tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

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Dennis McCarthy – Deep Space Nine: Emissary: An Unexpected Treat

In the pantheon of composers who have worked on Star Trek, none are more prolific than Dennis McCarthy, who has been working with the franchise since the debut episode of The Next Generation to the final episode of Enterprise. Of course, whether you think that's a good thing or bad depends on your opinion of his music.

With the rather large caveat that Mr. McCarthy's composing abilities were limited by the franchise’s producers and production capabilities, who placed less emphasis on bold thematic music in favor of reusable "mood" and "atmospheric" cues, I must admit that, on the whole, I've not been impressed. I know it's not the composer's fault, and that I'm probably unfairly comparing his work to the more grandiose Star Trek film scores, but it's hard to wrap my head around the largely ambient, mood-setting scoring. a similar complaint I have regarding the bulk of Christopher Franke's Babylon 5 music. Maybe it's just a general limitation of writing music for television.

However, I recently listened to McCarthy's score for the premiere episode of Deep Space Nine (Emissary) and was quite surprised at its musical complexity. Though I've never been a big fan of the lumbering syncopation of the show's main title, I can’t help but get caught up in its a magnificent crescendo. It’s a perfect segue into each episode.

While McCarthy's music for the Borg Battle at Wolf 359 is not nearly as menacing or action-packed as Ron Jones' from The Best of Both Worlds, it too ends on a dramatic note that works, both by itself and on screen as we see Sisko's escape pod leave the Saratoga just before its destruction.

The score, from there, delves into the backdrop zone until the track Cucumbers in Space, an oddly-named piece of futuristic head-bopping source music. The score reaches a highlight on Into the Wormhole which evokes Jerry Goldsmith's exquisite V'Ger flyover music from the first motion picture. Later, during Reconciliation there's a cue that's reminiscent of one of my favorite passages from the third movement of Mahler's sixth symphony.

All in all, I found the score to Emissary to be an unexpected treat.

April 11-13

wow. a whirlwind of music the past couple days. i guess that’s what happens when impending deadlines force you to stay at the office into the wee hours of the evening. who says publishing isn’t a rewarding field?

some great music this time around:

  • alan silvestri [back to the future ii]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the ragged edge]
  • string theory [anhedonia]
  • hum [downward is heavenward]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: lines of communication]
  • medeski, martin and wood [combustication]
  • john barry [across the sea of time]
  • stereolab [dots and loops]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the coming of shadows]
  • daft punk [discovery]
  • at home with the groovebox
  • mikhail pletnev performing tchaikovsky’s morceaux (18) for piano
  • mouse on mars [distoria ep]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: no surrender no retreat]
  • oslo philharmonic performing tchaikovsky’s manfred symphony
  • yoko kanno [cowboy bebop: vitaminless]
  • orbital [diversions]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5 volume 1]
  • man or astroman? [destroy all astromen!]

dots and loopswhile we’re on the subject of leaps-above-the-bar music, i must also mention both stereolab’s dots and loops and hum’s downward is heavenward. though i’ve been a stereolab fan for quite some time now (i’ve even been to 2 shows), i didn’t realize until i was preparing this write up how highly rated dots and loops is. stereolab is a great band, but it can be very uneven. on most albums, every 5 star song is countered by a 3 star song (the lowest on my ratings scale; 1 and 2 stars are reserved for organizational purposes), but not dots and loops. every song on that album is either 4 or 5 stars. ‘miss modular, ‘prisoner of mars’ and ‘parsec’ stick out as particularly outstanding works.

i remember my first stereolab reference. it was my senior year of high school and i was on a road trip with 2 friends and my mom, scouting colleges in central florida. we were walking around the campus of the florida institute of technology when my friend roy mentioned that he was getting into this new band stereolab (of course, the band had been together about 6 years at that point, but it was new to him). now, i never really trusted roy’s musical recommendations. our tastes overlapped for the most part, but not enough for me to heed his opinion. nothing really came of it, but i do remember seeing dots and loops laying about his room. it wasn’t until 2 years later when i heard cobra and phases that roy was vindicated in that regard. the rest, as they say, is history. •

a note about the babylon 5 music: i’ve gotten about 60% though my collection of it and i still can’t make head or tails of it. it all just sounds so… the same. the 30+ albums that make up the more than 17 hours of music is a lot to digest, particularly when it’s all a similar style. that’s not to say that it’s not good. each season’s theme is excellent of course, and some choice cues are great, such as the classical guitar work that i heard in the ragged edge today. but there’s a lot of more ambient ‘mood setting’ music that kinda blends together from album to album, which makes it hard to decide which tracks to take special note of.

then of course, there’s the coming of shadows, which also made the playlist today. the entire production team was firing on all cylinders for this episode, including christopher franke, who has written some very tense music for a very tense episode. if i had to recommend any of the babylon 5 albums, it would be this one. •

some smooth slacker jazz from medeski, martin and wood.
the surf-inspired stylings of man or astroman?, including a rendition of the MST3K theme.
some competent electronic work from orbital.

March 27 – 66 songs played. 25 removed.

exclusively composed music today it seems, mostly from film and television, though the most excellent slavonic dances were mixed in as well.

  • bavarian radio orchestra performing dvorak’s slavonic dances op.46
  • joseph loduca [army of darkness]
  • alan silvestri [back to the future]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: in the beginning]
  • the boston pops performing select john williams compositions
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the long night]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: sleeping in light]

sleeping in light is the last episode of babylon 5 and is also probably christopher franke’s best score for the series. it is contemplative yet sweeping in its composition, a fitting accompaniment to the episode that wraps up the character’s loose threads.

the babylon 5 scores, like the show itself, dramatically improve as the show progresses. the first season in particular is hard to enjoy. don’t get me wrong; i admire what jms was attempting at the time and ultimately what he achieved with the series, but the production value of those early episodes left a lot to be desired. and franke’s new-age inspired music for the first season didn’t help matters. however, as the action, suspense and intrigue mount of the course of the show, franke really steps up and produces some contemplative and engaging music.

if i had to recommend just one soundtrack, it would probably be sleeping in light. or maybe coming of shadows, just for the scene where the centari emperor has his heart attack. •

the army of darkness score is rousing and fun, just like the movie. it also contains the march of the dead by danny elfman, which hey, is good. •

March 10 – 57 songs played.

this morning i increased the number songs on the tunequest playlist from 300 to 1000 songs. that translates to about 110 albums or so, alphabetically ranging from ‘0’ to ‘Bo.’ even though alpha-by-album method pretty much ensures a random assortment of musical styles, i decided i wanted an even larger variety to choose from. so without further ado, here are today’s entries.

  • thomas newman [american beauty]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the face of the enemy]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: river of souls]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: messages from earth]
  • chris isaak [baja sessions]
  • mercury rev [all is dream]

today was the first of what i’m sure will be several babylon 5 days in the coming weeks. tangerine dream member christopher franke wrote the music for every episode of the epic sci-fi series and has released the score from about 30 of the 110 episodes for a total of about 17 hours to my taste, the music is very laid back and mellow; appropriately spacey with a handful of memorable themes and catchy action cues. thelogbook has just about everything you’d want to know and more. •

i don’t know much about thomas newman or his composing style, but his unorthodox score for the 1999’s american beauty is unique and compelling. i haven’t seen the film, so i don’t know what effect the score generated on screen, but the music, based primarily on percussion, is simple, subtle and itself beautiful. •

lastly, i’ve never paid much attention to Chris Isaak, but a bunch of his albums came with my marriage, and i’ve found that i do enjoy his laid-back style. today, he took me to a little bit of mexico while channeling elvis and roy orbison with his baja sessions. Though he was trying to hard on Only the Lonely.