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SOUNDTRACK CDs - November 2001

We have a variety of soundtrack albums this issue; please also see those in the xrcd section. Some of these may not exactly be film scores but at this time of musical boundry-breaking they fit this category better than any other. One is from a composer you probably never associated with film music - George Antheil.

PHILIP ON FILM - FilmWorks by Philip Glass - KOYAANISQATSI, POWAQQATSI, DRACULA, LA BELLE ET LA BETE, ANIMA MUNDI, KUNDUN, MISHIMA, THE SECRET AGENT, THE THIN BLUE LINE, THE MAN IN THE BATH, DIASPORA, FACADES - Mostly conducted by Michael Riesman with various soloists and ensembles including The Philip Glass Ensemble and Kronos Quartet - Nonesuch Boxed set - 79660-2 (5 Cds):

Philip Glass is probably the world's leading serious composer to devote a major amount of his efforts toward film music. In this he continues the efforts of such predecessors as Shostakovich, Auric, Prokofiev, Copland, Malcolm Arnold and others. Glass has been working since the mid 1980's in collaborations with other artists on the combining of his live music with both already-existing films (such as Dracula and Beauty and the Beast) and on films for which he creates an original soundtrack. He reports that what interests him about the live music and film projects is the idea of combining a mechanically-reproduced work - frozen in time - with a live performance which is not bound to time and allows special interpretation.

The Glass Ensemble is currently on tour of the U.S. performing a several evening series of these film music collaborations in major cities tied in with recognition of 25 years of the composer's work in film music . I just heard them this week here in Portland. Seeing a familiar film such as Koyaanisqatsi with the live music instead of the recorded track does make it a more compelling and involving experience altogether. The director of that plotless film, Godfrey Reggio, has stated that "Glass' music can speak directly with the soul in an utterance of repetition that is always changing...portending a direct mainline transmission of extraordinary emotive power." There is something mystical about Glass' "complex simplicity;" even people who shy away from his abstract minimalist works often agree that his music is supremely effective as film scores.

The variations among the film music in this collection are of some interest: The two plotless Reggio films with the Hopi names and lyrics had a close relationship of music and image. The cinematographer of Powaqqatsi, for example, was actually listening to a tape of Glass' score while he was shooting some of the scenes. Glass and filmmaker Reggio worked closely together on their projects, including the lovely 27-minute celebration of animal diversity, Anima Mundi. For two of the selections on Disc 5 of this set, Glass commissioned directors Peter Greenaway and Atom Egoyan to create silent short films for which he then wrote new scores for performance by his ensemble.

Dracula and Beauty and the Beast are different beasts entirely in that both incorporate existing black & white sound films with dialog. Glass had the dialog pulled out of the original Dracula soundtrack electronically and played with the film while his ensemble performed the new musical score. (The CD features the original string quartet version with the Kronos Quartet.) With Bela Lugosi as Dracula the score is strictly instrumental, but for Cocteau's classic Beauty and the Beast Glass created a mini-opera. In the latter case he dispensed with both the original dialog and George Auric's musical score. The live vocalists sing all the dialog, synchronized with the actors in the film during live performance, but the original English subtitles remain onscreen. The boxed set is a first-rate musical experience for Glass fans as well as fans of unique filmic art. My only complaint was the lack of any stills in the accompanying booklet from any of the films.[See also my review last month of the DVD-Audio of the Koyaanisqatsi score.]

- John Sunier


THE LAST CASTLE - Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith - Decca 440 016 193-2:

A military movie and a prison movie evidently collide in this new theatrical feature; neither being at the top of my list I wouldn't normally be interested. But it does have Robert Redford and the latest score from our best living composer for films - Jerry Goldsmith, so I may relent (and my wife also wants to see it). Director Rod Lurie describes in the notes how the 24-note C minor theme Goldsmith played on his synthesizer brought him to tears. He remembered as a youth hearing Goldsmith's music for Patton and felt it was impossible to use any other composer for the score of his new film.There are also vocals by John Hammond and Dean Hall. 13 cues, including the vocal tracks.

- John Sunier

JURASSIC PARK III - Orig. Themes by John Williams; New Music composed and conducted by Don Davis - Orig. Soundtrack - Enhanced CD Decca 440 014 325-2:

The actual movie (with Sam Neill, Willam H. Macy and Tea Leoni) didn't bring in very positive reviews, but if you liked the first two in the series and are not a John Williamsphobe, be my guest on this soundtrack album. You'll get 16 cues, including the closing Randy Newman song, Big Hat No Cattle. Composer Davis did the score for The Matrix. Much of the music accompanies attacks on the human visitors to the island by the predatory dinos of various types, and the general tenor of the music is of a darker nature than the pure-Williams scores for the earlier two flicks. This is a cross-platform Enhanced CD (thank you) and better designed than any such that I've slipped into my Mac in the past. There is the theatrical trailer, which plays well in QuickTime without any jerking, an educational Dino Chart, stills of scenes from the film which you can see full screen, connections to the Jurassic Park website, a short text interview with composer Davis, and a trailer for a new video game based on the Jurassic Park series. I really think every soundtrack CD or DVD-A nowadays should include the theatrical trailer of the film as a visual reminder of what goes with the music on the disc.

- John Sunier


BROTHER - Orig. Score composer by Joe Hisaishi - Silva America SIL-CD 1129:

In this musical and filmic meeting of East and West, an abandoned yakuza tough guy comes from Tokyo to LA to find his brother who is in a Japanese gang. A war with the Mafia commences when the gang refuses to bow down to the other gangsters. Hisaishi is known for his score to the anime film Princess Mononoke. He uses both a jazz quartet with flugelhorn, as well as the entire New Japan Philharmonic. Surprisingly laid-back and melodic stuff for this sort of movie - very enjoyable! The Japanese director supplies a note about how he took cues that had been composed especially for a certain scene and used them with an entirely different scene - Cocteau, Kubrick and others have talked about the same thing. Not having seen the film I can't comment on the music's appropriateness , but it's certainly interesting listening, with more density than most similar movie scores. There are 15 cues.

- John Sunier

Contemporary Scores For Classic Silent Films - METROPOLIS, NOSFERATU, THE UNKNOWN, LOST WORLD, PLAIN CRAZY - Alloy Orchestra - Accurate AC 5026:

I'm afraid this CD has been sitting around for some while now. The Alloy Orchestra consists of three members, one busy at synthesizers and the other two at a giant array of unexpected and mostly do-it-yourself percussion instruments. And one of them doubles on accordion occasionally. They specialize in their own improvisations of soundtracks for strictly silent films. They lean toward the bizarre and fantastic in films to accompany, which seems to fit well with the accent on bizarre percussive sounds.

They have created two to five cues for sections in each of these films - except Plain Crazy, which is only five minutes for the entire thing. Others have put different music to the VHS or DVD releases of some of these silents, and Metropolis has been served by both an original synchronized score from San Francisco's ClubFoot Orchestra and a terrible rock score from Georgio Moroder. Two of the three cues heard here for Metropolis accompany chase scenes. The Alloy music for the great vampire classic Nosferatu is extremely effective with creaks and groans in conjuring up the creepiness of this 1922 silent. Their closing "suite" for the Lon Chaney horror film The Unknown makes me want to see that silent. This CD may be hard to locate, so try 617-272-6262 for Accurate Records.

- John Sunier


FINDING FORRESTER - featuring Bill Frisell, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman - Sony Music Soundtrack CR85350:

Director Gus Van Sant brought in producer Hal Willner for this compilation soundtrack. He previously did fascinating concept albums on the music of Kurt Weill, Thelonius Monk and on music from Disney films. These 13 tracks all appear to come from already-existing albums by the performers. Aside from guitarist Frisell's Over the Rainbow and the closing In a Silent Way by Miles, the tracks are not very familiar ones from these three artists. All flow smoothly, almost as if this were an original jazz score featuring some really exceptional soloists. The overall sound is also quite similar from one track to another. Willner is a master at this sort of unique programming, and this to me is one of the best jazz soundtracks I've enjoyed in many years.

- John Henry


From the sketchy notes with the CD I surmise this live concert was a special performance recorded at the Flanders Film Festival in Belgium. It was obviously intended to give a survey of some of the fine themes Zimmer has composed for many important films, and involved a large orchestra, chorus and soloists conducted by Dirk Brosse. The success of both the videos and soundtracks of Gladiator were of course the stimulus for releasing this CD, and the program opens with two cues from that film. Lion King also gets two cues, both with vocalists. For a change from the full orchestra, the Driving Miss Daisy and Mission Impossible tracks both employ guitar - the first electric and the second acoustic. Sounded like quite an evening - I would have welcomed have a DVD of whole thing like the similar one done sojme time ago for Maurice Jarre.

- John Sunier

A DIFFERENT LIGHT - Anne Dudley- various performers - Angel 57158:

Dudley came to the attention of many filmgoers with her score to the film The Crying Game, and that is the opening track on this 11-track CD. The composer is heard on keyboards, the Quartet of London plays some of the pieces, there are also other soloists and an orchestra. The vocal on Pie Jesu comes from the film The Miracle Maker, there are two cues from American History X, another from a film called Tabloid, and the title piece of the CD is from a TV series, but transcribed for solo violin. All very interesting music that often doesn't sound like typical film music at all but something difficult to put a label to. The chamber music quality of many of the tracks adds to this confusion.

- John Sunier


BALLET MECANIQUE - Music by George Antheil - Also: Serenade for Strings No. 1; Symphony for Five Instruments; Concerto for Chamber Orchestra - Philadelphia Virtuosi Ch. Orch./Daniel Spalding - Naxos American Classics 8.559060:

This one should probably be in the Classical new releases section, but not many listeners are aware that Antheil's most famous and notorious composition provided music for a short film by Futurist artist/filmmaker Leger. The CD notes fail to make mention of this, and I'm not sure if the score for the film came first or if Leger used the existing 1926 work. The film was mostly closeups of various mechanisms such as gears and factory equipment, and the wild percussion assembly called for by Antheil fit the images perfectly. They included two airplane propellers, a siren, large electric bell, gongs, two xylophones and four pianos. The Symphony and Concert are early works, rather Stravinskian and not nearly as avant as the Ballet.The Serenade comes from the composer's Hollywood period of the late 40's, though they are abstract works rather than from the series of movie, TV and theatrical scores he then turned out.

- John Sunier

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