be more popular, to be ‘better’, and her efforts spiral into a descent into horror as circumstances get the better of her and her rating actually plunges, forcing her to reassess her life and the ways she lives and measures success and those around her.

nose2Nosedive looks utterly brilliant, all pastel colours and clean art direction, a world designed by Apple for IPad people, it pictures a utopian world that looks perfect but is, naturally, rotten to the core and in just the same way as the best Twilight Zone episodes did, the story forces viewers to consider how it colours our own world and our own values and perceptions. The cast is terrific, particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, who blew me away her with a charming and powerful performance that is career-defining in my book. The heart and soul of the episode though is Richters music, full of emotion and pathos, fragile and tender as the veneer of idyllic perfection is stripped away to reveal the real horror beneath. The soundtrack is barely 24 minutes long so it’s woefully slim for an album, but here is a case where quality wins out over quantity. The music is quite haunting and adds substantially to the impact of the episode.

San1Black Mirror: San Junipero

Clint Mansell’s score manages the same with the next episode of Black Mirror that I watched; San Junipero. Its a 1980s-flavoured score, its electronics sounding like something John Carpenter might have written for one of his films of that period. Its a rather warm and tender soundtrack in spite of it being synthesisers, suffused with a sadness that permeates the episode itself.

On a neon-drenched Saturday night in a 1980’s Californian seaside town, two young women meet in a nightclub- shy, inhibited Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and confident, mysterious Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  rather a case of opposites attracting, the two begin a relationship, but as usual for Black Mirror, something feels ‘off’, something about the place and the people and obscure offhand references to limited time and it always being a Saturday night with a deadline of midnight.

The twist is that the seaside town of San Junipero isn’t real- its fake, a virtual world in which the two women are escaping from their harsh realities.  In the real world, both girls are actually old women near the end of their lives, living far apart and never destined to meet. Yorkie has been in a coma for 40 years, and Kelly is a widow and bereaved mother who is dying from cancer. San Junipero offers a few hours of escape, but they have the option -as their real bodies fail and they die- to stay in San Junipero forever. Yorkie is keen to do so, but Kelly wants to die and try her chances for a real heaven and a real reunion with her dead husband and daughter. The love affair seems ultimately doomed, and Yorkie destined to spend eternity in her virtual seaside heaven alone.

san2Beautifully acted and sensitively told, for me, the story was as much a study of what is ‘real’, as much as it was a love story. There were some pretty deep ideas being shuffled around. The guarantee of a virtual heaven in San Junipero against the act of faith in a real heaven was an interesting concept, and the possibility of humanity through technology being offered the comfort blanket of a virtual heaven, versus the unproven promises of religion, seemed fascinating. At the end of the episode, we see a vast hall full of servers in which no doubt thousands or even millions of dead people live forever- literally, per the Belinda Carlisle song that opens the episode, Heaven is a place on Earth. 

Or is it? In a similar way to the technological promises of Star Trek‘s transporters or Altered Carbons‘ stacks and ‘sleeves’ offering immortality, the seductive promises of San Junipero surely lack substance. The way I see it, the transporters of Star Trek are actually rather scary- people are scanned, disintegrated, and then re-integrated, or copied, at their destination. The Kirk that appears on a planet is surely a copy of the one that was vanished from the Enterprise – looking and feeling identical, with identical memories etc, but surely not the same Kirk. In Altered Carbon, the stacks are hard-drive backups of the real people, simulacra that when re-loaded into new sleeves are just that, copies, perfect in every detail and convinced that they are real, but just duplicates nonetheless. In San Junipero, Yorkie really dies and her brain dies too- it’s a download or copy of her brain waves that lives forever in the virtual heaven of San Junipero. The ideas and promises of the technologies are seductive but they are not real. Or maybe it’s real enough for the virtual Yorkie in her virtual world, as is the false immortality that stacks and ‘sleeves’ offer in Altered Carbon. Maybe technology really will save us. Maybe copying/downloading our intellects is future salvation, or maybe our souls are salvation and those digital intellects redundant.

Or maybe I’m just overthinking stuff. God, I love sci-fi. Its some crazy shit at times.

This music is real though- Richter’s Nosedive and Mansell’s San Junipero are wonderfully evocative, powerfully affecting scores. And these two episodes of Black Mirror are two of the best pieces of television I have seen in years.

san3