Johnny Greenwood – Bodysong: Accessible Abstracts

Johnny Greenwood - Bodysong

get bodysong at amazon

All the recent Radiohead hoopla reminded me about the band’s other driving creative force: Johnny Greenwood. He’s the lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist responsible for a lot of those awesome riffs that Radiohead fans love oh-so-much (he tied with fellow band member Ed O’Brien as Rolling Stones’ 59th and 60th greatest guitar players of all time). Besides his work in a rock band, Greenwood also composes music of a more classical nature. In fact, he’s been the BBC’s composer in residence since 2004.

His first solo release is Bodysong, the score to the 2003 film of the same name. I remember reading a little about it when it came out, but have just now gotten around to giving it a serious listen. Overall, the album’s style is aligned with contemporary classical, but its exact nature is hard to pin down. It sweeps between orchestral strings, flighty jazz and mellow ambiance while maintaining a cohesive identity.

Unlike what is typically thought of as abstract/avant-garde music where the art derives from the sculpting of sound that isn’t necessarily pleasant to listen to, Bodysong is largely recognizable as traditional music, though not with much pop sensibility. The music here is compelling, if not particularly catchy.

In the case of many of the score’s more mellow tracks, it’s tempting to describe them as “soundscapes,” like a minimalist rising and fadings of tones. But the work here shows too much structure to be classified that way, with rhythm and percussion giving form to the formless. Greenwood’s compositions are abstract without being inaccessible.

Of the thirteen tracks on the disc, Convergence and Splitter are the two highlights. Convergence takes a page from Steve Reich’s book, feature overlapping layers of pure percussion that mesmerizingly diverge and converge with each other. It’s hard to not try a pick out the various patterns. Splitter, on the other hand, is a freeform jazz piece that could easily be using the same New Orleans jazz band from Amnesiac’s Life in a Glass House.

One of the more interesting results of Bodysong is how it reinforces the idea that Radiohead really is a functioning unit. Johnny’s influence on the band’s music is readily apparent in the soft piano of the album’s opener as well as in the various electronic interjections.

Overall however, I was quite surprised by how listenable Bodysong is, despite being what should be “difficult but rewarding.”

And a multi-track sampler from the film:

Jonny Greenwood – Bodysong

I’m quoted on the Star Wars wiki…

The other day, I was perusing the ol’ server logs, doing my periodic behind-the-scenes examination of this site. Mostly it was the usual stuff: popular URLs, a couple image hot-linkers and an ungodly amount of Googlebot crawls. But then something caught my eye: a new and intriguing referring site.

I checked it out, trying to find the connection to here, and discovered a lengthy and detailed encyclopedia article on the orchestral score to the Star Wars derived Shadows of the Empire project. Turns out the wikians behind it picked up part of a post that I wrote about it last year, during the actual tunequest.

Here’s me quoting the Star Wars Wiki quoting me:

Tunequest remarked that the highlight of the score was “The Seduction of Princess Leia,” saying that the piece is “built around a fabulous freakin’ waltz, a first for Star Wars.”

So yay for the slight ego boost.

It’s especially gratifying to see my work included with other prominent film score sites such as Filmtracks and It does seem, however, that some of the factual assertions I made about the score may be in error. On that point, I must defer to the wiki, for it relies on quoted and referenced sources, whereas my own claims were based on the rickety and fragile strands of memory.

Still, the article holds up. Check it out. And if you’re into that sort of thing, explore the Star Wars Wiki (Wookieepedia); it’s crammed full of Star-Warsiness.

The Simpsons Movie: Good Film, Good Music

The Simpsons Movie

This past weekend, I saw The Simpsons Movie and must declare that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it’s become a bit of pastime to bemoan the show’s decline, but honestly, you won’t find much cynicism coming from me with regards to the movie. The plot is straightforward, but fittingly expansive and engrossing for a motion picture. The jokes are actually rather good, largely avoiding the Homer-is-so-grossly-incompetent-that-its-not-funny-anymore humor that plagued the show for a long time. The film also resists the temptation to recycle material from the past eighteen seasons worth of shows, injecting new ideas and wit into the franchise.

All the family members receive a fair amount of screen time and character development, and that goes a long way toward helping the movie succeed. The Simpsons has always been at its best when it has shown the family being a family. With a running time that’s the equivalent of four episodes, The Simpsons Movie is afforded the opportunity to linger on that familial interaction. Heck, for the first 25% of the film, the audience is treated to extended scenes of the family members being themselves.

Bart and Homer hang out and the father-son camaraderie is endearing. Lisa campaigns to save Lake Springfield from pollution (and gets a love interest in the process). Marge is a domestic goddess who worries about everything while doing her best to keep the family together. And Grandpa is, well, Grandpa.

Everyone’s favorite secondary characters, Moe, Lenny, Carl, Burns, Smithers, Apu, et al, received their own choice moments and lines throughout. Even the show’s cavalcade of tertiary characters make appearances, but not to the point of distraction; for the most part they’re limited to simply being drawn in the background so that long-time fans can look and say “Hey, there’s that kid Gavin from the episode Marge Be Not Proud.” You’ll know this scene when you see it.

simpsons movie soundtrack

Simpsons theme at itunes simpsons movie music

And the music… I was actually surprised to hear how good it is. I was a little wary when I learned that Hans Zimmer was composing. His music is decent enough, though truthfully I’ve never found it that compelling (exceptions being Gladiator and parts of Mission Impossible 2), and in general, he’s just so… corporate. And safe. Whenever a big-budget hypefest needs some backing tracks, Zimmer seems like the man to turn to for music that’ll be inoffensive to the highest number of people.

Fortunately, my trepidation in this case was ill-founded. Zimmer does an excellent job of taking the “Simpsons sound” (developed by Danny Elfman’s theme and Alf Clausen’s eighteen years of television scoring) and expanding it to fit the big screen. The music, like everything associated with the film, remains in character, just embiggened.

The disc starts with a grand orchestral interpretation of Danny Elfman’s main theme, which at first feels a bit off-putting after nearly two decades familiarity with the original version. But that quickly fades as the new orchestra does it justice. Overall, the album tends to borrow a great deal of inspiration from Danny Elfman’s sense of playful quirkiness. The movie’s main motif is built around uptempo mischievousness, like if the Jetsons were playing a prank.

It’s not all fun and games though. Like any dramatic film, The Simpsons Movie requires its share of suspense and seriousness, which the music delivers effectively without being distracting. One of best moments on the entire album comes at the beginning of the track You Doomed Us All… Again, which features a tender, melancholy duet between piano and flute.

Through and through, this album impresses. The only sour spot of note is the album’s closer, a track called Recklessly Impulsive, which is a high-BPM techno remix of some themes from the film. After 40ish minutes of stellar music, it’s a little bit jarring and major let down.

Despite the somewhat disappointing finale, I look with just a little amazement at how well both the film and album turned out. I went in with an open mind, but I didn’t exactly have high hopes. Combined, the movie and the score might just be the best pieces of culture I’ve run across all year.

The Simpsons Theme (Orchestral Version):

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John Powell – The Bourne Identity

Released in 2002, John Powell’s music for The Bourne Identity is a smooth contemporary action score that is an exception to the typical generic compositions that accompany such films. It draws upon the standard spy-thriller ethos and echos the work of David Arnold for the James Bond franchise, particularly with its use of lush strings, blending of electronic percussion and sprinkling of jazz and rock elements.

Which is to say I like it a lot. I just saw the film for the first time a week ago good stuff, but I’ve been enjoying this score for years now.

It features pensive action cues that roar to life when needed, but avoids becoming the bombastic cliches that are prevalent in many modern action movies. At the heart of the score, however, are the somber, contemplative, even forlorn moods of a man searching for himself and his place in the world.

With those ideas juxtaposed, the album works on pretty much every level.

Highlighting the score is Treadstone Assassins, a cue used to accent the resolve of CIA’s experimental squad of hit men. It feels more like a dirty rock groove than an orchestral underscore but it doesn’t deviate from the heart of the album. Powered by a gritty determination, this track thumps out an engaging, focused rhythm that screams “let’s do this.”

Do yourself a favor and grab this album.

Treadstone Assassins:

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Air – The Virgin Suicides: Downtempo tension

Several degrees of Air. Or, what’s it take to get Air to remix a Beck song?

  1. Air gets Beck to remix Sexy Boy and provide vocals on Don’t Be Light and the Vagabond.
  2. Beck dated and is married to Marissa Ribisi.
  3. Marissa Ribisi has a twin brother: Giovanni.
  4. Giovanni co-stars in Lost in Translation.
  5. Lost In Translation is directed by Sofia Coppola.
  6. Sofia Coppola also directed The Virgin Suicides.
  7. The Virgin Suicides’ score was written by Air.
  8. Air is on the same record label Astralwerks as fellow French band Phoenix and the two groups plan to play a show together this June at Versailles. Phoenix is also the backing band for a remix of Air’s Kelly Watch the Stars.
  9. Phoenix’s vocalist, Thomas Mars has a daughter with Sofia Coppola.
  10. The soundtracks to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette both feature a song by Phoenix and a song by Air.
  11. Air remixed Beck’s Missing for his remix album Guerilito.

Ok, that’s just an elaborate way of introducing the next record on the tunequest countdown the Pocket Symphony: The Virgin Suicides. Released in 2000, The Virgin Suicides is the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola. Driven by the demands of a soundtrack, this album can’t really be considered a proper follow up to Moon Safari, but it is a nice “bonus disc” of smooth downtempo music as only Air can provide.

Playground Love, the film’s theme, starts the album and provides it with a backbone on which to rest. The song is one of Air’s most conventional in terms of structure and its soulful saxophone melodies are pure delight, setting a perfect mood. From there, The Virgin Suicides is mostly appealing atmospherics. Having not seen the film, I can’t comment on its screen effectiveness, but musically, it is stellar. Somehow, it manages to be tense and laid-back at the same time.

However, downside is that, due to the requirements of being a dramatic underscore, there are few jump-out-and-grab-you moments on the disc, as the music must be subtle enough to blend with the film. As a result, not much stands out from the whole, even though that whole is generally gratifying.

Additionally the record is peppered with the complex compositional influences of prog-rock, yet most of the songs are rather short, which doesn’t give them enough time to really work themselves out. At less than three minutes each, most tracks start off enthusiastically, but prove to be somewhat unfulfilling when they end before reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

The exception is Dirty Trip, which clocks in a just more than six minutes. Fueled by a fat, in-your-face bassline, the song is the swagging monster of the disc. It’s easily the highlight of the soundtrack.

Overall, the score to The Virgin Suicides comes highly recommended. I just wish it were a little longer.

Playground Love video:

My Library

Air: The Virgin Suicides (2000)
13 tracks (of 13)
Average Rating: 3.85
Median Rating: 4
Signature Track: Dirty Trip

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Paramount Pictures closes Stage M

Paramount Pictures closed its legendary Stage M this past August.

The stage opened in 1932 and since then, many famous and notable film scores have been recorded on it, including The Ten Commandments, Out of Africa, as well as a great portion of Star Trek’s music. More recently, Danny Elfman’s score for Nacho Libre was laid down there. try this Google search to see some more examples of music that was recorded on the stage.

Paramount attributed the closing to the company’s financial redevelopment, but said nothing specific. From the article:

A Par spokeswoman attributed the closing to part of the studio’s ongoing efforts to “use the stage the best way we can, as we transform our business here on the lot.” What will happen to the space is anybody’s guess: “that has not yet been determined,” said the spokeswoman.

This is the type of story that, to me, brings home the idea that actual people create all this music I enjoy, that it’s not just academics and abstract relationships. In a world where the months of writing that goes into a symphony and weeks spent recording a rock opus are reduced to but a few minutes of play time, a handful of megabytes on a disk and a couple of lines in a database, that notion can be easily lost. It can all seem like a collector’s game when switching from Beethoven to the Bee Gees requires little more than a thought and a click.

Of course, I know that music is made by people. However, that’s completely intellectual knowledge. Before reading that story, I’d never heard of Stage M. Yet, based on its credits, it was a place that has brought me much listening pleasure in my life. But just as revelations grant power over the ephemeral, my discovery of the that specific recording studio’s existence suddenly makes much of the film music in my library feel more visceral, more real.

And while I can bemoan the passing of the stage, I can partially look at it positively, because if it had never closed, I probably would have never come to know it at all.

L.A. Independent has more on the closing and the history of Stage M.

They went Chattaway! –> The Caretaker’s Hoedown

Voyager Banjo Player

Well, for some reason, almost all of my Star Trek music got pushed toward the end of the tunequest, and believe me, I have nearly all of the Star Trek music except for the unreleased promo soundtrack to the Starfleet Academy video game. If anyone can point towards that, I’ll send you a digital high five or something, so the waters around here will be thick with Trekkin for a bit.

Today’s little nugget of musical trekdom comes from Jay Chattaway, a veteran composer of the post-Next Generation era with music credits on a total of 182 episodes of the franchise (second only to Dennis McCarthy’s 258). Chattaway has been actively writing music for Star Trek since The Next Generation’s 3rd season episode Tin Man, which has been cited by many Trek fans as one of his best contributions to the show’s musical heritage.

By the time Voyager’s first episode began production, he had seven combined seasons worth of titles under his belt (from both TNG and DS9), so it was natural that the show’s producers asked him to score the premiere though the show’s main theme was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who won an Emmy for his efforts. In general, Chattaway’s scores rely heavily on synthesizers and Caretaker is no different, much to its detriment. There’s some good music here, but most of it’s lost in a fog of artificial tones, chords and hums. I’m sure it’s effective on screen, but as stand-alone music, there’s not much that stands out. While listening to it, I couldn’t help but imagine it being performed by a larger, fuller orchestra for a more rewarding experience.

In the end though, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Fortunately, the soundtrack has a saving grace other than the Goldsmith theme. It features the complete banjo performance that was used in part of the episode. It’s pretty catchy and is probably the most unique two minutes in Star Trek’s musical repertoire. The Caretaker’s Howdown:

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Using our console. To order Reliant. To lower her shields.

Enterprise Reliant Standoff

As geeky as this sounds, there was once a point in time when I could recite the accompanying dialogue and sound effects in sequence with this composition. It’s music from The Wrath of Khan, the scene where the Enterprise has been crippled by Khan’s surprise attack and Captain Kirk must stall for time in an attempt to deliver a retaliatory blow to the Reliant (the ship Khan has commandeered).

It’s an exciting scene through-out and the tension slowly builds to an explosive climax, helped to tremendous effect by a near-perfect score. From a James Horner album that’s actually good, here’s Kirk’s Explosive Reply.

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Francis Lai – Vivre Pour Vivre

vivre pour vivre

French composer Francis Lai is perhaps best known for his breakthrough song Un homme et une femme from the 1966 film of the same name.

Lesser known, however, at least in the States, is the film from the next year called Vivre pour Vivre (Live For Life). It was the second collaboration between Lai and Un homme et une femme director Claude Lelouch.

This film is incredibly hard to come by in America; Netflix doesn’t offer it. Amazon offers a Russian! import. And, at the time of this writing, eBay has a single listing for it on PAL DVD. It’s entirely possible that it hasn’t seen any kind of release in the U.S. since the original 1967 debut, which seems odd since it was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe.

The music itself was also nominated for a Golden Globe but lost to Camelot. For this score, Lai composed a specific theme for each of the main characters: Robert, newscaster; Catherine, his wife; and Candice, his mistress (played by Candice Bergen of all people).

Without having seen the film, I can’t comment on how it works on screen, but Candice’s theme evokes a kind of troubled, but determined passion:

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