THE RUNNER – Cody Westheimer

Original Review by Alan Rogers

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail on the west coast of the United States that runs the length of the country from Mexico to Canada. Along its length it passes through six of the seven North America’s “ecozones” including high and low desert, forest and arctic-alpine climes. In June 2005 ultra marathon runner David Horton set out to become the first man to run this trail and 66 days later he completed his goal, averaging over 40 miles per day in the process. J.B. Benna’s documentary The Runner: Extreme UltraRunner David Horton follows Horton on his adventure and composer Cody Westheimer composes a wonderful score to accompany the runner’s mammoth journey.

Westheimer bases the score around a strong theme and he sets it out memorably in “The Runner: Main Title”, acting somewhat as a call to arms, an encouragement for the journey ahead. Heard in the strings, the theme is backed by a strong complement of driving percussion (including Taiko drums) – which is a recurring aspect of the score. The various drum rhythms act as the musical equivalent of the driving determination of Horton’s running. Tracks such as “Meeting David”, “Running Far” and the climactic “The Arrival” all propel the listener with this powerful percussion using a variety of percussion instruments (though the use of the percussion is not overwhelming to the listener). Along with this rhythm, we hear the main theme being played in a variety of orchestrations, but always seemingly soaring overhead above the drums. To me, Westheimer, using a relatively small ensemble of instruments (percussion, strings, oboe, flute, guitar and piano), skilfully encapsulates Horton’s determination in terms of the physical aspects of the run (the percussion) and the mental determination (the soaring theme) needed for such a Herculean task. Of these driving cues, “The High Sierra” is a highlight. It brings together all these various aspects of the score into one inspirational piece of music.  [Read more…]

Ten Tracks Today – 30th August 2011

01 – “The Black Stallion / Fire & The Legend” – The Black StallionCarmine Coppola

I just love the opening fanfare for this track. It’s almost of a stature that it could be used as an Olympic Flame fanfare. The latter half of the cue features cimbalom, one of my favourite instruments.

02 – “Main Theme” – Reconciled Through The ChristNathaniel Scott

Very synthy sounding score to an independent film, but it’s the thematic material of the theme that is the attraction and the actual sound of the synths becomes secondary.

03 – “The Same Old Story” – Wichita TownHans J. Salter

Up to hearing this I had associated Salter with his horror score. This score here for the late ’50s TV show is about as western in style as western music can get. And it’s a great listen. A great re-recording from around the same time as the music was composed for the show. Light and airy music. [Read more…]


Original Review by Alan Rogers

In Hidalgo: La Historia Jamás Contada, we see Miguel Hidalgo remembering moments of his life from his jail cell. A Mexican priest, Hidalgo is best remembered as a leader in the Mexican War of Independence against the Spanish colonial authorities. This film focuses mainly on his tenure as a parish priest in a small town, having been sent there at the order of the church authorities because of his progressive ideas. He translates and produces Molière’s stage play “Tartuffe” (a play that echoes Hidalgo’s own problems with the church) as the parish priest. Filmed by Mexican director Antonio Serrano, he calls upon fellow Mexican Alejandro Giacomán to score this personal story.

To be honest, if the music is any indicator of the pace of the film then it’s quite a slow film. The orchestral score (played by the San Luis Potosi Symphony Orchestra), particularly in the first two-thirds, is cue after cue of ominous and suspenseful music that is dominated by low strings. The music’s role here appears to be more to set the scene of the film rather than provide themes. Only occasionally is the feel of the music lifted with the inclusion of solo instruments. Tracks such as “Casa Grande y Abandonada” and “Transgresión” feature solo flute that brighten the tension and “Nerviosismo Antes de Molière” has an interesting interchange between different sections of brass and woodwinds. Track 10, “Despedida del Rector”, is the first real heartfelt highlight of the score and we hear solo brass and woodwinds providing an emotional quality that builds to a powerful and almost optimistic climax to the cue. It is not until the final third of the orchestral score that we hear music that is particularly cinematic. The music opens out, including more and more sections of the orchestra to instil both drama and emotion, putting aside the long string lines and ostinatos and becoming more thematic and uplifting. [Read more…]

My Favourite Scores – 1932

  • Golden Mountains (Zlatye Gory)
  • Dmitri Shostakovich
  • Capriccio / 1995 / 23:36

Released in the US in 1932, Golden Mountains was Shostakovich’s third composition for the cinema and the film follows country peasant Pyotr as poverty drives him to the city to work in a factory to earn a living. The 6-movement suite, played in the recording I have by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Michail Jurowski, was assembled by the composer shortly after it was composed in 1931.

What particularly attracts me to this suite from the score is that it immediately grabs the listener with the shrill brass fanfares and then the shrill brass re-appears at various points throughout the suite (and particularly in the final movement). These loud statements are set against the more sombre 4th and 5th movements. I remember being particularly surprised to hear the guitar solo that is heard at the beginning of the Waltz and the use of a grand organ to open the next movement (Fugue). It all emphasises to me what variety someone of Shostakovich’s calibre was doing in film music at the time (though I believe that the organ music featured in the Fugue does not appear in any current prints of the film.)


Original Review by Alan Rogers

Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef are US-based game shows produced by the Food Network and are based on a Japanese cooking show. In Iron Chef America, a challenging chef competes against one of the resident “Iron Chefs” in a specially constructed cooking arena called “Kitchen Stadium”. Fronted by over-the-top martial arts actor Mark Dacascos and being introduced with dramatic clips of chopping, frying, flames and with furious clip editing (with animated steel knife slashes), this is “cooking in your face”. And composer Craig Marks has composed for the show appropriately “in your face” music. He has also composed music in the same vein for the subsequent spin-off The Next Iron Chef (a competition to chose new Iron Chefs to take part in Iron Chef America).

Describing Marks’ music for the show in the press as “sabre-rattling gladiator music”, Marks’ moonlighting at Media Ventures whilst studying Music Composition at UCLA can be heard frequently in the scores. Using predominantly synths, the music is full of bold, brash fanfares, powerful synth strings and percussion, and each cue could easily be taken from any Media Venture-scored Hollywood blockbuster. The themes for both Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef are full-on heroic themes (think something like any Jerry Bruckheimer-produced effort and you wouldn’t be far off the mark in terms of style), with tracks such as “Shiitake Showdown”, “Nine Chefs Enter”, “White House Garden / A National Challenge” and “Flamenco Flambé” continuing to pour on the drama and testosterone. A cookery show can’t be this exciting can it?  [Read more…]

Ten Tracks Today – 27th August 2011

01 – “Cory In Jeopardy” – EarthquakeJohn Williams

I was surprised by how much I didn’t enjoy the release of this score when I first heard it. I had been used to hearing the more familiar love theme in all the compilations that featured music from Earthquake, but this cue is a good suspense track.

02 – “The Thing Which I Left” – Umizura 3: The Last MessageNaoki Sato

Sato can usually be relied upon to supply music that is both emotionally interesting and action-packed. You may have realised by now that I love music that’s full of percussion and ostinato and this cue delivers in spades. String ostinatos and large drum percussion – the latter beating out a relentless rhythm – permeate the entire track.

03 – “Mysterioso” – TimelineBrian Tyler

One of Tyler’s best efforts this as I find the thematic material that he has composed (as well as the various, shorter motifs) very appealing. The cue starts of quietly (mysteriously?) before beginning to hear the various devices he uses in this score. [Read more…]

THE ESCAPIST – Benjamin Wallfisch

Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at

The Escapist is a 2008 British drama starring Brian Cox as convicted murderer and prison lifer Frank Perry. With no chance of parole, he has no choice but to plan a prison break when he decides to make peace with his estranged daughter before she dies after falling ill. In order to carry out his ingenious plan of escape he must call upon the skills of group of fellow inmates. What follows is a claustrophobic tale switching between prison breakout build-up and the actual escape through a warren of underground tunnels. Co-writer and director Rupert Wyatt’s (also director of the upcoming Rise of The Planet of The Apes) decision to use a minimum amount of dialogue together with the murky, gloomy feel to the movie presented a challenge to composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

Wallfisch came to the attention of the film music world with his acclaimed score to his feature film debut, Dear Wendy (released by MovieScore Media), earning him many accolades including a nomination for “Discovery of The Year” at the 2005 World Soundtrack Awards (WSA). As well as composing his own film scores he has orchestrated many of Dario Marianelli’s scores, including Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, V For Vendetta and Jane Eyre. Wallfisch’s score for The Escapist (which led to a second “Discovery of The Year” nomination at the WSA in 2008) is bookended by a memorable title theme that’s based on a raw and gutsy propulsive ostinato in the strings (particularly the low register strings) that’s reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s use of low strings in The Ring. The motif is embellished with piano, winds as well as cimbalom. The mix of the clear sound of the hammered dulcimer alongside the meaty but muddy sound of the strings of the propulsive motif is an interesting one and is heard particularly well in the second track of the score, “Diamond”. [Read more…]