Johann Strauss

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

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

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