Monday, 24 January 2011

On The Desk VI

There was a time when you could barely see my desk for the CDs stacked atop it… Back in the days when Music from the Movies was in its fullest swing I was receiving albums from both sides of the Atlantic on a regular basis. Then it slowed, along with MftM, and today I receive a trickle of albums in the mail from some of the labels here and in the US. Not all of them are even worth mentioning of course, but I do enjoy making discoveries and hearing new things when I have the time.

This blog does allow me some space to share my thoughts on new and old releases, things I’m excited about and things I’m less thrilled with. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep a regular ear to the ground – or indeed the desk – and cover a little (or a lot, time willing) of what lingers on (and sometimes under or beside) my desk.

So what’s new?

Danny Elfman was in London during the Autumn of 2010 recording The Next Three Days and that resulting effort came to CD (and the downloadable realm) here courtesy of Silva Screen Records. It seems director Paul Haggis and composer Elfman got on like a house ablaze, so does that spell the end of the Haggis/Powell era? Powell’s busy enough it seems, so perhaps he won’t worry. Elfman does these edgy dramas very well and always seems on top of the latest trends and sounds. He’s certainly not a composer to rest on his laurels… Big Top Pee Wee this ain’t. Instead we’re in moody and emotive piano territory, with a steady dose of programming simmering, throbbing and pulsating away above and below, here and there. Strings play a part too and it sometimes feels like Dolores Claiborne meets Spider-Man... It’s all very 2010 and certainly more listenable than a lot of the drivel pouring out of some of Hollywood’s current crop of young composers, scoring the higher-end thrillers and alike these days.

Do I like it though? Well yes it works very well within the context of the modern thriller, it’s pacey, exciting in places and has some emotional hues that come across in the way I imagine they’re intended to. On album it’s background music to say the least. Can we expect much more from this genre though? Not all scores can be luscious, thematic, juicy and exciting eh? I once wondered if Danny Elfman was losing his way, moving on – and then some – from his slightly more chaotic and colourful roots. But like all artists he has grown up, matured and developed. He sometimes sounds like an altogether different animal, with occasional glances back to what we might consider his heyday. His ‘heydey’ though was his infancy as a film composer… What does that really say? That’s fodder for an altogether different/longer discussion I think, so back to The Next Three Days… Favourite tracks? ‘Same Old Trick’, ‘All Is Lost’ and ‘They’re Off’.

Get Me To The Greek…

I distinctly remember watching The Bounty when I was 5 years old on the telly. It was probably my first sighting of a bare breast… I wasn’t sure why at the time, but I was far more interested in Mel Gibson… Moving On! The music was of course composed by that great bearded master of the keyboard score Vangelis (or Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou to give his full name). Given the impact of Blade Runner two years earlier, it’s surprising that an original soundtrack of this 1984 sea-faring yarn didn’t get a proper release. But then it was the 1980s and as we all know some real gems were left on the shelf. I didn’t know much about this score if I’m honest, besides a track on the brilliant album ‘Odyssey’, but other than that the film’s music was a mystery to me. Until now.

For whatever reason the original recording is still to make an appearance on ‘official’ CD, so Dominik Hauser saw fit to recreate the entire score from scratch, perform and record it for release by BSX Records. Without much to go on except the one track I mentioned, plus of course the ‘sound’ of the composer we all recognise, it’s faintly difficult to say whether Hauser has, categorically, nailed it. What I can say is this, it sounds pretty convincing! Waves of electronic hues, visceral and shimmering… I really rather like it. I was sceptical when the album landed on my desk (well it didn’t so much land, I actually picked it up from the doormat and put the there myself) as such ‘re-creations’ can be just a bit.. well, rubbish. I’m all for a complete symphonic re-recording, so I can’t really put down a recreation of an electronic score on electronics can I, particularly when it appears to have been done extraordinarily well. This isn’t some pleb on a Casio keyboard… The sounds are right and the performance top notch. If that weren’t enough we’re treated to some brilliantly toe-tapping sea shanties for violin (performed by Elizabeth Hedman) and one for voice (Katie Campbell), which make for a very listenable Bounty…

'Stand Back, Buenos Aires!'

I got an email before Christmas from one half of a composing duo based in Argentina’s Capital, asking if I’d like to hear some of their music. Of course I agreed that it would be my pleasure and I soon recalled the name, realising I already had an album of music by Daniel Tarrab & Andrés Goldstein.

The package arrived, courtesy of FedEx, and I settled down to listen. I was instantly moved by what I heard and immediately emailed Daniel to tell him how much I was enjoying their music. Having heard what I was able to play (some technical issues!) I have to admit I am thirsty for more… what beautiful music they make. Inheritance was the first disc to go in and perhaps the one which has stayed with me since, being so full of beauty, grace and emotion. The film, a documentary by James Moll (The Last Days), follows two women connected to concentration camp Commandant Amon Goethe – one his daughter, the other a Jew who found herself working as his housemaid at Plaszow – as they meet 60 years after the events of the Holocaust and retrace their experiences in Poland. Strong stuff indeed and I’d very much like to see the film now. The music though is a fitting accompaniment, reaching emotional depths with heartfelt clarity and performance. I can’t recommend it enough.

Equally gorgeous but with a little more sunlight on its wings is La Puta y la Ballena (The Whore and the Whale), with which I was already a little familiar. Once again the performers gracefully apply themselves to the lovingly crafted score, this time littered with moments of high passion – thanks in no small part to the ubiquitous Argentine instrument the Bandoneon (performed by Néstor Marconi). Both this and Inheritance were released by Mellowdrama Records here in the UK… Seek them out!

Cut from a different cloth is La Seňal which finds Tarrab & Goldstein exacting a fond homage to Bernard Herrmann. The score was composed for a thriller set during Eva Peron’s twilight years as corruption and the mafia make their presence known in BA. The CD selection was brief but powerful, with intense string performances and a brilliant musical nod to Vertigo’s famous ‘Scene d’Amour’…

Quite enlightening then, hearing this wonderful symphonic music from Argentina… A brief glimpse of some music from Deuda (The Debt) on a promo DVD from the composers offered a whole different style, which sees them embracing a more inherent local flavour… It was fabulous music and I’d like to hear more of that celebratory, colourful Argentine flavour.

You know the names Santaolalla and Bacalov… now remember Tarrab & Goldstein, two men who I think are just marvellously talented composers who appear to absolutely love what they do and place that love at the very heart of the music they make. Discover more by visiting

More from On The Desk coming soon – including Debbie Wiseman’s The Promise and Alex Heffes The Rite.

Danny Elfman’s The Next Three Days is available from Silva Screen Records – – while BSX Records’ The Bounty is available from their websire –

Thursday, 20 January 2011

And I'm back...

Okay it’s a new year, which means I’ve made several resolutions and while these include making a better attempt at learning some Portuguese and going to the gym (big tick against the latter) I feel the most important to anyone reading this is thus: Blog. More. So here goes, 2011 blogging underway. Film Music and, as ever, More Besides.

So what have I to say in this, my first blog of the new year? Well I’ll come to that, but first I’d like to express my amusement at the Golden Globe for ‘Best Original Score’ going to The Social Network. Did it even have a score? Wait, of course it did… not traditional by any means and perhaps I shouldn’t poo-poo the work of… who was it again? Sorry. The BAFTA nominations, now there’s a list of contenders: Powell, Zimmer, Rahman, Desplat and Elfman. I’d like to see Alexandre Desplat take home a Mask finally – for The King’s Speech -, though Zimmer’s efforts for Inception were utterly brilliant. Hans has been nominated four times throughout his career… so maybe he’s overdue? Elfman too I guess, but he shouldn’t win for Alice in Wonderland… should he? and anyway, I'll never forgive that terrible jig at the end.

The truth is the films with the biggest PR & Marketing junkets tend to win the awards it seems, which is why The Social Network took the Globe this month for Music. I genuinely think The King’s Speech is the biggest British film of the year (though it’s a co-prod. With Australia) and therefore BAFTA will bestow Desplat, finally, with an award… let’s see eh? We’ll find out on 13 Feb.

What else then…

Ah yes, the point of this blog – apart from an awards moan – is to re-instate my ‘On The Desk’ series of blogs. This allows me to air my thoughts and musings on music that is sitting on my desk (funnily enough!). I do still, from time to time, receive albums for review purposes and while I just haven’t the time to write full reviews any longer, I feel it’s only fair to those who continue to provide me with freebies that I at least give them a ‘shout out’. Of course from time to time, and as whim takes me, I may decide I want to share a much fuller analysis of something I’ve enjoyed/hated/whatever. So keep an eye out…

In other news (not that I want to particularly be a newsy) one of my favourite composers, and indeed people, has a couple of delightful albums on the way in the next few weeks, which is great. Debbie Wiseman has composed another score for director Peter Kosminsky, The Promise, which is a five part drama screening on Channel 4 in February. A very generous album of Debbie’s gorgeous and emotional score is coming from Silva Screen! Don’t miss that and don’t miss Rhino Records’ disc of the BBC’s Land Girls which offers some of Debbie’s lovely accompanying notes, an original song performed by ‘The Soldiers’ and also, if that weren’t enough, some period wartime songs. Ought to be very tuneful. Both Wiseman discs available in February I think.

So first blog of the year closing. Next time I shall be picking my way through some of the discs on the desk.. which include some delightful discoveries from Buenos Aires-based composing duo Daniel Tarrab and Andrés Goldstein, a new release of Vangelis’ The Bounty and, as ever, much More Besides.

Happy New Year!