Tag Archives: SHIRLEY WALKER

MUSIC FOR THE ANIMATED BATMAN AND SUPERMAN

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Animated feature films or indeed animated series for television always seem to be popular, maybe its because we all know that what is happening on screen is a little more far fetch and impossible than real life or indeed any of the live action movies etc. Our superheroes or crusaders for law, order and at times the American way are many but not as many it seems as the villains and unsavoury characters that said superheroes do battle with. SUPERMAN is of course the main character we all associate with the super hero genre, then we have SPIDERMAN, BATMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICAN etc etc the list is endless. Its probably true to say that the antics and adventures of these super beings transfers well and comes over as more exciting and outlandish in animated films, simply because these super characters are able to do more when presented as an animated character. This is just a theory and personal opinion. Music in these animated features too plays a big part and helps to create and establish atmospheres and moods giving storylines a greater impact. Many composers have underlined, supported and given our superheroes a musical helping hand over the years, but I have to say that with the emergence of BATMAN all’a Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s dark yet impish and playful take on the soundtrack things did seem to step up a gear or two. Elfman’s brooding but at the same time richly dark and anthem like theme for the caped crusader is one now that has become synonymous with the franchise and in later movies when Elfman was not involved the images seemed to be lacking that dark and offbeat support, not that I am saying Zimmer, Newton Howard et al did not do a great job because as time moves on so do requirements of movies and everything else, but there just seemed to be something of a void there musically speaking. Back to the animated features and subsequent TV spin off’s and again producers turned to Danny Elfman to enhance the BATMAN character but only within the central theme department as many of the scores were penned by the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker who worked with Elfman on many occasions. I am no expert in the area of music for animation in fact it’s a case of listening to what I like and that’s the end of it, numerous composers were called in to work their musical magic on BATMAN the animated series for Warners/DC comics , some familiar others still remaining obscure and unfamiliar even after their BATMAN scoring experience. Todd Hayen, Carlos Rodriguez, Mark Koval, James Stemple and many others made invaluable contributions to the BATMAN animated series for TV and although they may not be familiar names in film music collecting circles its certainly worth checking out their wares.

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So lets concentrate firstly on BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES volume three as released by La la land records.

This four disc set is in one word impressive or to use two Impressive and powerful. It contains music from around twenty three episodes or at least selections from these episodes, the opening is courtesy of Danny Elfman with his now familiar BATMAN theme strains and flourishes setting the scene deliciously and darkly for the remainder of the four discs. Track two through to seven are taken from ROBINS RECKONING, these first tracks being the work of composer Carlos Rodriguez written for part one of the story and tracks eight through to fifteen are the work of composer Peter Tomashek for part two of the same tale. The first six cues in my opinion are in many ways similar to the sound that was achieved by Elman on the original movies ie BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS, there is a certain sense of the operatic at times within the work but at the same time Rodriguez maintains a certain amount of the dark and quirky persona that Elfman created, this I think is mainly down to the orchestration, strings and brass playing a major part in the make up of the score, with not only drama but hints of the romantic being included along the way. Sections nine through to fifteen are somewhat different in their sound and overall style although saying this composer Peter Tomashek does retain that air of mystery throughout that is tinged with urgency and underlined with driving strings that are supported by booming percussive elements and at times rasps from the brass section that seem to sneer and push their way into the proceedings, his approach however is removed slightly from both Rodriguez’s approach and Elfman’s original take with the composer producing an inventive and original work that although dark at times does towards the end of the score transform into a more heroic or courageous sounding work which for me any way works a treat.

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Track number sixteen is billed as a bonus track from ROBIN’S RECKONING, and is composed by Carlos Rodriguez, it has a kind of circus style to it but in a macabre and somewhat unsettling way. Tracks seventeen to twenty three are the handiwork of the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker, taken from P.O.V. or POINT OF VIEW and is one of the composers earliest contributions to the series, which is reflected in her score as she refers to the original Elfman theme during some of the action sequences, a trait that seemed to become less and less as the series progressed.

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This is a powerful score from Walker, and one that contains so many of her own themes it literally oozes charisma and brilliance which is why she is considered still to be the foremost composer when it comes to the BATMAN animated series, P.O.V. is in my opinion a return to a more traditional way of scoring, bold themes, a march, numerous motifs and highly exhilarating action cues with driving strings and tense sounding brass stabs that certainly get the adrenaline going. Above all Walker’s music entertains away from the images as well as working with them. There are another seven sections on this four disc set credited to Shirley Walker and each and everyone of them is a delight and pleasure to listen to. SEE NO EVIL, THE MAN WHO KILLED BATMAN, THE FORGOTTEN,TERROR IN THE SKY among them. To review every section or every scrap of music on this collection would take hours, so based on what I have thus far told you about I would say go and buy this compilation a.s.a.p. You will not regret it, I promise. Over five hours of glorious dark and exciting music that is laced with the romantic and at times the melancholy, presented wonderfully and filled with informative sleeve notes and numerous stills from the series, highly recommended.

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Right from THE BATMAN we move to SUPERMAN, again from the animated series and again this is a four disc set released by La la land records with a running time of over five hours. Shirley Walker again provides us with some pretty impressive music to accompany the man of steel. Her spirited sounding opening theme also opens the compilation, with a proud and anthem like sound created by flyaway woodwind and timpani acting as a background to somewhat cautious sounding brass flourishes that are them selves supported by driving strings and transform from furtive to full blown, in just over a minute Walker sets the scene perfectly for the adventures of this super superhero. Lolita Ritmanis is first up in the running order of the CD with her music for THE LAST SON OF KRYPTON, this was according to John Takis (who penned the excellent sleeve notes for this compilation and also the BATMAN collection) originally broadcast as a feature length movie, but is divided into three sections, the first part being scored by Ritmanis, who created a quite unrelenting score filled with action cues and a multitude of thematic material, in my opinion her style is not dissimilar to that of the late Elmer Bernstein, especially in the more action orientated passages and even at times within the quieter moments of the work as well.

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Dark underlying strings laced with brass and percussion erupt into a more sustained onslaught if that is the right way to describe it that although essentially action music somehow remains melodic, Ritmanis at times echoes the Shirley Walker theme or at least fleeting references to it within her score, at times enlisting the aid of synthetic sounds.

Part two of the story is scored by Michael Mc Cuistion with part three being the work of Harvey B. Cohen, Mc Cuistion penned a suitably poignant soundtrack for the coming of age section of the story where we see the young Kal-El taken in by his earth parents after crash landing near their farm in Smallville and then growing into the young Clark Kent, Mc Cuistion’s score is an accomplished one that includes many variations of musical styles and also has within it a particularly rousing SUPERMAN central theme where we see Clark learning to fly. This is an album that is pleasantly surprising, it is grand and epic, filled with action cues but also has its fair share of compositions that ooze melancholy, romance and emotion. Don’t wait any longer, buy it, listen to it, enjoy it….

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TURBULENCE.

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Disaster movies and in particular movies with a airliner or plane at the centre of the storyline always seem to attract cinema audiences, well at least they used to, I suppose it all started in earnest in 1970,when AIRPORT hit cinema screens, and then of course there were so many sequels, some good some bad and some well we wont even go there. TURBULENCE was released In the winter of 1997,and in that same year Hollywood seemed to resurrect the age old scenario of disaster in the air with movies such as CON AIR and AIR FORCE ONE. TURBULENCE although not immediately recalled is probably one of the better movies that dealt with this subject matter. Directed by Robert Butler the movie starred the excellent (and still underrated) Ray Liotta and Lauren Holly. The musical score is by the late Shirley Walker, who in my ever so humble opinion was a genius n the field of film scoring, her passing left a void within the community that will never be filled. The score for TURBULENCE is as you can imagine a tense and exciting one, full of many highs and also containing some richly dark and threatening moments along the way. On listening to the score from start to finish I thought at first it reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith as in any of his action scores, but then John Williams as demonstrated in scores such as RAIDERS and even STAR WARS at times one can hear something that is a little Danny Elfman or perhaps a string or brass passage that is vaguely Bernstein, but then listening again although there are certain references to the action scoring of all four of the composers mentioned, there is also an originality and a style that can only be Shirley Walker, which shines through and makes its presence felt. Swirling and menacing strings, high and jagged brass with flyaway flutes and other woods are supported by pounding percussion and punctuated further by the use of subtle electronics and a scattering of plaintive sounding piano, all of which go to create a score that is certainly edge of the seat, knock em down and drag em out material. One of the most ingenious cues on the score for me anyway is the opening track, CAROL O THE BELLS/CHRISTMAS SHOPPING/I.M INNOCENT. This is a masterful and canny piece of scoring, the theme itself we associate with the season of Yuletide, so a season of peace and goodwill to all men, well in the hands of Shirley Walker it does not quite work that way, via a clever arrangement of the well known Carol, the composer turns it into a threatening and quite dark sounding piece, in fact in many ways it sounds something like the late Bernard Herrmann might have delivered if he were still working in pictures at the time of this films release.

shirley_walker_150To say it is Herrmanesque in its overall sound is something of an understatement, as it is mysterious and threatening, creating a definite aura and air of unease. It begins quite gently and one thinks we are in for another rendition of this particular Christmas tune, but very swiftly by adding shady sounding strings the atmosphere alters drastically, and although one can still hear that the Carol motif is still present as such, there is the underlying ambience of darkness and disquiet which is created superbly by Walker, piano is laced around the strings and also subtle utilization of woods are added, plus a touch of low brass which then converts the seasonal joy bringing song into a menacing entity. Track two, F.A.A. 214, also contains smatterings of the Carol, but its life within this particular cue is short lived, Walker utilizing brass to great effect to create a stirring and upbeat theme which is kind of reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein’s, Carpetbaggers in places. Track number three THE TAKE OFF is an apprehensive sounding piece, full of expectancy and also excitement ,which is relayed via strings, brass and segments of the Carol of the bells that occasionally slips into the Christmas shopping motif then the brass section supported by strings simply take off with a rousing and fuller version of theme that Walker has introduced. Walkers work in film is quite stunning and this is certainly no exception, it is an action score first and foremost, plus it also contains some lighter and more melodic interludes, but for the majority of the scores running time we are treated to highly dramatic tense and nervous passages, but these are not atonal or unmelodic, the composer keeping themes running through the work all the time and introducing new ones and varying arrangements of already established ones. In fact the only real atonal cues I think are track number six, RYAN SAVES TERI/NO PULSE, where the composer puts to effect use percussive elements and hissing strings, conjuring up an atmosphere that is fraught and dramatic, and track number 9,LEVEL SIX/LAST BREATH, which contains elements of Carol of the bells, Teri’s theme that are underlined by dark sounding strings and percussion. I would call this a score that is old school, and this remark is no way meant in a derogatory way, this is proper film music, great film music and entertaining film music, film music in the style of film scores that attracted me to film music in the first place. Packaged wonderfully as always by LA LA LAND RECORDS with an array of colourful stills and fantastic liner notes. Recommended.