Friday, 24 July 2009

On The Desk V

Just when I think I’m beginning to get on top of things, the in-tray fills with another handful of albums. There are some cracking ones in need of attention, and I will get to those next week I hope. This week though I want to focus on a variety of titles in both my in-tray and on my hard drive. As I’ve said, very often I get sent links to albums, or files to download, from composers both up and coming, and well established.

Recently I received one such album from composer Edwin Wendler, a young and indeed talented composer who, though born in Vienna, now resides in Los Angeles. His most recent film score, The Interior – a film follow up to the 2007 television series – was released on CD by Perseverance Records a little while ago and while I’m yet to hear that, one of his early scores displays a colourful creative flair that I hope runs into the later works of recent years. Home: The Horror Story was a 2000 film directed by Venezuelan director Temístocles López and saw an all American family man find his life turned into a nightmare after undergoing invasive brain surgery. While it’s not a film that will likely be making it to your local multiplex anytime soon, the mix of bizarre surrealism and pseudo comedy horror antics has made it one not to be missed on late night television. Edwin’s score is as rambunctious as they come, with the composer unleashing a barrage of synthetic party tricks and unyielding ditties that cavort and swagger along with the comic capers in the surreal on-screen nightmare. I particularly enjoyed the opening cue ‘Meet The Family’ with its Elfmanesque hue, while the stomp and stagger of ‘Returning Home’ is a lot of fun. Ticking more of the horror boxes is ‘Getting Hot’ with its eerie voices, reverse effects and pizzicato effects. The overall carnival atmosphere of the larger score is a real winner though; much fun indeed. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Edwin Wendler in the future.

One composer I’m very pleased to be hearing more from is Benjamin Wallfisch. While Ben remains a big player in the classical field – his family name precedes him – his continuing work in film music is nothing short of brilliant. I was blown away by elements of Dear Wendy, which I reviewed for Music from the Movies a couple of years ago and when I learned that the young composer was working on The Escapist I was excited. Fast forward what seems like an eternity and MovieScore Media (who also made Dear Wendy available) have released the score on CD. The film is one of the unsung gems of recent years, with a stellar cast of British actors (including Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge and Steven Mackintosh) and gritty scenes of prison life and daring escape beneath the streets of London. The score is itself something of a breathtaking effort, with Ben scoring for both traditional orchestra and well conceived programming. With ‘Theme from The Escapist’ we’re thrown into an unrelenting, bassy refrain which drives the idea of the escape. The thumping piano and bass strings grab you by the throat and drag you along with its intensity. It’s an absolutely terrific, primal sound and quite a simple idea really, but nonetheless hugely effective. The escape itself – which runs through the film counter to the scenes of its inception within the prison walls – is underscored very creatively with rhythmic clangs and clatters, as programming, piano and bow strikes join forces to propel the band of escapees through the grimy sewers beneath the Capital. These are best heard in the likes of ‘Underground Escape’, ‘Into the Dryer’ and ‘Sump Chase’, while the brilliant main theme is deconstructed throughout as the plan comes together, with hints of it building in ‘Confessional’ and ‘Elegie for Brodie’. There’s an emotive side to the score also, as the music touches on the reason for the escape, Frank Perry’s daughter, who is gravely ill and with whom the life-prisoner wants to make peace. Solo vocal is utilised largely for these elements, with piano, strings and woods here and there (as in ‘Escaltor’) – these moments serve as a suitable antidote to the otherwise pivotal cues found elsewhere. Once again I am left in no doubt that Benjamin Wallfisch is one of the most exciting voices to enter the film music arena in recent years and while he continues to work as an orchestrator and conductor on other people’s scores, let’s hope he finds time to put pencil to paper himself and create more of this entirely listenable and hugely effective film music.

“Stand by for Action!” The Music of Barry Gray is a little gem of an album, though it may only have appeal for those who grew up with the ‘Supermarionaton’ and, later, live-action classic series’ of Gerry Anderson. I for one am too young to fully appreciate the hysteria surrounding the original runs of the likes of Stingray, Fireball XL5, Joe 90 and Thunderbirds, however when I was a child in the early 1990s a number of these shows had something of a renaissance and was certainly hooked on the latter. Going back further into my childhood, I can remember being very afraid of the opening prologue sequence for Capain Scarlet and the Mysterons. The inclusion of the music and sound effects for that scene – including the terrifying footsteps and final gunshot – still manage to make me shiver just a little, ha. This album then takes in snippets, themes and cues from all of Barry Gray’s collaborations with Anderson and takes us from their earliest work (Four Feather Falls) right through the major classics of the mid 1960s, right up to the more ‘modern’ sci-fi adventures with real actors in the form of UFO and Space: 1999. A lot of it is kitsch, with some wonderfully twee sixties-soaked songs and ‘Twists’ offering an amusing and strangely infectious glimpse into the past, while the big guns blaze here and there with wonderful dramatic cues found in the selections from Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and alike. The French-flavoured ‘Perils of Penelope’ in the former, not to mention Joe 90’s ‘International Concerto Suite’, are evidence enough and a prime example of just how multi-talented Gray truly was. The album, from Silva Screen, features informative notes by Ralph Titterton and along with the multi-faceted scores represented, they make for a wonderful tribute to an oft-overlooked master of film and television music.

Finally a couple more titles from MovieScore Media that are in need of a mention, namely Sharon Farber’s touching score for When Nietzsche Wept and Panu Aaltio’s The Home of Dark Butterflies. Both offer music from relative unknowns, which the Swedish label should constantly be commended for. Farber’s score for Pinchas Perry’s emotional drama – based on the novel by Irvin Yalom – is a poignant affair, played out largely with piano and strings, while more orchestral flurries can be found in the romantic and stately ‘Save Nietzsche/I’ll Help Your Friend’. Traditional melody is found in ‘Shabbath Dinner’, while Nietzsche himself is credited with composing ‘Hymnus an das leben’. Performed by soprano Ayama Haviv, accompanied by Farber on piano, it’s a strikingly emotional aria that manages to capture – along with Farber’s larger score – the ultimate fragility and sadness of this complicated emotional man. Equally emotive is Aaltio’s score for Dome Karukoski’s drama about about a teenager who is sent to a boy’s home called ‘The Island’, where he comes to terms with the ghosts of his past. Recorded in London, it’s a fine sound that is created here and through a mixture of minimalist devices, and swathes of strings, Aaltio manages to nail the emotional complexity and spirit of the young protagonist.

Coming soon: A look at Nicholas Hooper’s second Harry Potter score, a couple of premiere albums from James Horner’s past and music from the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica.

With thanks to Mikael Carlsson, David Stoner, Jelena Jancic and Edwin Wendler.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Music from the Movies

I got an email from a record producer recently – I’m not going to name him – asking about Music from the He made an interesting point in his email, remarking that the future of film music and indeed film music journalism surely cannot lie in the United States and the United States alone? Music from the Movies, which began life as a print magazine in 1992, went on to become a popular and oft-visited website for film music fans and industry names alike. As Web Editor and Chief Correspondent of the site, I was very proud of its status and the fact that it didn’t exist to make a profit. When the print magazine ceased production in 2006 it was a sad day; whether you realised it or not Music from the Movies was always produced by a small group of devoted people in the UK, along with Rudy Koppl and a few valued contributors in California. Nobody earned a single penny from their work and it was always a labour of love; the same went for the website – which subsequently went offline in March. The site’s disappearance was indeed unforeseen and as surprising to me as it was to anyone else.

I remember stumbling across a couple of messageboard threads in recent months, and noticed some bitter words about our magazine, and indeed its demise. I personally just wrote the words and kept the website updated and was never involved in any part of the ‘business’ end of Music from the Movies; but I do know that it wasn’t an easy decision. To carry on would have meant increasing the price of the magazine to a ridiculous level and any major revamp of the website would cost money that was never there in the first place. Nobody has come out of this with a pocketful of cash and I resent anybody thinking so; if anything certain members of the team are equally, if not more, out of pocket thanks to their own personal investment to keep the website alive.

That can be put behind us though and I hope to see a new future for Music from the Movies; it’s certainly not impossible – in fact it looks as if there may be life in the old dog yet... One thing is for sure though; you can guarantee that whatever it looks like on the surface, the same passion and devotion will go into its recreation and continued re-development. All I can say is watch this space…

As to the record producer’s comment about US-led film music journalism – I too agree that the art form shouldn’t forever be so LA-centric. There are plenty of people all around the world who not only make great film music, but also appreciate it, with passion and insight. You only have to look at the Spanish conventions in Ubeda, Madrid and on Tenerife, not to mention the online magazines still coming out of Germany and France. Hopefully Music from the Movies can return in the UK, with continued emphasis on the high-end work happening in the US and London, but also standing alongside our European friends and neighbours who love film music as much as we do.

Michael Beek
Web Editor/Chief Correspondent, Music from the Movies

Monday, 6 July 2009

On The Desk IV

Time once again to forage amongst the heap of CDs atop my horizontal work platform (aka the desk). I say ‘heap’… it’s more a molehill, and I won’t make a mountain out of it. It was a tricky decision as to what to shout about in this, the fourth instalment of ‘On The Desk’, but I feel I’ve plucked a good variety out of the heaplette.

I had planned on going into raptures about Richard Wells’ impressive feature score for Mutant Chronicles, however in extolling its virtues to a colleague last week I managed to leave said disc behind. So without the album here to refer to, all I can say is the score is really rather good. With orchestrations by Benjamin Wallfisch, the sound is robust and indeed fully orchestral with enough clout to stand out from the crowd. Whilst Wells isn’t perhaps the most recognisable name in film music right now, I expect he will be in time to come and thanks no doubt to turns such as this. On the small screen Wells has been responsible for the likes of the BBC’s brilliant fantasy/comedy/horror/drama/thing Being Human and I’m certainly keen to hear more.

So to the albums I didn’t abandon… First up is Bear McCreary’s Caprica; an album from La La Land Records containing the composer’s score for the pilot episode of this new sci-fi series from the makers of Battlestar Galactica. McCreary has enjoyed a large fan following thanks to his turn on the latter series, spawning a couple of albums and even a few live performances in Los Angeles over the years. Caprica couldn’t be more different to the solid tribal/rock-tinged hues of Battlestar though, as this new creation – set fifty years prior to the events of that series – is plainly more desolate, as two families on the titular planet bare witness to the events that lead to their society’s downfall. Stripping back the sound he created over four seasons of Battlestar, McCreary shifts his focus on a more minimalist palette, creating a frenetic and at times emotional score for the first part of what is essentially a tragedy. In many ways it’s a familiar sound, with echoes of Glass in the repeated patterns, while the passages of strings, woods and harp (e.g. ‘Grieving’) instantly remind me of Goldsmith’s brilliant Hollow Man. Around this there are hints of the music that will follow – temporally – in Battlestar Galactica as McCreary adds kinetic rhythm and such to cues like ‘Terrorism On The Lev’ and ‘Cybernetic Life Form Node’ (two of the very few up-tempo numbers on the disc). It’s a fitting sound for the setting though I think, and the sort of vacuous future-world score we’ve grown accustomed to in many respects, but no less effective. The series itself is set to air from January 2010, so it will be interesting to see where the music goes in the larger story; one thing is for sure, it’s off to a strong start with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the helm and Bear McCreary’s engaging music at its heart.

Up next an interesting trio of television films, screened earlier this year on Channel Four. Red Riding saw a sprawling fictitious account of the investigation into the Yorkshire Moors murders that gripped the attention of the nation in the 1970s and early 1980s. David Peace’s novel was re-imaged in three parts and by three different directors, each taking on the story and characters as they found themselves in 1974, 1980 and 1983. Each director utilised a different composer for their individual stories and as such Silva Screen has presented this musical triptych on CD. Award-winning British composer Adrian Johnston teamed up with regular director collaborator Julian Jarrold for the first part and set the scene with a visceral, edgy score, supported by a very listenable guitar theme for the ‘Eddie’, and later ‘Paula’ (with added cello). Six years later and we’re in the company of director James Marsh, who engaged composer Dickon Hinchliffe to continue the story musically. Hinchliffe, who scored the British comedy Keeping Mum and, more recently, the Dustin Hoffman/Emma Thompson romantic drama Last Chance Harvey, provides a slightly more engaging score for the second part. Opting for a more immediate orchestral tone, the composer peppers his score with light, almost jazz-like percussion as well as edgier tones (achieved with ambient effects and cello) in the likes of ‘The Karachi Club’. Once again it is one central theme which takes the weight of the music, though more so than Johnston. Finally it’s the turn of seasoned film and television composer Barrington Pheloung, who teamed up once again with Hilary and Jackie director Anand Tucker for the third and final part – 1983. As you might expect, strings play a central role here and the sound – courtesy of the London Metropolitan Orchestra – is fuller than the previous scores. Certainly the more traditional of the three, it is however far less engaging than say Hinchliffe’s effort which manages to carry the weight of the drama, while at the same time remaining fresh and interesting. Pheloung’s contribution is weighty enough and acts as a serious closing statement for the trio of scores. It is of course a fine score in and of itself, with ‘Love Theme’ the highlight. A printing error on the reverse of the album cover almost saw me make a silly error myself, as I went to track 25 thinking it was the first of Pheloung’s cues – I began writing about how similar his work was to Hinchliffe’s; of course it was Hinchliffe! Track 26 is the start of Pheloung’s score… That typo aside, this is largely a fine release from Silva and while my attention wandered occasionally the three scores sit alongside one another quite successfully.

One of the newest additions to my collection is an album from French violinist Laurent Korcia, who was signed to EMI earlier this year. His first album for them, entitled simply Cinema, sees the handsome virtuoso perform – you guessed it – music from the movies. That said, the link is fairly tenuous as the majority of the pieces are existing classical compositions used in films. However, the selection isn’t your everyday ‘Music from the Movies’ classical set, and there are enough original score pieces thrown in to make it an all round listen I’d say. The appearance of two compositions by Korcia himself cshift the overall concept of the album yet again to perhaps one of ‘showpiece’ rather than an out and out homage to film music. This is cinematic music then, rather than music of the cinema. Checking the original score boxes are the usual suspects, with Williams’ Schindler’s List and Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso – two of film music’s finest violin-centred works – at the top of the pile. Schifrin’s Mission Impossible is given an interesting arrangement with rhythm provided by accordion no less, while Mancini’s Moon River and Rota’s ‘Speak Softly Love’ from The Godfather complete the familiar selection. Two pieces from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – of course filmed in 1959 by Otto Preminger – will please the crossover crowd, while the likes of Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ and ‘Weeping Willows’ from Modern Times and A King in New York are an original thought. ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’, featuring vocals by Camille, closes the album and is a nice touch, giving the selection even more variety. Compositions by the likes of Saint-Saens, Vivaldi, Provost and Grappelli – amongst others – complete the line-up and of course largely fill it. There’s no denying Korcia’s talent though and his performances throughout are nothing short of beautiful. You can forgive EMI for wanting to show off their new signing and what better way to do it than with music of cinematic proportions.

Finally Sony Classical have released a follow-up CD set to last year’s Classic Cinema. I reviewed the first three-disc collection for Music from the and I recall being somewhat taken aback as the release was identical to that of Classic FM at the Movies. I relented somewhat, in hindsight, given that listeners outside of the UK might not be familiar with the British Classical music station, the Sony release perhaps being aimed at a more international market. This new release, entitled Classic Cinema Part 2, once again treads on the toes of Classic FM as it features, track for track and disc for disc, the exact same line-up as the station’s own follow-up set Classic FM at the Movies: The Sequel. I am still somewhat irritated by the complete lack of thought Sony seem to give the – okay let’s face it, gullable – British public. There will be many people who will see this nicely packaged set and think ‘Ooh that looks good, I’ll buy it’ only to discover they already own it in a different guise. Perhaps they’re just a bit thick if they do… Buyer state of mind aside, the selection – if you don’t already have it – is very fine indeed and rather all encompassing. It is of course a crowd pleasing playlist, perfect – funnily enough – for Classic FM fans who constantly request music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Superman, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Jurassic Park, Braveheart and Pride and Prejudice on a daily basis… and funnily enough they’re all present and correct here. Once again it’s a mixture of RPO, RSNO, City of Prague Philharmonic and original soundtrack recordings, with the usual suspects joined by similarly hued numbers – like Portman’s Emma, Goodwin’s Where Eagle’s Dare, Zimmer’s The Da Vinci Code, Doyle’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. What more can I say… Lap it up if you don’t own the aforementioned Classic FM release, grab it if you’re new to this lark, otherwise there’s nothing to see here.

Mutant Chronicles and Red Riding are available from, with Caprica available now from Sony Classical’s Classic Cinema 2 can be found in all the usual places and Laurent Korcia’s Cinema album goes on worldwide release on July 28th, courtesy of EMI.