REVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (1996 remaster)

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November 1 – November 14

scan_201611052001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (originally 1968, 1996 Rhino remaster)

Stanley Kubrick changed the sci-fi playing field with 2001: A Space Odyssey. When he and Arthur C. Clarke sat down to write the “proverbial good science fiction movie”, they strove for a depth and realism that had yet to be attempted.  No sounds in space.  No thruster sounds, no pinging space radar.  Music (or even lack thereof) would be required to tell the audio story.  Kubrick initially contacted Spartacus composer Alex North.  The plan changed, however.  Stanley had been editing the film to a temporary score of classical music.  Nothing North could come up with satisfied the fussy director as much as the classical pieces, so that is what was used on the final film.

The film was fiercely different, free of cliches and intensely determined not to dumb things down.  The same could be said of the soundtrack, reissued on CD by Rhino with four supplementary bonus tracks.  This fine release enables the listener to delve deeper and unlock even more of the secrets of the universe.  Ligeti’s dissonant “Atmospheres” delivers an uneasy feeling; after all we humans know nothing of what is really out there.  The conflicting (and conspiring) tones of “Atmospheres” is supplanted by the main title, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.  The music implies great revelation, standing on the cusp of universal breakthrough.

Unease returns with the bee-like swarms of “Requiem” also by Ligeti.  Voices sing, each one in their own world, but joining together to join a coherent piece.  In the film, this unsettling music appears when we encounter the enigmatic Monolith.  The Monolith is a tool of our growth as a race and a stark warning that there are things beyond that our science is not equipped to explain. Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that describes one aspect of the Monolith in 2001.  (The other two laws:  1. “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”  2. “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”)

scan_20161105-4After the chaos of “Requiem” and “Atmospheres”, Strauss’ “Blue Danube” offers a warm respite.  The brilliance of the “Blue Danube” in the film is how Kubrick managed to capture the dance-like coordinated movements of objects in space.  A shuttle docks with a spinning space station; spinning of course to create artificial gravity that humans need to survive long-term in space.  This complex docking maneuver requires no dialogue, just Strauss.  But space is a cold deadly place, hostile to almost all known life.  Ligeti returns, as he must, with “Lux Aeterna”.  This music was used to back Dr. Floyd’s trip across the lunar surface to meet the Monolith.  It is mildly disconcerting, as is what Floyd’s team finds.

Khachaturian’s “Gayane Ballet Suite” is a somber piece, depicting the boredom and routine of interplanetary space flight.  Astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole seem disconnected from their humanity; the music has more feelings than they do.  The coldness of space is easy to feel from inside their stark white starship, and Khachaturian painting the tone.

Mankind meets its future on “Jupiter and Beyond”, a combination of three Ligeti pieces.  Once again, we must face the Monolith and what it means.  Dr. David Bowman experienced great terror as he plunged inside it, and this is the music that accompanied his long trip into the beyond.  The film at this point became its most experimental: impressionist images and obscure dissonant music put many viewers off balance as they struggled to comprehend just what the hell was going on.  It is over only when Zarathustra speaks again, and humanity has taken its next giant leap.

These are challenging pieces of music, but not difficult to enjoy.  They have all become intertwined with the film forever.  Even The Simpsons used “The Blue Danube” for a space docking scene (Homer and a potato chip) in an homage to 2001.  Whatever the original composers intentions were, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the pieces used in this movie are now associated with it forever.  You simply cannot hear these Ligeti pieces without seeing Bowman’s journey in your mind.  You cannot hear “Thus Spake Zarathustra” without feeling the awe of 2001‘s revelations.

The Rhino edition adds some bonus material.  Ligeti’s “Adventures” was altered for the film to add an impression of laughter.  Ligeti himself was not amused.  The original complete “Adventures” is on this CD.  From the archives is a different recording of “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.  The version used in the film and on the CD was conducted by Von Karajan, but the original LP had a version by Ernest Bour.  The latter version has been added to the Rhino CD release.  “Lux Aeterna” was longer on the original LP than the film, and the long version is also restored to CD.  Perhaps most valuable of all is a track of Douglas Rain’s dialogue as HAL 9000.

The excellent liner notes state that this CD release is the definitive one.  It contains all the music from the original soundtrack LP, and all the music from the film.  It’s a one-stop shop to get your musical mind blown.

5/5 stars

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27 comments

  1. Great Review, Great Soundtrack. The Rhino release has great sound as well and as you stated is the most definitive release.

    I’ll try not to foray into essay territory here as I often do with these posts. I do tend to be a soundtrack geek.

    2001 is one of those films that dares you to watch it. When I first watched it on VHS I have to admit I fast forwarded through Floyd’s trip to the Monolith on the moon and actually through most of the “boring” bits. I would like to see it on the big screen to experience the spectacle but so far that has not happened.

    Keir Dullea (Bowman) relates a great story when he saw the film in the theatre. During the “Beyond The Infinite” scene where everything is coming at you with lights and colour. Dullea says he heard a man yell from the audience “It’s God, It’s God!!!” and run right into the screen. Dullea also stated that the man disappeared. I find that hard to believe but it was the late 60’s so who knows what was being smoked at that time.

    Composer Alex North was hired to compose music for 2001 and after a few weeks he was thanked for his contribution and sent on his way. North was quite upset that his music never made it to the final film, rightly so, but it’s hard to deny that the classical music is a better fit.

    If you are interested, there are three recordings of North’s music.

    1) A 1993 Varese Sarabande release by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jerry Goldsmith

    2) A 1996 recording of two of North’s cues on a Silva America release called Space & Beyond.

    3) A 2007 Intrada Records release of North’s score from the original master tapes found in North’s attic by his widow.

    All are well done releases with the Intrada recording unfortunately out of print and quite expensive on the used market. The other recordings can be found with a deliberate search.

    There are YouTube videos that do comparisons between the music. It’s quite interesting to hear the differences as well as the similarities in music that North was being asked to write.

    I’m actually a huge fan of the 1984 sequel “2010 – The Year We Make Contact”. My cousin and I watched it 10 times in a row one weekend from a time when you had to rent VCR’s. I remember the one we got, a huge top loading monster. The film is a favourite of mine and has one of my favourite scenes of all time in it.

    The score by David Shire is also quite interesting and hard to find. It uses an instrument often used in film scores of that era, the “Blaster Beam”. Look it up, it’s a rather interesting instrument. It was used in film and TV scores as far back as the late 70’s (It was the “Voice” of V’Ger in Star Trek: TMP) and as recent as this year (2016) in the score to “10 Cloverfield Lane”.

    Well, I said I wasn’t going to turn this into an essay. I think it’s a little too late. Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rob…I don’t even know what to say. The North music (or some of it) is available? The hell you say!

      2010 is underrated. I reviewed it a couple years ago. 10 times in a row is a bit much!

      I really enjoyed seeing the story of Bowman and the Monolith conclude the way it did. It’s about thinking and feeling, and that movie makes me do both.

      Easy as cake. Piece of pie.

      Like

  2. “The excellent liner notes state that this CD release is the definitive one. It contains all the music from the original soundtrack LP, and all the music from the film. It’s a one-stop shop to get your musical mind blown.”

    Sold.

    Liked by 1 person

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