Not done this for a while but been delving into my collection and online and onto digital platforms looking for film scores and TV soundtracks that maybe we do not play enough, do not return to enough or simply have just not heard them until recently. The first score is from a 2017 movie based upon true events, The Lost City of Z, has a really interesting and atmospheric score by composer Christopher Spelman, the music is a fusion of the conventional and also the soundscape or sound design style, with the composer utilizing a number of drone sounds that although many would say were not musical or melodic certainly do lay down an effective and at times unsettling mood. The style employed by the composer is at times evocative of that of Hans Zimmer, but in this case the composer also employs hints of themes throughout, themes that maybe only just be fleeting or never fully develop but the hints and little trickles of thematic material is tantalizing and affecting. The movie focuses upon an explorer from England Percy Fawcett, and it tells a fascinating story where the explorer discovers signs of an advanced civilization in the jungles of the Amazon, his peers dismiss his discoveries, but he continues to explore more and more in the hope that he will find concrete evidence, the movie is an interesting and alluring watch and displays Fawcett’s determination to find the evidence he so dearly needs. The movie ends when the explorer mysteriously goes missing in 1925, a disappearance that has never been fathomed out. Spelman’s music is subtle and subdued, but it also has to it a brooding dark and powerful aura. Worth a listen.
It’s rare that I come across a documentary score and think to myself why or how did I miss this? Well American Factory (2019) which is a Netflix production contains a score by Chad Cannon, and I have to say if it was something that presented to me for review when it was released, I probably would have left it to later rather than sooner if you know what I mean? Anyway, Cannon’s score is a delight, its filled with nice thematic passages and for me is a score that as from now I will have within my top 100, and I will be returning to it I know. The composer makes effective use of what sounds like a small ensemble of stings, woods, and a scattering of brass. At times I was reminded of the style of Elmer Bernstein, not in a grandiose or Americana sweeping way but in a more reserved and sparse way, the composer creating haunting tone poems and effective and rhythmic passages that underline, enhance and add punctuation to the proceedings, and at the same time are enticing and entertaining pieces of music in their own right. Try and check this one out and watch the documentary too.
The next score is from 2020 and has a score by composer Dominic Lewis, MY SPY is one of those soundtracks that is filled with both a comedic and a nervous musical energy, the opening theme for example sets the scene for what one would think is a deadly serious movie about espionage and spies, however, that is not the case as the movie is a madcap comedy, where a demoted spy is given the job of watching a family, but is thwarted at every step by a nine year old girl. The composer certainly has some fun with the way in which the film is scored, as at times the music is so deadpan and serious and has to it a 007 style, then it alters at a heartbeat becoming either raucous or sweet and sensitive in a sickly syrupy kind of fashion. It’s an effective work on screen and an amusing and entertaining listen away from the images. See what you think its on Spotify.
A composer who I have always loved is Christopher Gunning, his music is always wonderfully melodic, he creates beautiful and mesmeric sounding pieces for both TV and Film. I will also say if you have the inclination, please check out the composers symphonies and his work for the concert hall as well as his film work. I also admire the composer for his honesty and his not being backward in coming forward opinions on modern day film and film music, but we will leave this for another time.
His theme for the TV incarnation of Poirot with actor David Suchet in the title role was a triumph and is still popular today. I think the best way to discover his music is by acquainting yourself with the Chandos records release entitled The Film and TV music of Christopher Gunning, which is a great compilation performed by the BBC Philharmonic under the baton of Rumon Gamba, it is literally overflowing with some of Gunning’s most outstanding and entertaining music. It rightly opens with Poirot, or at least a suite of music from the series which has a running time of just over eight minutes and contains variants upon his now familiar and famous opening theme for the series. But there is so much more within this recording as it has music that will bring back so many memories of past productions and scores if you are already familiar with the composers works and will be an eye opener for anyone who has not yet savored his varied and eclectic musical palette.
It takes us on a journey through TV and film, with the composers affecting themes and compositions from Cold Lazarus, Under Suspicion, Le Vie En Rose, Rebecca, Pollyanna, When the Whales Came, Firelight, and Rosemary and Thyme to name a few making an appearance. Each section is superbly melodic everyone having its own unique and eloquent quality, but all being bonded together by the unmistakable and sensitive musical fingerprint of Christopher Gunning. Check it out, in a word stunning.
Another compilation that I can highly recommend if you by passed it or missed it is Something Here by Debbie Wiseman, which includes a mixture of music from TV film and stories that she has written the background music for as in The Ugly Duckling which is told by Nigel Havers. This compilation also contains two tracks from the composers wonderful score for Wilde, and a suite from Haunted both of which have really touching and emotive central themes. But if its emotive, eloquent and poignant you are looking for I must recommend that you seek out this collection either on CD or on digital platforms, other delights included are, Tom and Viv, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Warriors, My Uncle Silas, Judge John Deed and so much more this is a gem of a collection, and a shining example of rich and thematic music. Composer Colin Towns is probably one of Britain’s best-known writers of film and TV scores. He is a composer of ample talents who is able to adapt his style and musical prowess to any situation, whether it be for a commercial, a TV series, a short film or a feature film.
The composer has also written for animated movies and provided scores for theatre and documentaries. He also arranges songs and music for bands and vocalists and is active working on arrangements for a number of big bands. It is something of a mystery to me that although Towns works in so many areas of music, he is not more widely known, his score for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase for example was a grand affair with lush themes and dramatic set pieces, but it is still a score that is not known by as many as it should be. In 2004 Towns worked on the movie Crimson Rivers 2-Angels of the Apocalypse, which was written by acclaimed French filmmaker Luc Besson, and directed by Olivier Dahan.
The film I felt was unfairly overlooked, and so to is the score by Towns which was a dark and brooding affair but also contained a handful of short but memorable pieces which were filled to brimming with a tense and nervous atmosphere. The score is quite a complex one in places, the composer fuses symphonic action music with electronic effects and combines both of these mediums seamlessly throughout, I think once you listen to this score you will want to re-visit it, it is inventive and innovative, and to be honest hardly draws a breath as it hurtles headlong at speed being driven by brass, strings and wild sounding and booming percussion in many of the action laced sequences. Performed by the London Philharmonic this is one for the collection or at least certainly one to look out for, but why not treat yourself right now and give it a listen on digital platforms.
I was surprised whilst scanning through digital sites such as Apple and Spotify that there are a number of soundtracks now becoming available that were nowhere to be seen up till a few months back, one such score is Childhood of a Leader which has a driving and at times Avante Garde like soundtrack penned by Scott Walker, the brash and driving Opening, is a dark and strident affair which is in the main performed by the string section, it has to it Herrmann-esque attributes as it is dramatic and jagged but also has to it a melody or a theme, the composer adds brass flourishes into the mix after approx. a minute or two, with a solo trumpet making its presence felt above both the swirling strings and the brass cacophony.
There is an urgency here and a tense and chaotic mood purveyed by the composer via the combined use of strings and brass, it may not be the easiest opening theme to listen to, but it certainly grabs the attention of the listener and of the watching audience putting them on edge before the film has really begun. Walker was know for his experimentation with music and sounds and was indeed an inspiration to many artistes David Bowie among them, but on listening to this work, maybe Walker also acted as inspiration to contemporary film music composers as well. Again you can sample the Walker wares on digital platforms right now, I think you will be surprised at the strong and powerful compositions.