Scott of the Antarctic re-recording

scott1Just arrived a few days ago, this disc from the Dutton Epoch label is a re-recording of the complete score for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic by Ralph Vaughan Williams. When I first saw the film many years ago as a kid, it really scared me- it was a pretty bleak and chilling film with a tragic ending and the score seemed a big part of that- music that was scary and brutal. Even today whenever I hear it, it gives me more than a few chills. It seems the perfect musical rendition of desolation, horror and arctic wastes and has never been bettered.

The music is of course most famous in its symphonic form, as Williams later adapted it into his Seventh Symphony, the Sinfonia Antarctica,  gaining a reputation and endurance beyond the original film. The score itself was written in 1947 before the film was even made- Williams composed it based on a copy of the script  and the book The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, which documented the ill-fated expedition. The score was recorded and then added to the film when it was later shot and completed.  A considerable amount of music composed and recorded for the film was never actually used, but fortunately William’s original manuscripts were stored for posterity and conductor Martin Yates was granted access to them in order to transcribe the music for this, complete and definitive re-recording of the whole score.

Its no exaggeration to say that this is an important piece of film-music history. The disc runs some 79 minutes across 41 tracks, and the music sequenced chronologically tells the story of the film perfectly. Its naturally got a very traditional, English-sounding style evocative of the period, but while it is ‘of its time’ it is also very powerful and dramatic. Film-scores just haven’t been like this since the heyday of Williams, Barry and Goldsmith, as music has retreated to soundscapes and ambience of late.  Fans of the film, its music or just the Sinfonia Antarctica will find much to enjoy here- if nothing else, its fascinating to compare this music with its symphonic cousin. Thanks to this great re-recording, the original score music that inspired that Seventh Symphony will have a life all its own for decades to come.

Max Richter – ‘Sleep’

sleep1This is a pretty extraordinary release- Max Richter’s opus ‘Sleep’ is over eight hours long, and in this full version arrives in a box with 8 cds and a Blu-ray that will play the whole thing uninterrupted. Pretty much designed as an aid for listeners to sleep, its also something of an experiment to see how that sleep can be improved and affected by the sleeper subliminally listening to the music through the night (hence its eight-hour running time). Its 31 pieces are variations of several themes, the structure designed after Richter consulted neuroscientist David Eagleman. Its generally ambient chamber music augmented by synthesiser.

How it works at improving sleep quality or affecting dreams I cannot say, as I haven’t bothered to try that out- I think my wife thinks I’m strange enough as it is (and I doubt it would work any magic on our Westie, Eddie, but you never know). Instead I’ve listened to the music as background music while driving to work or working at home on this blog, or when reading.  If ‘listened to’ really means anything with such ambient music -to be fair though, there is some argument that this music really works beyond any sleep experiment. With its soothing tones and melodies working a calming magic in the background, it creates a valid soundscape for daylight hours too. The sheer madness/eccentricity/bravery (delete as you seem fit) of creating and releasing something as huge as this eight-hour sleep cycle is quite impressive though, regardless of what you think of the music. It must be the music equivalent of the Ultimate Cut of Watchmen– clearly OTT and insanely self-indulgent but nice to experience all the same.

(Richter has also released a single-disc version ‘From Sleep’ for less ambitious listeners).

The Force is strong with this one…

100_5489From a blogger who had the Star Wars soundtrack on cassette given him for his twelfth birthday back in 1978, a very happy birthday to film composer John Williams, who is 85 today. Life would have much less joy in this world without this amazing man’s music.

The Force is indeed strong with him, 85 years old and still working, composing the score for another Star Wars film (Episode 8: The Last Jedi) this year. Quite remarkable considering that cassette I was listening to dates back almost 39 years ago. Bravo, maestro.

Delectus

delectus1The box-set Delectus arrived on Friday. I booked the day off work, how sad was that- but then again, box sets of Vangelis remasters don’t arrive often. Collecting the Vertigo and Polydor albums from 1973 – 1985,  it comprises most of Vangelis’ Nemo Studios work other than unreleased soundtracks, the RCA albums and a few odds and ends (his Irene Papas collaborations on Polydor were remastered and released a few years ago).  Thirteen albums and still several albums from that period not included- Vangelis was certainly prolific back then. Akin to a fire of creativity and experimentation, that period at Nemo was his prime, no question.

I have to say that this box set is more substantial than I expected. The packaging is excellent and oozes quality. The discs are held in two gatefold cardboard sleeves the size of regular albums from the good old vinyl days, and the hardback book is 100 pages long, full of rare/previously unseen photographs of Vangelis and notes for each album. Each of the thirteen albums has its artwork reprinted on a full page opposite recording/production notes, which is a nice touch as its pretty much a full-lp sized reproduction of the cover art sparking all sorts of memories. Those photographs of Vangelis are quite extraordinary in places, rare insight into him working during that period and glimpses of that fabled Nemo Studios. How I would love to step into a time machine and go back and visit that place, during 1978 or 1979.

Of course, the biggest question is regards the remastering, as some of that remastering back around 2007 for the RCA albums proved problematic. Thankfully Delectus seems to comprise of remasters dating more recently, as I feared as Vangelis had remastered all his back-catalogue back in 2007 for release we’d just get those. I may be wrong, but these do appear to be different. I haven’t heard many of the remastered albums yet, but they do seem to be fine. Maybe a bit of the inevitable reverb has been overcooked in a few places but that comes to personal preference- I’ve heard Earth and the reverb there seems to work. Its a case of Vangelis feeling the albums should sound different for today’s audiences, something purists cry foul at, but its his music I guess. Maybe a little more of an issue is a bit of editing- a track on See You Later has had a final word (“obviously”- if you know it you’ll know what track I’m referring to) cut out, and the first movement of Soil Festivities has had almost a minute of closing ambient rain/thunder effects cut.

soilThis particular cut is a little curious but I think it is a matter of changing formats. Back when Soil was released it was on lp, and the first movement comprised the whole of side A. There was a natural break in the listening experience as the listener turned the disc over for side B, and the lengthy fade out eased into this. On CD or mp3, no such changeover is required and the listening experience flows immediately from movement one to movement two, so I imagine Vangelis felt there was no need for the long fade anymore.

I remember listening to Soil Festivities for the first time, over my freinds house one evening in 1984. Must have been winter, I think. We sat in the front room listening to it on his father’s hi-fi system. It was the vinyl album, obviously. We sat, listening to movement one, it sounded quite complex and dense and unlike anything I had heard up to then. Its always remained a favourite of mine of Vangelis’ albums. Maybe second only to China. But that night in 1984, it is like it is ingrained in my memory so clear.  Its like that, when you grow up with music and its the soundtrack of your life for decades afterwards. Thats why this release of Delectus is such a Big Deal.

What a genius Vangelis was back then.

That Blade Runner sound

 

With Vangelis’ Delectus box-set arriving in a few days time, the elephant in the room regarding that release is it lacking the Blade Runner score. It should include the score because the box has (most) of the albums Vangelis created at Nemo Studios in London, and listening to them chronologically will inevitably indicate how much of the music is building to the creation of that iconic score. In a shady episode in the story of Blade Runner, the soundtrack release was delayed until a decade later on a different label, so it’s understandable but still annoying.

Which leads me to this fascinating video I discovered on Youtube. Well, fascinating to me, as I love Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner, but possibly boring as hell to most everyone else. Somebody plays an old-vintage Yamaha CS70, approximating the brass sound of the Yamaha CS80 that Vangelis used so well in his Blade Runner score.

Apologies if its bored you to tears. Like… tears in the rain… sorry. Couldn’t resist.

 

Get Carter

cartr1It was a cold, wet, dark drive to work this morning. Thoroughly dank and dismal. So I put on the John Carter soundtrack on the car stereo (usb memory stick, 32gb of my music, all sorts of weird stuff hiding in there). I haven’t listened to this music -or seen the movie, either, for that matter- in such a long time. It almost sounded new. Suddenly the rain and the traffic were gone and I was adventuring on the sands of Mars.

Its a great fantasy score, and always sounded like a Star Wars kind of score, benefiting from sweeping flourishes and great melodies and orchestration. The irony is that Disney buying Star Wars from George Lucas would kill any John Carter franchise stone dead before it even got released and that Giacchino would later get a ‘proper’ Star Wars scoring gig with Rogue One, which would be a vastly inferior score compared to his John Carter.

Okay, we should maybe cut him a break. In the insane world of modern film-making, Giacchino only had a few weeks to score Rogue One, as he was a last-minute replacement. His Rogue One score is functional and adequate and will likely ensure he gets another Star Wars gig with more favourable conditions someday in the near future.

But John Carter remains a fresh and magnificent score, the kind we don’t get too often these days. Attached to a dead franchise, the score seems to be relegated to forgotten/OOP status- I see the CD soundtrack commanding crazy prices now. Listening to it this morning it rekindled all those ‘what might have been’ fantasies of a series of Carter films and scores.

Death By Star Wars, eh.

A few thoughts on ‘Delectus’

delectusDelectus is a forthcoming box-set of Vangelis albums dating from the 1970s/early 1980s, basically all the Polydor albums not already released in remastered form (his collaborations with Irene Papas came out remastered a few years ago).  It also features his first solo album, Earth, which appeared on the Vertigo label. As far I know, its the first time a deluxe box-set of Vangelis albums has been released.

Its a pretty big collection (back in the day, Vangelis was pretty prolific) and it contains most of his work dating from the Nemo Studios era; the  albums Earth, L’Apocalypse Des Animaux, China, Opera Sauvage, See You Later, Chariots of Fire, Soil Festivities, Mask, Antarctica and Invisible Connections, plus the Jon & Vangelis albums  Short Stories, The Friends of Mister Cairo & Private Collection. For most fans like myself, this is best work, and vintage Vangelis. My favourite Vangelis albums date from this era, particularly China and Soil Festivities.

Its unknown exactly how old these remasters are. I remember back around 2007 that sound engineer Frederick Rousseau had announced he had been remastering all of Vangelis’ back catalogue with the maestro. Some of these remasters (the RCA albums of the early 1970s) were subsequently released but the Polydor albums (other than those Papas discs, and  Chariots of Fire) remained unreleased.

So these remasters may in fact already be ten years old, but Vangelis fans are pretty much accustomed to being thankful for whatever scraps we get. I would have preferred separately packaged albums with original artwork but if a box-set such as this is the only way these Ploydor remasters will see the light of the day, then I’m fine with that. I appreciate the fact that physical sales, and the CD format in general, is on the wane, and that this is likely the only way these albums could see the light of day again- and it’s certainly the cheapest option. The extra carrot for fans are 4 additional tracks, which pretty much amount to b-sides from the vinyl era that have never been released on CD. While they are a nice addition, its a pity that this opportunity didn’t result in perhaps a full disc of material from that era that Vangelis didn’t release back then. He must have plenty of stuff considering the rumours of him recording everyday.

So I’m really looking forward to this (it’s less than three weeks away now, barring any delays). Just curious about how the remastering sounds- some of the RCA remasters had added tweaks (mostly reverb) and most alarmingly a few odd edits, which resulted in them being less of a success than hoped for. So I just hope Vangelis didn’t mess around with China too much. Certainly L’Apocalypse Des Animaux needs a remaster (my CD has always sounded like I’m playing a bad lp, its full of hiss and pop and collapses in the high-end) and the current CD of  Short Stories has the track separations messed up. The current CDs date back to the very beginning of the CD era over thirty years ago, so remasters are well overdue. We’ll just have to see. I do wish Vangelis would open up some of that vault material though- I suspect some of his best work has never been heard by anyone.

Listening to the Last Man On Earth

om1Today I’ve been listening to the FSM disc of Ron Grainer’s The Omega Man score. Maybe it was due to listening to the Silent Running score before Christmas, but I’ve been meaning to dig out this CD for several days now, as its another 1970s soundtrack that sounds quite unlike anything else you might hear today. Its funky and jazzy and is sprinkled with elements of pop and orchestral music… its such a melting-pot of different kinds of music it shouldn’t really work but it does. Its also, yes, utterly of the 1970s. Not that this dates it particularly but you always know it’s from some other era entirely from the one we are living in. It feels a little like a time capsule.

There’s a few other CDs in my collection from the 1970s that ‘feel’ rather apart from the John Williams/Jerry Goldsmith/John Barry scores that are likely more fondly remembered from genre films of that decade. Fred Myrow’s Soylent Green score for instance, which shares the kind of folksy, funky sound and jazzy source cues of The Omega Man in places (the ‘Prologue/Opening Music ‘ track is one of my favourite pieces of film music from that entire decade) and Lalo Schifrin’s unrelentingly melancholy score for George Lucas’ THX 1138. These scores and their ‘music of the future’ (at least as they saw it then with limited budgets and orchestra sizes)  are, incredibly, fast approaching half a century old now- THX 1138 dates from 1970, The Omega Man 1971 and Soylent Green 1973. Music of the past that used to be the music of the future- it’s a funny thought; odd to think it’s how they thought the future would sound.

I think THX 1138 came closest to sounding like the future- it’s about the perfect soundtrack to world events of January 2017.  So dark and depressing… makes the Last Man On Earth of The Omega Man sound distinctly jolly.

Penny Dreadful Seasons 2 & 3 OST

penny2I’ve been listening to the soundtrack cd of Penny Dreadful‘s second and third seasons, a welcome antidote to all the Christmas songs that have assaulted us over the past few weeks. This 2-disc set only arrived a few days before Christmas, continuing an odd and coincidental tradition of mine of having a soundtrack turn up just before the Holidays (years past, it would be soundtracks like Jerry Goldsmith’s Freud score or the Star Trek TOS soundtrack box-set arriving just before Christmas that would give me cause for celebration).

The Penny Dreadful music, composed by Abel Korzeniowski, is a beautifully moody and atmospheric score. Horrible Gothic sadness, is how I’d describe it- calm and reflective moods and passionate, lovely passages of romantic interludes punctuated by brutal horror. Its a prime example of television music being more sophisticated and richly rewarding than the big-screen scores we get now in cinema. There are absolutely quite extraordinary moments in this score. Even people unfamiliar with the series would get something out of this music; it stands as a work of gothic music seperate from the series that spawned it and is an example of great scores still being written (just not for movies,the majority of the time). Indeed it’s likely my favourite score release of 2016.

I’m so glad this was finally released. The season one disc came out a few years back, but for some reason the second season soundtrack was not released when that season aired, and with the show being abruptly (and undeservedly) canceled after season three, I had doubts we would ever see it. Fortunately on the heels of an Emmy nomination (it didn’t win, alas) Varese Sarabande belatedly released seasons two and three together, which actually works well as a listening experience.

So anyway, it’s hardly seasonal music, but there’s nothing wrong with that when you are driving to work at seven in the morning on cold wintry mornings when all the neighbours are all still in bed on their Hols- this stuff  really gets you in a fine creepy mood for the chores ahead whilst thinking about everyone else enjoying their holiday.

No, I’m not bitter. Ho Ho.