soundtrack

Mixtape #56 : MCU

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Considering that, when i’m not doing something musical, i’m most often to be found in front of a movie, it’s perhaps surprising that none of my previous mixtapes have been devoted to film scores. Until now, that is. Over the summer, the Beloved and i have been working our way through all the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So the latest 5:4 mixtape is a homage to and celebration of the MCU, which for my money is one of the most ambitious, fantastical and exhilarating experiences i’ve had in my cinema-going life. For this mix i’ve allowed myself just one – or, in a couple of cases, two (because they’re really short) – track from each film, moving through them in the order they were released.

i’m conscious of the fact that it might seem a little ironic to turn to the MCU in particular for a musical celebration like this. It is ironic: while some of these movies are among my absolute favourites, very few of their scores adequately live up to the range of imagination and invention that we witness on screen. As was explored in the video ‘The Marvel Symphonic Universe‘ on the excellent, now sadly-defunct YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting a few years ago, a great deal of the music composed for the MCU is bland, generic, superfluous and completely forgettable. Indeed, each time i’ve made the transition from big screen to loudspeakers after seeing each movie for the first time it’s usually proven to be, at the very least, something of a crestfalling experience. But then, that experience is more of a Hollywood problem in general rather than being peculiar to the MCU.

Regardless of all that, i contend that, if you’re prepared to pan for sonic gold, there’s still a lot to enjoy in the music from these movies, and more than a few surprises along the way. i really like the meditative innocence of Ramin Djawadi‘s score for the original Iron Man – when none of us had any clue as to the scale of story-telling that would ensue – which John Debney would subsequently coat in nu metal hooks and riffs for the first sequel (one of the best scores of the franchise). Alan Silvestri‘s theme for The Avengers is as memorable as it is stirringly effective, setting up one of the few really telling points of musical continuity in the series. While we’re talking about themes, Christophe Beck‘s and Michael Giaccino‘s approaches to Ant-Man and Spider-Man respectively are both lovely mélanges of noir, heist and caper, while Brian Tyler‘s setting-up of Thor: The Dark World perfectly captures the film’s mix of mythology and swagger. It was brave of Mark Mothersbaugh to surround this hitherto epic character with retro synths and stylings for Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s brilliantly suited to the gaudy shift in aesthetic, not that far removed from Tyler Bates‘ awe and wonder approach to the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, echoed by Christophe Beck in his Ant-Man and the Wasp music conjuring up the mysterious and gorgeously-rendered ‘Quantum Realm’. Though it was ludicrously over-hyped (much like the film itself), Ludwig Göransson‘s extension of the series’ soundworld to encompass African tropes in his score for Black Panther is refreshing. Most notable of all, though, is Henry Jackman‘s unique contribution to the MCU in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, channelling his inner Trent Reznor to create an unsettling score unlike any other in the series (all the more obvious in this mixtape), filled with unrelenting jabs of marvellously razor-sharp, edgy electronica. And while the accusations of a lack of memorable music have merit, there’s some potent lyrical writing to be found in the saga’s more intimate and anguished moments, particularly from Patrick Doyle in Thor and, above all, Alan Silvestri‘s moving emotional high points of tragedy and heartbreak in the colossal Avengers two-parter Infinity War and Endgame.

While technically the complete ‘Infinity Saga’ includes 23 films, for my purposes – due to its overwhelmingly cathartic point in the narrative, which makes a much more convincing point to close this first epic chapter of the MCU – i’ve made Endgame the conclusion of this mixtape. Though i’ve worked through the films in order, i haven’t sought to retain a clear sense of the saga’s ongoing narrative, nor have i necessarily selected tracks that are highly representative of their respective scores as a whole. This mix simply explores some of the most interesting musical episodes to be found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of which are happily at some remove from the conventions of Hollywood histrionics.

Over 45 hours of cinematic saga distilled to just 78 minutes of musical mayhem, malevolence and magic; here’s the tracklisting in full, including time positions and links to buy the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Proms 2019: Hans Zimmer – Earth; Alexia Sloane – Earthward (World Premières)

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The most significant love-hate musical relationship of my life has been – and continues to be – with film scores. Few idioms have the power to elevate, charm, horrify, astonish and amaze us more while at the same time displaying the irresistible propensity to eschew all originality and imagination in favour of the most derivative bluster and cheese. For me, the epicentre of this love-hate relationship has for many years been centred on Hans Zimmer. He’s someone whose work i’ve appreciated and enjoyed in the past: i think True Romance was the first time i really took notice of his work, and what he did for Inception is hard to beat. But his most recent work – especially his collaborations with director Christopher Nolan, each film of which Zimmer has emphatically marred – has been an ever more reductionist descent into some of the most unoriginal, flaccid, bombastic and manipulative histrionics ever created: musica generica, made all the more horrendous to experience due to its inherent terror of ever falling silent. It’s not just nature, it seems, that abhors a vacuum; Zimmer has clearly convinced himself that if the noises he’s generating (yes: generating, not composing) stop for even a moment, then all hope of maintaining the film’s impetus is lost.

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Cat Temper – Henry (an electronic soundtrack to Eraserhead)

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The word ‘sacrilege’ doesn’t hold a lot of meaning for me, yet it was this very word that popped into my mind when i was contacted a couple of months ago by Boston musician Mike Langlie, a.k.a. Cat Temper, to let me know of his latest project Henry, being a new soundtrack for David Lynch’s 1977 debut movie Eraserhead. Longer-term readers of 5:4 will know that when i’m not composing, critiquing or listening to music, i’m usually to be found watching movies. Cinema is a life-long passion of mine, and David Lynch was one of the very first directors whose work i fell in love with during my early, highly impressionable teenage years. Eraserhead was, and remains, an astonishing achievement – a complex, immersive, disorienting dive into a surreal world that may or may not be part of our own, or indeed happening all or in part within the fevered imagination of its protagonist Henry Spencer. Furthermore, as with all of Lynch’s projects, the music and sound design – becoming one and the same thing, impossible to separate – are an integral component in Eraserhead‘s cinematic language. Put simply: you don’t fuck around with it; to do so would surely be sacrilege.

Yet, sitting down to watch Eraserhead a couple of weeks ago – sound muted, now synchronised with Cat Temper’s new score – i can happily admit to having goosebumps from the outset. This was a double-bill, in fact: i watched the film in its original form first, in order to re-imprint its sound-image relationship and thereby be better placed to appreciate the effect of Temper’s music. The first thing to say is that Henry never overtly seeks to emulate the film’s original soundworld: in place of Lynch’s industrial mise en scène we are presented with an intense, brooding, synth-laden score filled with restless riffs and pulsating rhythms – David Lynch as if reconfigured by Nicolas Winding Refn. Quite apart from its potential effectiveness, opting to take such an entirely different, even opposite musical approach as this has got to be applauded: whatever else it may be, it’s bold, it’s brave and it’s ballsy. Read more

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Swagger, languor and a force field: the soundtracks of Maniac, Only God Forgives and Upstream Color

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It’s some time since i’ve explored movie soundtracks on 5:4, but there have been three this year that have stood out from the crowd, all very far indeed from the conventions of cinematic swooshery. That in itself isn’t terribly surprising, as their respective films are, to differing degrees, at some remove from the generic Hollywood archetype. The first is from Franck Khalfoun’s striking remake of Maniac, the music being by French composer Rob (about whom i’ve been able to learn precisely nothing, although there’s an interview here). The film, featuring an astonishing performance from Elijah Wood as the titular antagonist (Wood is clearly at his best playing sick, depraved characters), is dark, claustrophobic, deeply unsettling and at times horribly unpleasant. Almost all of the action takes place at night—in downtown streets, car parks, subway stations, diners and bedrooms—resulting in a heavy emphasis on artificial light, both the garish glare of neon and the subdued ambiance of intimacy. Rob has responded to this with a wonderfully-judged electronic score, one that draws on the crude swagger of 70s and 80s synths, establishing a strong connection to cinema from that period, particularly the self-scored movies of John Carpenter. It’s not pastiche, though; Rob’s sources may be vintage, but his attention is in the present. Opening track ‘Doll’ serves to establish credentials and context; driven by an initially unclear pulse, its restraint and neutrality evokes the sense not just of a late night drive, but of a search, a hunt. Read more

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Proms 2013: Anna Clyne – Masquerade (World Première)

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All good things etc., and this year it fell to composer Anna Clyne—and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop—to get underway the biggest party-masquerading-as-a-concert of them all, the Last Night of the Proms. In calling her short work Masquerade, Clyne is presumably alluding chiefly to the carnival atmosphere of a masquerade ball, an atmosphere to which her music went some way to living up to. Read more

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The BBC Philharmonic – Music from Blue Velvet & Twin Peaks

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This evening’s concert on BBC Radio 3, given by the BBC Philharmonic from their swanky new home at MediaCity in Salford, was dedicated to film music, hosted by the superlative Mark Kermode. Towards the end of the concert, the orchestra performed three pieces from the films of David Lynch. The first was an arrangement of the Julee Cruise song ‘Mysteries of Love’ (heard in Blue Velvet), in which a solo horn took the vocal line, and it was performed to absolute perfection. Then came Blue Velvet‘s Main Title, which was nice, but has always struck me as a bit of an inconsequential piece. The real highlight, though, was Angelo Badalamenti‘s theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me; i’ve already talked about this brilliant piece in my podcast, so i won’t say anything further, except that the BBC Philharmonic’s rendition was outstanding. Read more

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