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 Soundtracks.net. 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.

Yeah, What They Said 6/28

Yeah, What They Said, pointers to interesting stories. Some people call it “link sharing.”

Webomatica chronicles the hoopla as the launch of the iPhone approaches. Antics include people paying other people to stand in line, christening June 29 as “iDay,” and links to major newspaper reviews.
T-minus 5, 4, 3, 2

A number of audiobooks were sold at the iTunes Store recently that didn’t work on the iPod. That problem has been fixed.

Speaking of the iTunes Store, these two links will take you to free downloads from it: Link one. Link two.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of a Netflix subscription.

Speaking of Netflix, Internet Zillionaire confesses the irrational lengths passionate Netflix users can go to in their efforts “to scam, scrimp, rob, cheat, copy, burn, and screw over” the service.

Comprehensive Mac performance tests.
Comparative results from running Geekbench on every Mac released since the slot-load iMac (400Mhz G3 from October 1999). My Intel iMac at home scores a 2338 while my G5 PowerMac at the office scores a 2108. My PowerBook G4 scores a lowly 692.

Electric, battery-powered lawnmowers reviewed by Wired.
I have a Black & Decker model and I love it. No gas. No oil. No spark plugs. No exhaust. Push-button start and enough juice to cover my entire yard (front and back) in one go. The best part: I got it for a third the price on eBay.

Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.
This pretty much sums it up. Personally, I think that, as a story, Star Wars is so poorly thought out, written and executed, if it weren’t for John Williams creating an emotional connection through his superb music, the original film would have flopped. Or, at best, it might have attained underground cult status a la Planet of the Apes or Logan’s Run.


Oh hey, here’s a Velocity Girl video, I Can’t Stop Smiling. It’s an excellent song.

Weird Al – Trapped in the Drive Thru: Perfect Parody

What can I say? This is brilliant. It’s a bit long (11 minutes), so block out some time to watch the whole thing.

It also helps to be familiar with Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s hip-hop opera in multiple parts which tells a complex story (with several interwoven plots) of increasingly bizarre cases of infidelity and sexual hang-ups. Here’s a Google Video if you need to brush up. Sometimes referred to as the “Plan 9” of music videos, the series has obtained a bit of a cult following and it has been a ripe target for parody since its 2005 release.

So it should be no surprise that Weird Al decided to tackle it. But the caliber of the results, now that is a bit surprising. Mr. Yankovic has done some amazingly clever and funny work in the past (his Star Wars Episode I song comes to mind), but the source material for this is just so ridiculously over-the-top that its quite the feat that he was able to top it. And of course, it’s all the more astonishing that he does it by transposing the excessive and strained drama of the original to a topic most mundane: the search for dinner.

Trapped in the Drive-Thru – "Weird Al" Yankovic (Doogtoons)

trapped in the drive thru at itunes


Staff and Bar

I can assure you that you know every single piece of music featured at KickAssClassical.com, but you’d probably strain a muscle trying to figure out when and where you’ve heard them. Hopefully it won’t come to that, because Mike Nelson no, not of mst3k fame has compiled 100 of the most popular pieces in the “serious music,” aka classical music repertoire, pieces made famous by their use (or perhaps over-use) in film, television, cartoons and commercials.

Divided by composer (52 of them), each entry gives a brief bio and pronunciation guide for all the non-anglo names and lists where each piece has been used in modern culture.

The site also includes mp3 snippets of each composition, featuring the most well-known measures of music. I promise you’ll probably be able to hum along to every one. The real trick will be if you know what comes next. I found that on a handful of them, I was at a loss to continue the song after the sample had stopped, even though I completely recognized tune.

Still, you’ll be surprised by where a lot of familiar songs come from. Myself, I nearly had a fit when I heard the sample of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Because about five years ago I decided to use one of my Mac’s speech voices to record my cell phone voicemail message. After playing with all the various options, I settled on one of the “singing” voices, a voice that sounded a lot like the speech from Stephen Hawking’s talking computer, but to a melody.

That was with OS 9 and I’ve since lost the sound file. Mac OS X maintains that melody but has changed the tone with the speech voice “Cellos,” which I used to recreate part of the message i don’t remember all the lyrics.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Trust me, it was funny. But since then, I’ve always been curious about what piece of music it was based on, because I recognized it, but couldn’t place it. As you can hear, it’s clearly In the Hall of the Mountain King. Now that I’m armed with that information, I think I’ll have to track down a good recording of it.

“Cellos” isn’t the only Mac voice to take its inspiration from a classical tune however. “Good News” is modeled on Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, a piece known to graduates world-wide, while “Bad News” is Chopin’s “Funeral March” aka Piano Sonata No. 2 In B Flat Minor.

Speaking of Chopin’s “Funeral March,” KickAssClassical makes the observation that John Williams’ Imperial March “sounds like an amped-up version” of it.” He might be onto something there, especially it you take that march, speed up the tempo, and overlay it with The Ride Of The Valkyries.. Then you might have a case.

Anyway, go check out KickAssClassical.com.

h/t Centripetal Notion

ArkivMusic, The Source for Classical Recordings

Trotter Trio – Sketchin on Star Wars Jazz

star wars jazz at amazon

Interpretations of John Williams’ Star Wars music is a veritable cottage industry. A portion of it is sure to turn up at any concert performance featuring “movie music” as well as concert recordings featuring the same. Then, there’s Meco’s disco versions, The Evil Genius Orchestra’s excellent cocktail versions as well as countless techno/dance/club versions.

So it should come as no surprise that there is at least one jazz variation. The Trotter Trio lays out nine tracks from the original trilogy plus one “inspired by” song that incorporates quotes of the “Force Theme.” The styles range from uptempo swing jazz to mellow cool jazz. There’s even a hint of “smooth” jazz mixed in too but I won’t hold that against it.

Listening to this record, I can’t help but imagine Star Wars set, not as an epic space opera, but as a mirky black-and-white film noir, particularly when hearing Han Solo and the Princess:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Clean up your Composer tags already!

Update: The revised sorting feature/problem in iTunes 7.3 and later renders portions of this advice useless. Some of it still applies for Smart Playlist building, but the segregated sorting no longer works. If you’re using a version prior to 7.3, go nuts. If you’re using 7.3 or later, be warned.

In striving for zen-like simplicity while maintaining and extending the usability of iTunes, please follow me as I introduce you to the technique I use to keep my Composer tags orderly and navigable particularly when using an iPod. The idea is to streamline the presentation of the tags while adding meaning to them.

In my library there are three types of songs that require use of the composer tag:

  1. Classical and other so-called “serious music”
    Principally includes all works by traditionally-recognized composers and performed by orchestras, quartets, etc. Also includes film and television recordings that are not the originals, such as when the Royal Philharmonic plays Star Trek or Trotter Trio’s jazz CD Sketches on Star Wars.
  2. Cover songs
    Whether live or in studio, remakes or performances of songs that were originally recorded and released by another artist or group.
  3. Remix Albums
    Collections of remixes of other artists’ songs released under the marquee of the remixer. For example: Fila Brazillia’s Brazilification.

If a song in my library doesn’t belong to one of those categories, the composer tag is left empty, completely blank. There’s no need to use the tag in the pop/rock idiom; all the relevant info is contained in the song-artist-album structure.

The same goes for movie scores and other “Original Motion Picture Soundtracks.” It’s redundant to put “John Williams” in both the artist and composer when it’s his recording of the original release of the album that you’re tagging.

Some people are tempted to put the songwriter in the Composer space and CDDB/Gracenote often includes it when retrieving a CD.

Well, don’t. And if you already have, delete it.

How likely are you to go to the Composer field and select “Cobain, Kurt” when you want to hear Heart-shaped Box? Not very, I’m sure. You are much more likely to select “Nirvana” from the Artist field. If you must obsessively keep that info, put it in the Comments field. That way you can still find it in your Encyclopedia iTunica if you need it, but it won’t get in the way of using your iPod.

So how do we keep these styles from intermingling, so that you don’t end up with Guns n’ Roses next to Gustav Mahler?

It’s rather easy; just add leading character to the beginning of your composer text based on the type of file it is, particularly if a song does not fall into the Classical category.

In my scheme, classical music takes priority, as it is the format that best benefits from using the field. In these cases, the composer is, well, the composer. Syntax is up to you: Mahler; Gustav Mahler; Mahler, Gustav; however you see fit to do it.

Likewise for film and tv music that’s not from the original release. I treat those recordings the same as classical. The Artist tag goes to the ensemble performing the work while the original composer gets credit in the Composer tag.

ipod plays composer tags with brackets for cover tunes

Cover Tunes

With cover tunes, the original performer’s name is surrounded by brackets [ ]. So when The Cardigans play a Black Sabbath song Iron Man, the Composer tag looks like this [Black Sabbath]. Now all the cover songs are sorted alphabetically together on the iPod. Plus, I can create a Smart Playlist with condition Composer starts with [ and have all of them gathered in a single spot. If new cover tunes get added in the future, they’re automatically included in the Smart Playlist.

Cover tunes smart playlist. Click to see larger version.

Finally, there’s remix albums. There’s a long discussion to be had about how to treat those with iTunes.

Hopefully, these suggestions are helpful and will assist in taking full advantage of iTunes’/iPod’s power.

Joel McNeely – Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

shadows of the empire

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire at itunes Shadows of the empire at amazon enhanced cd

In 1996, LucasFilm embarked on a multi-channel marketing project in an effort to make more money off the aging Star Wars franchise. The result was Shadows of the Empire, a venture that involved all the machinations of a movie marketing and tie-in campaign, without the production of an actual movie. In total, the endeavor included a novel, comic books, video games, trading cards, toys (of course) and, most relevant to this site, a soundtrack.

Not surprisingly, John Williams was approached to compose the score, but he declined, instead recommending Joel McNeely for the job.

McNeeley’s results are quite surprising and offer a unique look at Star Wars music. In contrast to Goldsmith’s approach with SG-1, McNeely almost completely abandons the established music for the franchise. Beyond the opening titles, there’s scantly a mention of any Star Wars motif or cue. No location cues for places featured in the films, and no character motifs save for a short mention of Leia’s theme. There’s a single quote of the "rebel fleet" cue from the end of The Empire Strikes Back and brief blast of the force theme. The Imperial March makes two brief appearance. Beyond that, the music is wholly original.

Listening to the soundtrack this past week, I couldn’t help but hear this music as I would some romantic-era "program music." Indeed, that’s what Shadows of the Empire essentially is. As a soundtrack without a film, each track works as a symphonic poem that exists to convey the ideas, settings and emotions of the story, without being tied literally to the images on a screen, leaving sonic imprints of peoples, places and events that can only be imagined.

Easily highlighting the score is track seven: The Seduction of Princess Leia, which is built around a fabulous freakin’ waltz, a first for Star Wars. The rest of the album is equally intriguing, invoking fantastic settings in a way reminiscent of the late romantics. Imagine Debussy or Holst writing music for Star Wars; the results would probably be similar to this.

John Williams – Jurassic Park: Hold on to your butts

jurassic park

jurassic park compact disc jurassic park at itunes

Since the mid-1970s, John Williams has never been lacking in notoriety.

Jaws, Towering Inferno, Close Encounters, Superman, Star Wars… these film scores made him a household name, gaining fame and respect for work that is generally restricted to devotees and cultists only. The Star Wars album even managed to break into the public’s consciousness, becoming best-seller on the Billboard charts for 1977 and inspiring an awful disco/dance version of the main titles that went to number one on that same chart.

My dad even had the vinyl double-disc mixed in with his Beatles and Grand Funk.

Williams became as close to being a rock star as a composer of "serious music" could get. And he kept it up into the early 80s with popular themes to the Star Wars sequels and the Indiana Jones franchise.

Then something peculiar seems to have happened. Looking over his list of credits, starting in 1983, we see a sharp decrease in his film output. I’m not overly familiar with his biography, so I don’t know what all he did during that time, but he does appear to keep a rather low profile for the next 10 years (maybe he spent most of his time chilling with the Boston Pops?). And while many of the scores he did produce during that time have artistic merit, none of them can claim to have captured the same public zest as those earlier hits.

Even the scores to the hit films Home Alone and Hook failed to garner much attention outside of film score buff circles, despite the films’ mass audience popularity.

Williams never really disappeared, but in 1993, he becomes a rock star again. And the film that does it is Jurassic Park. Like Star Wars before it, this picture hit a critical mass in cultural awareness and became a landmark event in the history of movie making.

And as with Star Wars, Williams’ music for the film became a crossover hit. Among my peers, it was not uncommon to see Jurassic Park mixed in with Nirvana or Snoop Dogg.

And the reasons are obvious. With its sweeping themes and dinosaur-sized sound, this thing is a masterpiece. The majesty of the Journey to the Island suite is easily the high point of the score. But throughout the score’s entire length, it fails to disappoint. There is not a single bad note in its entire 70 minute length.

If you haven’t heard it in a while, I heartily recommend that you check it out.

Louis and Bebe Barron – Forbidden Planet: Retro Space Tripping

Forbidden Planet is a fantastic film and is available on iTunes.

So I recently listened to Louis and Bebe Barron’s avant garde and experimental score to the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. This soundtrack was one of the handful of Records That Time Forgot columns that I wrote in a previous life. I reprint it here for your reading enjoyment.

In 1956, science fiction as we know it scarcely existed as a genre. Adventures in space were mostly centered around action and heroics rather than depth, plot or characters. That changed with “Forbidden Planet,” which despite its fantastic setting, gave some credit to the intelligence of its audience. So influential was this film, that programs from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” to “2001” (and all that has followed them) are in its debt.

Adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the story concerns Commander John J. Adams’ (Leslie Nielsen) rescue of a doomed colonization vessel bound for Altair-4. He arrives on the planet to find two lone survivors, Dr. Morbius and his daughter, who have mysteriously built a paradise on a barren rock.

It turns out that an ancient powerful race had mastered “mind-over-matter” technology, allowing thoughts to become reality, and Morbius has mastered it as well. Or so he thought. He hadn’t counted on a striking young Commander making his daughter’s acquaintance. Induced by jealousy, the doctor’s uncontrollable id creates an indomitable monster that threatens to destroy them all.

Created by husband-and-wife team Louis and Bebe Barron, the score to "Forbidden Planet" is less music and more sculpted noise, appropriately and perfectly crafted to fit the alien landscape presented in the film. Composed completely by electronic means (using many circuits created by the duo specifically for this project), this soundtrack consists of wails and groans interspersed with beeps, boops, and wobbles, as if a washing machine and a 1950’s flying saucer had a shotgun wedding in Vegas and produced some sort of bastard child.

Forbidden Planet’s “music” goes beyond the traditional role of underscoring the film’s action on screen, creating a sub text for character motivations and off-screen actions. Standing in for the long-dead ancient race, the soundscape becomes a character itself, giving a voice to the beings who live on through their machines, while constantly reminding the viewer of the complete otherworldliness of the situation.

The lack of traditional styling, instrumentation, and structure make the album difficult to listen to, but those same qualities make it perfect to put on and not listen to. In proper settings and situations, the effects produced can become peaceful and serene background noise. Dwell on it too long though, or listen to it in the dark, and the intended creepiness and disturbing inhumanity can summon dark nightmares, providing them with a soundtrack for a total freak-out.

It is fitting that a film that proved to be ground breaking has a soundtrack that is equally so. The experimentation shown here was a great success, especially in regards to modern electronic music, which might not exist had it not been for these pioneers.