Original Review by Alan Rogers

Quand Les Égyptiens Naviguaient Sur La Mer Rouge (When The Egyptians Sailed On The Red Sea) is a French TV documentary from 2009 that follows American archaeologist Cheryl Ward as she builds a replica Egyptian ship (from around 1500BC) and attempts to retrace the voyage of a fleet of five ships to the mysterious land of Punt, thus proving that the Egyptians were a seafaring people. Directed and co-written by Stéphane Bégoin, the documentary, in typical Discovery Channel style, is a mix of following present-day archaeologists as they build a picture of events during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (whose time as Pharaoh encouraged the establishment of trade relations) and of dramatic reconstructions of the period. Scoring the documentary is French-born composer Bernard Becker (El Guerrero Sin Nombre) who provides an interesting and effective score that is made up of two different aspects.

Becker seems to have decided to split the score into two different “sounds”. One half the score has a particularly ethnic feel to it. Through the use of specific instruments (ethnic woodwinds, percussion) and musical style (melodies and rhythms), the composer effectively conjures up a sense of place both in terms of location as well as time. The opening track “Le Mystérieux Pays de Punt” highlights this, setting the scene for the documentary and the score with a breathy woodwind that plays out a seductive melody. The use of ethnic woodwinds and exotic rhythms is heard several times throughout the score (e.g., “A Bord du Navire” and “Les Portes du Temple”). A particularly effective use of the ethnic woodwind can be found in “La Reine Hatshepsout” and “Le Ciel d’Égypte”. Solo woodwind plays a reflective, almost sad melody that seems associated with the Pharaoh Queen herself.  [Read more…]

ZONE OF THE DEAD – Stefano Caprioli

Original Review by Alan Rogers

Zone of The Dead is a Serbian zombie film from 2009 that appears to so bad that it was released quickly on DVD in 2010, having undergone a name change to Apocalypse of The Dead. A group of officials are charged with transporting a prisoner cross country to be transferred to Britain. Unfortunately, they end up being holed up in a police station, surrounded by the local population who have been turned into flesh-eating zombies after the release of a green mist that was being transported by train during part of a “military exercise”. What follows is a standard by-the-numbers zombie film that isn’t helped by the fact that the majority of the cast do not have English as their first language and either speak their (English) dialogue badly or don’t even try to deliver their lines in English and have to have their lines dubbed (badly). Into this mix is added Italian-born composer Stefano Caprioli who comes up with a rock-based soundtrack full of pulsing percussion and grungy guitars that adds an energy to the film that the actors fail to generate. But the price for this energy is that the score perhaps lacks the thematic material a listener might hope to hear. (From a zombie movie?)

The album opens with an interesting rhythm-based track (“Danger”) that’s predominantly built around a short motif that gets the full grungy guitar treatment. This relatively short cue (it is the shortest of the score clocking in at just over 2 minutes) is made up of short sections of the motif being played by various instruments: a low synthy sound, the grungy guitar, grungy guitar and adrenaline-fuelled drum kit, a short ambient section, etc. These sections are all joined together to form the cue. This arrangement of apparently stitching together small segments of music is repeated throughout the album. This gives the overall feel of the album as being a series of library cues from which the film-makers can select the appropriate music. Need a energetic rock-based piece that’s got loads of guitar to cover a fight sequence? Sure: here’s a piece at the beginning of “Energy” that should do. Need the music instead with an emphasis on drums? No problem: “Escape” has a short section that you can use. Want some quiet, emotional sounding music with acoustic guitar? The latter half of “When I Think About You” will do the trick. Although these tracks seem to be lots of ideas joined together, the actual music in the segments and how they are put together are actually quite interesting to listen to.  [Read more…]

TIRÉ À PART – Jean-Philippe Goude

Original Review by Alan Rogers

Tiré à Part is a French/English language film directed by Bernard Rapp and starring Terence Stamp (playing editor, Edward Lamb). Stamp’s character receives a manuscript from an old friend (played by French actor, Daniel Mesguich) which seems to contain details of an event from their past, details that convince Stamp that his friend may have been responsible for the subsequent suicide of his lover. The film follows Stamp’s character as he plots his revenge. The score is scored by Jean-Philippe Goude, a composer whose output has mainly been for television. He scores the movie with a small ensemble of instruments (mainly strings, piano, woodwinds), basing the score around a rhythmic piano theme.

The opening track, “Cher Edward/Générique Début”, showcases the main theme on piano and, to be honest, summarises the score as a whole. The theme’s quite jaunty as a result of the tempo and rhythm Goude uses. Around this theme there’s interesting embellishments from woodwinds and strings that flit around the core piano lines. What then follows are variations on a theme: both in terms of restatements of what is heard in the first track, but with subtle variations of orchestration and tempo (e.g., “Edward Brûle Les Livres” and “Picnic au Parc”), and cues that take little sections of the theme and then plays with them. For example, “Edward Visite Le Bureau de Nicolas” repeats a small initial portion of the theme, raising it through the scale to add some edginess to the now-familiar music.

Only occasionally does the score move away from the piano theme. “Nicolas Fouille Son Bureau” features ominous piano chords that are embellished with relentless heavy strings, building the cue to a crescendo only for it then to fall away with descending stark piano chords. “Valse du Goncourt” adds a brief moment of light relief with a waltz played by a string quartet. [Read more…]

My Favourite Scores – 1934

  • Lieutenant Kijé
  • Sergei Prokofiev
  • Vox Box / 1990 / 20:27

From what I have seen of the film, Lieutenant Kijé is bizarre. Full of extremely exaggerated acting, I had hoped to watch the film in order to see how Prokofiev’s original music fits. But the film is so bizarre and the copy I saw (streaming on Google Video) is so bad that I gave up pretty quickly. So the suite version (premiered in 1937) will need to do for the time being. I believe the actual score isn’t available on CD and most people will have heard the symphonic suite that the composer put together that is based on the score.

It’s difficult to look beyond the popular “Troika” when this score (and suite) is mentioned – the fourth movement of the suite, “Troika”, is frequently used in films and documentaries and usually features on “best of” classical music compilations. Most of the suite has been used in film, documentaries and popular music.

The familiar melodies heard in movements 2-4 (“Romance”, “Kijé’s Wedding” and “Troika”) appear throughout the suite and it is this familiarity that means Prokofiev’s piece is chosen for this year. [Read more…]

Ten Tracks Today – 27th September 2011

01 – “Tara and Mother” – True BloodNathan Barr

I like how Barr emphasises the cello in his score for True Blood. This track has a definite hymn-like feel to it – I suppose to highlight the fervent religious streak in Tara’s mother’s character.

02 – “End Credits” – Medal of Honor: AirborneMichael Giacchino

The little hints of the Medal of Honor theme – before it is heard in full – teases the listener at the beginning of this cue. Atypical of what you would expect for an end titles track (usually it’s grand statements of themes from the outset) this is much more restrained in tone: respectful rather than celebratory. One of my favourite game score themes.

03 – “Bowser’s Galaxy Reactor” – Super Mario GalaxyMahito Yokota

A big part of the enjoyment of this game for the Wii platform is Yokota’s music. A lot of times in other games, when I get stuck, the music quickly becomes annoying. But not in Super Mario Galaxy. Sometimes it can actually be annoying if I finish a level quickly and don’t hear the same piece for hours on end! Grand and orchestral. [Read more…]


Original Review by Alan Rogers

Credit needs to be given at the outset to Jim Lochner and his FilmScore ClickTrack piece “9 On The 9th” from November 2010. On that day he selected nine favourite foreign film scores and at number one of his list was Mikhail Ziv’s score to Ballad of A Soldier. Both Grigori Chukhrai’s 1959 film and Mikhail Ziv as a film composer were entirely new to me, but after doing a bit of research and following the links Jim provided find Ziv’s music, I am now writing this review echoing his original high recommendation.

Ballad of A Soldier is a 1959 award-winning Soviet film set during World War II – but is not really a war film. At its heart, it is a film of two love stories – 1) a story of the blossoming attraction between a soldier returning from the front and a stowaway he meets on a train on his journey home and 2) the love between a mother and her son (the soldier). Our accidental hero, rather than accepting a commendation for destroying some German tanks, asks for leave so that he can return home to see his mother (and fix the roof of her house). The film then follows his journey and the people he encounters along the way (including the pretty girl who he finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to). Russian composer Mikhail Ziv composes a score that ignores the usual war movie film score staples of being brass-heavy and full of marches. Ballad of A Soldier‘s score is one that is thematic and contains poignant and emotional music – in keeping with the director’s emphasis on the human stories of how war affects the ordinary person (as well as focusing on the foolishness of war).

All that is available of Ziv’s score is a 20-minute suite of music played by the Russian State Symphony Cinema Orchestra, conducted by Sergei Skripka. But this suite is ample to conclude that the music is film scoring of high quality. [Read more…]

IL MISTERO DEL LAGO – Alessandro Molinari

Original Review by Alan Rogers

RTI/Made In Etaly is a label that regularly releases soundtracks from Italian TV productions. Several of these releases are worthy of reaching as wide an audience as possible (see my recent review of Marco Betta’s score for Maria Montessori: Una Vita Per I Bambini). Il Mistero Del Lago (directed by Marco Serafini) is an Italian TV movie from 2009 in which a teacher is sent to a house located in the middle of a lake to teach two young orphans. You know that things are not going to go smoothly when the body of the orphans previous teacher is found on the shores of the lake. Based loosely on Henry James’ short novel, The Turn of The Screw, the drama is steeped in a mysterious atmosphere where visions, apparitions and shady pasts are much in evidence. Italian composer Alessandro Molinari composes a score, predominantly made up of strings and woodwinds, to add a layer of intrigue to the film without resorting too much to shock tactics.

Track 6, “La Signorina Andreani” features a lovely theme that highlights the way in which the composer uses the strings of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra to give the score a full sound that concentrates on music rather than suspenseful soundscapes and ambience. For “La Signorina Andreani” the theme is heard in the strings and it is then repeated as it is passed to various sections of the orchestra. A solo piano version closes out the album. “Il Salvataggio In Mare” is another good example of how Molinari uses strings to accentuate the drama effectively. And the composer uses the various sections within the strings too in order to heighten the drama: “Il Funerale Della Petri” features low strings as a support for the visuals in the form short descending motifs and tremolo notes rather than having a particularly sad theme.  [Read more…]