The video game score has over the past few years grown in popularity, and it is also a medium that I see as something that will maybe encourage a younger generation of film music fans. Because let’s face it video game scores are film music, they are scores for moving images on screen, and I have to add that in the past three to four years these scores have certainly come of age with composers delivering grandiose and near operatic examples. One such composer is Gareth Coker, his music for two games caught my attention and have stayed with me as I return to them regularly.
Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, are both amazingly well-crafted scores, these are a film music fans dream come true, overflowing with rich romantically laced themes, and also containing robust action material with ethereal sounding passages and haunting tone poems scattered throughout. The composer utilizes choir and female voice to great effect throughout both soundtracks, and underlines and enhances these with lilting and tender strings that are complimented by poignant sounding woods to achieve something that is for want of a better word pure. The composer has worked on many more projects shorts, movies, TV series and more games. His music is in a word stunning. The composer manages to evoke the sound and style of the golden age of Hollywood, but also infuses his compositions with a more contemporary sound that bares his own unique musical fingerprint, In the scores for the two Ori games he has established a sound that is innovative as well as inventive, creating wonderfully affecting thematic material that one cannot help but be attracted to because of its alluring and at times hypnotic musical persona.
I cannot say that one Ori score is better than the other, as both have so much within them that will please. Every cue is a delight, each composition is special, with every note being placed meticulously in position. If you are looking for grand, romantic, powerful, lyrical, action led, emotive, and a whole lot more, well its all here.
These are predominantly symphonic works, with some synthetic support, but the lions share of the music is performed by live musicians. These are scores are an Oasis in a desert of electronic, sampled and synthetic soundtracks, a breath of melodic fresh air at a time when the drone and soundscape is beginning to wear a little thin. Highly recommended.
The Sonata is a film that was released in 2020, it was one of the last movies that starred the wonderful, Rutger Hauer and has an incredible soundtrack which is composed by French Maestro, Alexis Maingaud.
There is a maturity and an eloquent melodic quality to the score, it is filled with a tense and nervous atmosphere, but also conveys an atmosphere that is alluring and appealing via its luxurious thematic material. For me it evoked the work of Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith, because it is not only a brooding and dark affair but has a foundation of semi melodious themes that ooze sophistication but saying that it also has to it an originality with the composer displaying his obvious gift for creativity throughout.
This is real film music, there are no drone like soundscapes here that fill time or underline the action on screen, intelligently written, overflowing with innovative musical passages and containing inventive orchestrations. The music seems to invade the listeners sub conscious and purveys moods and atmospheres that are thick with mystery and have to them a apprehensive air. The Four Faces of Evil, is a chilling and unnerving piece, low and somber strings are the main stay of the cue, with the composer adding more layers via a more pronounced string presence, with fleeting use of woodwind, and a faraway sounding horn solo momentarily rising out of the shadowy and somewhat macabre sounding composition giving a brief respite.
Many of the cues are quite short in their duration, but this does not mean that the music does not have any less of an affect upon the listener. There is an other-worldly or ethereal sound to much of the score, the composer creating a daunting and uneasy atmosphere. The cue The Crypt too conjures up a darkness and a menacing mood, strings again that form a foundation and are then surrounded by more strings that are like a swirling whirlpool of sound.
The Children is also a cue that must be listened too, short but effective, searing strings making their presence felt and creating a tense musical persona. Running in the Woods too is an intense composition, which begins low key, but has this ominous and harrowing underlying sound, which soon builds into a full on dramatic and driving force courtesy of a combination of percussive elements, brass, and strings.
This for me certainly evokes the style of Goldsmith and although short is exhilarating. TheSonata is a superbly crafted film score, with its driving brass and strings, its low key and richly dark piano, it’s fleeting thematic properties that haunt the listener and its inventive and booming percussion, it is a must have item. It punctuates, enhances, laces, and supports the picture but it also contains qualities that make it just as appealing away from the movie it was intended to enhance.
The Sonata is a powerful and nerve-jangling work, that will be amongst many film music collector’s favorites once heard Track number, 32, Violin Sonata op 54 “Rose”, is a triumph, and conveys so many mixed emotions, it is melodic, but at the same time highly expressive and dramatic. Even the End Credits, do not let up in the powerhouse department, so commanding and yet so sweet. Released soon on the French Independent music label AOC. On May 5th.
The music of British composer Rachel Portman has for many years now been a mainstay of cinema both British and American. Portman began her career as a composer by scoring mainly TV projects and soon progressed to writing music for the silver screen. Her style or sound is quite unique as it remains over ally and quintessentially English, but also has to it a underlying sound that can be likened to maybe the Hollywood style as in richly thematic and romantic.
She has over the years produced so many gorgeously enriching and hauntingly beautiful works, as in The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and more recently Godmothered for Disney. Portman was born in Haslemere in the county of Surrey, England. She was educated at Charterhouse and became interested in music from an early age, with her first attempts at composition being undertaken in her early teens. After she completed her days at school Portman went onto study music at Worcester College in Oxford. It was whilst studying here that she first became interested in writing music for films and started to experiment by scoring student movies and writing music for various theatre productions. Her career commenced with the writing of incidental music for mainly BBC drama productions, and she also scored a handful of films for Channel four in the UK, which included Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, as well as Mike Leighs Four Days in July and the acclaimed Oranges are not the only Fruit. She has also worked on an opera The Little Prince, which was later adapted and made into a musical. Her success as a composer is due to her obvious gift for melody and her ability to adapt to any genre of film and create thematic but supportive music for any scenario. It is difficult not to be enchanted and engulfed by the composers wonderfully lilting and affecting music, she adds tender musical undercurrents to any production and enhances and laces each project with a fragile and delicate musical air, that is not just film music but is music that is integral and important to any storyline.
One of her better-known scores is for The Cider House Rules(1999), which is beyond beguiling and above enchanting, the central melody straight away captures the audiences ear and also sets the scene beautifully for the movies storyline, becoming central and so supportive of the main characters, relaying a fragility, vulnerability, and also a romantic atmosphere, that once heard is never easily forgotten. The theme which is a simple one binds the score and the movies story together adding poignancy, emotion, and drama to the proceedings. The affecting central theme is stunningly expressive, and the composer utilizes it and variations of it throughout, to elevate, underline and totally support.
The movie was directed by Lasse Hamilton, and starred Michael Caine, Toby Maguire, Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd, and Kieran Culkin. The story was written by John Irvin and is a touching drama set in an orphanage in Maine, where a doctor (Caine) trains and mentors Homer Wells (Maguire) and follows him after he leaves the orphanage. Portman’s score graces and ingratiates the films storyline as it develops adding much to the proceedings.
The same can be said for her emotive music for the movie Never Let Me Go (2010), which again is highly effective both within the movie and away from it when one listens to the score as just music. Portman conveys a mood of melancholy via solo cello performances, woodwind, and solo piano performances which are underlined and punctuated by the string section. The film was directed by Mark Romanek from a screenplay by Alex Garland. Never Let Me Go is set in an alternative history and focuses upon three characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy portrayed by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, respectively, and how they become entangled in a love triangle.
Portman’s score is again essential to the film’s storyline, creating subtle and alluring moods and creating romantic, sad, and dramatically tense atmospheres. Godmothered is a more recent score from the composer. The film, which is a Disney production, has had mixed reactions from critics but as far as I can see the cinema going public love it, and that is all that matters isn’t it? It’s a movie that has a feel good and warm persona, and don’t we need something these days that makes us smile? Yes, we do. The score is filled with quirky and comedic passages that are all held together by oodles of sentimental melancholy.
A young and unskilled fairy godmother ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored. The score is a delight, and we hear Portman at her melodic best here. The work skips literally from one delicious piece to another, the composer creating a veritable landslide of joyous and affecting themes. It is also fully symphonic, which straight away grabs one’s attention, there is a fragility about Portman’s soundtrack that not only attracts and hypnotises but succeeds in enhancing the events on screen. Even with its reference to The Sound ofMusic within one of its tracks, both the film and its score complement each other as they are both enchanting and romantic, quirky, and entertaining. The story will transport us away from the here and now for nearly two hours, which again I am sure will be welcomed by many and the soundtrack is a sublime listening experience within the movie and away from it.
Private Peaceful, is a 2012 film that is said to be based partly on fact and taken from the story or novel by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. The plot focuses upon two brothers that have both fallen in love with the same girl. But the story is far more involved than this. It explores the story and life of a young British man Thomas Peaceful, or “Tommo” as seen by him and as related by him in an account where he recalls his experiences and certain events in his life.
The early section of the story relates to his life as a boy and takes place before the outbreak of WW l, it tells the story of his obsessive love for Molly a beautiful young girl who he met on his first day at school. It also focuses upon his eldest sibling Big Joe who is brain damaged due to complications at birth and of his other Brother Charlie who is older than Thomas but younger than Joe. Thomas has for several years kept a dark and terrible secret, when he was younger, he went wood cutting with his Father, but a tree nearly falls on Thomas, his Father saves him, but his act of selflessness costs him his own life as he is crushed by the tree. Thomas has kept this too himself all these years, as he feels he is the reason that his Father died and is eaten up with grief and guilt. The three Brothers grow up together with the two younger members of the trio Charlie and Tommo protecting Big Joe at all costs. Their childhood is a happy one spent playing in the fields and having so many adventures together. One of their favourite pastimes being to annoy their Great Aunt who they nick name Grandma Wolf or The Wolfwoman.
They also cause the Colonel a lot of headaches and one day see an airplane fly over being the first in their village to do so. As they grow Charlie, Tommo and Molly all find employment either at the estate or in the village. As Charlie and Molly become closer, Tommo begins to feel increasingly left out, and soon discovers that Charlie and Molly have been seeing each other and Molly becomes pregnant. She then moves in with the Peaceful family after her own family refuse to have any more to do with her. As the outbreak of the great war becomes more obvious Charlie and Molly are married and soon after both Charlie and Thomas are sent to the battlefields of Flanders, where although they have had their differences, Charlie is still highly protective of his younger Brother. During an assault on German lines Tommo is wounded and despite being told to leave him in no mans land Charlie stays with his sibling once again protecting him at all costs. After which Charlie is accused of being a coward by his sergeant, charges are brought, and he is court martialed and executed. The story ends with Tommo waiting to go into action at the battle of the Somme. Directed by Pat O Connor, the movie starred Jack O Connell as Charlie Peaceful and featured a strong cast of familiar British actors that included, George MacKay as Tommo, Alexandra Roach as Molly, Richard Griffiths as the Colonel, Frances de la Tour as Grandma Wolf and Maxine Peak as Hazel Peaceful. Rachel Portman provided the movie with a sensitive and pastoral sounding score which is also a lilting and subtle one.
The composer adding moving and soft nuances throughout to underline the ever developing and highly personal storyline. Portman also provides a darker more ominous style of music, for the more dramatically laced parts of the story with its subdued but at the same time effective presence. A symphonic work, the main parts of the score being performed by the string section, giving it a rustic but idyllic sound, which is enhanced further and sustained by a small brass ensemble with percussion and woods adding underlying support. Other movies that the composer has scored include Chocolat, The Duchess, Harts War, Emma, Despite the Falling Snow, Benny and Joon, Race and so many more.
I want to start soundtrack supplement forty by mentioning just briefly the score for the new sci-fi movie Cosmoball, which has a magnificent soundtrack penned by Italian born composer and pianist Tony Neiman, let it suffice to say that it is well worth checking out, and available on digital platforms.
A full review will be here on MMI soon And an interview with the composer. So eatch for this.
So on with soundtrack supplement forty (yes forty) and it’s still a busy time for soundtrack releases, and there are so many new composers emerging as well as talented filmmakers. I hopefully will include some of the more interesting soundtracks here, and maybe be successful in pointing you in the right direction or at least giving you a recommendation or two as well as drawing your attention to a handful that you just might have missed.
Jermaine Stegall (Proximity 2020 and, Jamesy Boy 2014) is a young composer who in my opinion will become very, very, busy in the not-too-distant future, and hopefully we will be seeing his name on more of the credits of both TV and feature films, plus hopefully hearing more of his scores on CD and digital platforms. His most recent score is for the highly anticipated Amazon original movie Coming to America 2, which is such a great listen, the composer combines ethnic voices and rhythms with orchestral score, and this is a formula that I love and it works wonderfully. The score is so good in the movie but also away from the film the music remains entertaining and highly infectious.
The composers use of percussive elements is stunning, and for me is the focal point of the soundtrack, however, add to this the affecting and driving orchestral backgrounds and what we have here is probably one of the top scores thus far of 2021. The composer seems to have put everything he possible could into this score, with its highly rhythmic sound and its edgy but at the same mischievous style, it is something that I know many of us will take to straight away.
Tracks on the soundtrack such as Celebration are just wild and motivating with percussion only being the instrumentation. This is a soundtrack I could listen to all day long and I mean all day long and not tire of it. Highly recommended.
Another wonderful score is for the Disney plus documentary Secrets of Whales which is a four-part series narrated by Sigourney Weaver and directed by James Cameron. The score is by Raphaelle Thibaut, and it is one that you should own and cherish. Her music is enchanting and delicate in places, with fragile sounding tone poems making their presence felt throughout, it is a fusion of synthetics and symphonic, with the electronic elements being supportive of the more conventional instrumentation and both sections working harmoniously together in a collaboration that is stunning and haunting.
The work is totally absorbing, with the composer creating beautiful and affecting interludes, where the richness of the thematic material shines through to engulf and mesmerize the listener. For me it evokes the sound achieved by both Ennio Morricone and Vangelis, with the composer combining so many colors and textures and then adding them from her musical palette to the film like delicate brushstrokes to canvas. There is beauty and tenderness purveyed here that is rarely heard these days in film scoring, which she combines eloquently with an epic and inspiring sound. Again recommended.
The score for Traidores, is released on the Plaza Mayor label and available on digital platforms, the music is by composer Jose Sanchez Sanz, who has woven an at times quite complex but varied work, there are a number of themes within the score, but these are at times I think understated, and this style and tempo is the order of the day here, but just because they are not epic sounding or grand does not mean they are not entertaining and also effective, at times I think understated and near atonal cues are just as rewarding in the listening department as epic and romantic sounding soundtracks and this is certainly the case here. The composer has created a tense and dramatic score, that relies upon strings as in a small ensemble or solo performances to convey the apprehensive and at times awkwardness of the movie’s storyline, nonetheless this is a powerful score, it supports without overwhelming and adds atmosphere and depth to an already compelling story, and the composer also manages to relay a sense of vulnerability via his sparse and slight compositions. Try it out its on all digital platforms.
Mortal Kombat has a score by Benjamin Wallfisch, and I have to say it’s a score that I can take or leave, again there seems to be nothing whatsoever that is original here, there is nothing that says this is a Wallfisch score as it could easily be Junkie XL or Hans Zimmer, for me this is a bunch of noise, which granted does at times break into thematic material, but it has that grating factor, where most of us think Enough and either turn it off or move it on, Sorry this one is not for me, but its available on digital platforms so please do have a listen and make up your own mind. I wish that the composer would return to a more thematic style and stop this drone like soundscape work he has served up recently. But like I say its just personal taste and this is not mine, and who knows maybe the movie’s producers wanted this?
Let’s go back a little way shall we with a score that you might well have missed. Master of the World was a movie that starred Vincent Price, Charles Bronson and Henry Hull. The musical score was by American composer, arranger, and conductor Les Baxter. This is in my opinion one of Baxter’s more melodic scores and contains an avalanche of themes which are rich and luxurious. The soundtrack first appeared on the Vee Jay record label back in 1961. I always remember the gloriously colorful album cover, which thankfully has been retained on the various re-releases that have been made available, selections of the score is now available on digital platforms as Les Baxter at the Movies vol 1, along with selections from other Baxter scores such as Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, The man With the X Ray eyes, Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Goliath and the Barbarians, and Tales of Terror.
The sound on this release is wonderfully rich as in the old days when recordings were all in mono, and this compilation has to be a perfect introduction to anyone who is not familiar with the dramatic yet melodic style of Baxter. Master of the World for me was like a slightly darker version of Around the World in Eighty Days by Victor Young, with Baxter creating so many lush and expressive themes, that it is sometimes hard to believe that all this music came from just one film score. The track Flight Concerto is breathtaking and beautiful, with other cues such as The Mountains and The Overture (remember those), standing out.
This collection is a must have and I know that once heard you will be looking for the full scores of each and everyone of them. The full soundtrack album of Master of the World is also available on digital platforms and is the same line up as the original Vee Jay LP record from 1961 which is a total of twelve tracks. But the sound quality of this edition is a little worn out, and dull with a chattering throughout, but if you can get by this the score still shines and is stupendously entertaining, and one gets to experience Baxter at his inventive best with cues such as The Albatross, The Balloon Waltz and Topage, which is possibly the most appealing cue on the score.
Certainly one for your collection, vintage film music at its best and whilst you are there why not check out the abundance of Baxter releases that are both film related and exotica and easy listening, there is a whole world of sounds to discover or re-discover which ever applies to you personally. And just a thought when having a look around these digital sites also type in Henry Mancini and go to his score for Hatari, another masterful soundtrack from the 1960’s. Released in 1962,
Hatari was a vehicle for John Wayne, but turned out to be a popular movie with Mancini’s great soundtrack helping matters along nicely matters with the infectious opening theme which is heavy on percussion and the stand out cue from the score and even now still a familiar tune with many Baby Elephant Walk like many of his scores the composer combining jazz influences with romantic tones, easy listening flourishes and dramatic passages.
Then there is some classic Ennio Morricone, in the form of a seventeen-track edition of Escalation, which includes far more music than the original CAM CD release, I think its always good to go back and re-discover past scores, by composers living or by those that have passed away. Escalation was written at a particularly fruitful time in the composer’s career which was in the 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s. Escalation was released in 1968 and contains the sounds and style that the Maestro had effectively invented and developed. It is a fusion of pop or soft rock, Sitar performances, experimental sounds both musical and otherwise, and neo classical interludes, which are blended with romantic and dramatic orchestral colors. Certainly, worth a listen and even if you already have it why not treat yourself and listen again.
Back a new release and to a score by Howard Shore, Pieces of a Woman. This is a Netflix film, and contains a truly exquisite soundtrack from the composer. It is filled with fragility, emotion, and poignancy and oozing with lilting and haunting themes that seem to just trickle over the listener stirring deep thoughts of romance, melancholy, and solitude. The composer utilizing solo piano to purvey all these senses fashioning an effective and affecting soundtrack. The piano performances are at times supported and enhanced by woods or strings giving them even an even greater emotional impact. Highly Recommended.
Also worth a mention is Clint Mansell’s dark and somber soundtrack for In the Earth, I say somber, but it is in fact a highly creative, brooding, and inventive, the composer using a largely electronic line up to bring his musical notions to fruition.
Also take a listen to Joseph Trapanese’s recent work on the Netflix TV series Shadow and Bone, which is mysterious, and startling, being filled with a sinister undertone that is dark and malevolent but at the same time slightly mischievous.
Then we have the shifting moody music of Andrew Piland, who has recently scored These Streets We Haunt, this is an atmospheric work, that is one moment shadowy and foreboding and then in the next instant becomes a more melodic and thematic score that has these pockets of subdued romanticism and emotive interludes. Again, worth checking out.
30 Monedas has a soundtrack that has been penned by talented Spanish film music composer Roques Banos, this is not just an atmospheric work but is also a powerful one, with the composer combining rich orchestral sounds with choir to yield sinewy, urgent, and driving passages. Available on digital platforms, so just go click on it and be amazed.
Talking of being amazed also take a listen to the 2015 score for the video game Battlecry, music is by composing duo Two Steps from Hell or Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen, which is superb, if you like grand musical statements and epic sounding compositions this is for you. The thing is it not only delivers in these departments but is also filled with rich and theme led pieces, it is in a word Outstanding and is the kinf=d of score that you will listen to through once or twice and then return to it again and again. Check it out on Spotify today.