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

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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

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MOVIE REVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey (2008 blu ray)

Happy LeBrain Day! It’s my birthday. Sometimes on my birthday, I like to just spend an afternoon watching a favourite movie. This is one.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, from the 2011 Stanley Kubrick Visionary Filmmaker Blu Ray Collection, Warner Bros.)

Once upon a time, when the year 2001 seemed aeons away, director Stanley Kubruck (Dr. Strangelove) contacted author Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood’s End) to discuss making “the proverbial good science fiction movie”. Both were sick of films that passed for science fiction, but were actually monster movies set in space, or just replaced  science with fantasy.

The result was 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film, and a companion book of the same name which is actually a completely different animal. The film — striking, innovative, visually engrossing, ambiguous, and scientifically solid — is as good today as it was in 1968, even if many of the “predictions” of the film have failed to come to pass.

Separated into four chapters (The Dawn Of Man, TMA-1, & Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite) complete with intermission, 2001 has no dialogue for the first quarter of the film. Beginning with a blank screen (and “Atmospheres”, by Ligeti), this is a film paradoxically anchored by both music and silence. The screen changes to the Earth rising over the moon, and the sun rising over the Earth (an important clue and recurring symbol) accompanied by “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. We are then introduced to a tribe of pre-human apes (Australopithecus, perhaps), starving and on the verge of extinction. Other tribes are stronger and out-competing them for territory and resources. There is no dialogue, but the barking of the apes, yet that and the scenery speak volumes. Suddenly one morning, the game has changed: a mysterious black monolith has appeared. The apes are drawn to it, and soon find that they are now able to compete with predators thanks to a new discovery: weapons.

MONOLITH ACTION FIGURE!The second chapter, TMA-1, begins with what Clarke has called “the longest jump-cut in history”.  We see that humanity has evolved into a space-going race. Orbital weapons platforms orbit Earth as a shuttle is making way to an under-construction space station. “The Blue Danube” plays as the spacecraft dance in calculated perfection. Our first main speaking character, Dr. Heywood Floyd, arrives on the station and we are given some tantalizing clues as to why he’s made this trip: Rumours of a plague outbreak on the moon. Yet this is just a cover story. As Floyd makes his way to the moon in another beautifully choreographed sequence, we learn that a magnetic anomoly was discovered in the crater Tycho (named after astronomer Tycho Brahe) — Tycho Magnetic Anomaly 1, or TMA-1. This discovery is potentially so important, that the cover story was created to keep everyone far away from Tycho.

We see that TMA-1 is another black monolith.  We see echoes and ripples of past events lead to another jump forward in time.  Midway though a mission of discovery to Jupiter, helmed by David Bowman (the perpetually young Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Star Trek’s Gary Lockwood).  Their ship, the Discovery contains three sleeping astronauts and the most famous computer of all time, H.A.L. 9000.  H.A.L. was flawelessly voiced by Stratford Ontario resident Douglas Rain.  His eerie voice and Kubrick’s perfect framing shots help create the creepiest computer character ever seen.

HAL 9000The seemingly dull, sleepy daily routine is soon shattered.  H.A.L. has detected a flaw in the ship’s main antenna.  It will fail, unless one of the astronauts goes outside and repairs it.  The antenna is their only link to distant Earth.   H.A.L., who controls the life support and every function of Discovery, then begins to show signs of what humans call stress — he makes an error, and acts strangely. Yet no 9000-series computer has ever failed, or found to be in error.  The chapter closes with H.A.L. singing the old song, “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)”, surely one of the most haunting scenes in cinema.

After an intermission, Discovery finally arrives at Jupiter and its true mission is revealed. This section too has no dialogue, bringing us full circle to the way it began. David Bowman once again must venture outside the ship, and find out how the mysterious discovery on the moon relates to Jupiter.  Perhaps even how it related to our millenia-dead ancestors.

What follows is one of the most baffling and strange sequences in movie history, one which will require a few patient viewings to appreciate. The beauty of this final sequence is that there is no right or wrong interpretation. While on the surface it may appear to be a psychedelic kaleidoscope of colour followed by a bizarre dialogue-free encounter with a being that seems to have no bearing on reality, it is Kubrick’s inventive way of showing the audience something that is beyond anyone’s imagination. Like the audience, David Bowman and humanity have come full circle.

2001_0004Lacking in what modern audiences call “action”, lacking typical space sound effects (there is no sound in space!), lacking dialogue for most of the movie, and lacking any sort of warm human characters (except maybe H.A.L. who is not human), this movie was a challenge to watch in 1968 and is still a challenge today. It is, however, a piece of art that transcends its genre and is a landmark in film making. Kubrick, always a visionary and always breaking through boundaries of what could not be done in film, outdid himself and made a science fiction film that still has not been topped over 40 years later. Nobody has made anything this epic, this beautiful, this deep or this scientifically sound since. The special effects — all practical effects and mostly in-camera, as CG did not yet exist — still stand up today. No movie buff will ever forget the rotating Discovery set that allowed one character to be seated while another seemingly walked on the “ceiling”.

Sure,we don’t have a moon base. We haven’t sent anyone to Jupiter. We do have a space station. We have created computers that can beat the best humans at chess and Jeopardy. This is not that far off. If they had named this film 2031: A Space Odyssey, we might be in the right ballpark. In the end, the year does not matter. You never see modern Earth in the movie anyway.

The blu-ray release is loaded with special features and has a beautiful transfer in 2.20:1, as Kubrick shot it and intended it to be. Both Dullea and Lockwood provide an audio commentary. There are documentaries about Kubrick, about the predictions of the film, and about the effects. The only thing missing is the vintage 1966 Arthur C. Clarke lecture from the first issue of the DVD.  I still have that DVD copy because I like that old 1966 footage of Clarke.  He’s my favourite author.

2001: A Space Odyssey is, without any doubt or any argument in my mind, the greatest science fiction film of all time. With Kubrick and Clarke now both gone, I doubt we will ever see anything like it again. 5/5 stars is meaningless, since this movie was (for its scale and stature) first, and the best, against everything in its genre.

I’ll rate it 200 billion stars, one for each star in our galaxy.

INTERVIEW: Kathryn Ladano part 1

Kathryn Ladano is a name you might not have heard before, unless you caught Stump LeBrain Week on Dave FM, or you’re a fan of free improvisation.  She’s the sister of LeBrain, is a world-class bass clarinest player, but originally came from a rock background.  We sat down and asked her 10 questions about music.  Check out the first five below.

kathrynladano.com

1. What were your earliest musical influences?  I know you listened to a lot of John Williams, pop music, and hair metal like Bon Jovi.  How do you go from that to a 10 minute improvisation on bass clarinet?

My earliest musical influences really don’t have a lot of impact on me today in terms of my professional career.  I mean, I was into the 80’s hair bands and pop music for the most part growing up. However, it’s true that movie music really spoke to me and I was intrigued by the connection between music and visual images.  This is true of 80’s music videos too actually, and I would often (and still do) picture images in my mind when I hear a song.  For movie music, I was fascinated by the fact that a certain musical treatment could greatly enhance the emotional impact of a movie scene.  I didn’t really understand why, but the idea of it really made an impression on me. As a teenager, I realized that it was the “weirder” soundtracks in particular that affected me the most. For example, the opening music of Planet of the Apes did such a great job of making you feel like you were on another planet, and it’s still one of my favourite examples of movie music. However, I think the soundtrack that affected me the most and opened my ears the most was 2001: A Space Odyssey. In particular, the compositions by György Ligeti  — Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, Requiem, etc… I think that early exposure to highly dissonant music and seeing how brilliantly it could enhance a scene in film really opened my eyes and my ears to the experimental, and Ligeti is still one of my favourite composers today.

2. As a listener, what type of LeBrain reader would be likely to appreciate your music?  Is there a track on [your album] Open that is more accessible than others?

That’s a difficult question to answer. If I speak very generally, I would say probably readers that enjoy progressive rock and more avant-garde music would enjoy the album. I tried to throw in everything I could because I wasn’t sure when i’d have a chance to make another one, so the album features a fairly wide variety of sounds and styles. The most accessible tracks are “Something I Can’t Know” (a jazzy sounding trio for bass clarinet, piano, and drums), and “Art Show” (a more upbeat sounding trio for bass clarinet, guitar, and drums). However, the track that has gotten the most airplay is “Further Reflection” (a duo for bass clarinet and percussion that features a very atmospheric opening and minimalistic ending).

 
3. What do you think about “jam bands” such as the Grateful Dead or Deep Purple who often would go up on stage and improvise for 20 minutes with no script?

I think the concept is fantastic! Essentially, this is what we do as free improvisors. You pretty much throw musical genre out the window and just focus on sound, using your ears as your guide. I also really admire bands that can come up with a meaningful and interesting improvised piece that lasts as long as 20 minutes as it can be very difficult to do. When there is no script and no plan, the form and the personality of the piece can be difficult to find, and the more players you have, the more directions there are to take the music. Granted, bands like this don’t always succeed at creating a successful 20 minute improvisation, and it can be a lot for an audience to absorb, but the basic idea of making it up on the spot and just using your ears and your instinct to guide you is something I would welcome more of in popular music. 

 
4:  Bands that do 20 minute jams were extremely popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but today they are not mainstream anymore.  Why do you think that is? 

It seemed that there was a lot of musical experimentation and exploration happening in the 60’s and 70’s and for some reason, much of that stopped in the 80’s. I think audiences changed and they wanted different things in their music. Today, I really wonder how audiences would respond if more artists started incorporating long jams and improvisations into their music. It seems that it’s not something that people want anymore, and it’s too bad.  Popular music has changed and I think audiences no longer expect the unexpected – most people just want to hear their standard three chord songs – unfortunately that seems to be all the modern ear is capable of absorbing. Music and popular culture moves in waves though, so I’m hopeful that at some point more experimental live performances will come into fashion again.

5. What should the role of visuals be in live music?

I am personally very intrigued by this concept and that of interdisciplinary art in general (mixing more than one art form together). I think visuals can greatly enhance music as I said before regarding film music, and it’s an area that I have been exploring a lot lately. For example, last year I directed Wilfrid Laurier University’s Improvisation Concerts Ensemble in a performance of a live, improvised soundtrack to the classic silent film Nosferatu. The ensemble created musical pieces within the context of the film that was unlike anything they had done before without visual imagery. I think adding visuals opens doors to new ideas and greater creativity and allows a musician to react and respond to something other than just what they’re hearing.