As part of the celebrations marking the re-opening of Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory in 2006 after a 4-year renovation programme, a computer animated show (that features a short night sky simulation sequence) called Centered In The Universe was first shown in the Planetarium Theater (it is now a regular attraction at the Observatory). Not the usual exploration of the night sky that is usually held in a planetarium, Centered In The Universe takes the viewer on a historical perspective of our interaction with the night sky: soaring to 2nd Century Alexandria and astronomer Ptolemy, on to Galileo observing the sky through his telescope, then onwards to Edwin Hubble in the 1920s and his work in understanding the expansion of the universe, before we see representations of the Big Bang and the conceptual theories occupying today’s astronomers and physicists. Through all of this computer animations illustrate the beauty and grandeur of the universe.
Centered In The Universe features a musical score from the music production company Alan Ett Music Group and whose collective credits include compositions for numerous TV shows as well as several movies (e.g., “additional music for” The Virgin Suicides, The Hills Have Eyes and Home Alone 3). The score release credits composition to Alan Ett, Scott Liggett and William Ashford and what we have with this score is almost 30 minutes of music that reflects the grandeur and majesty of the night sky, the solar system and beyond, as well as highlighting the complex conceptual problems astronomers have today of understanding the mechanics of the universe.
The score begins with a solo piano cue (“Walk-In Music”), background music for people making their way into the theatre. The cue is mainly based around a rising and falling pattern and has a sort of “floaty” feel to it. Once the show starts proper the audience is treated to a glorious sunset and there’s an appropriately dramatic underscore that leads into a 4-note motif that serves as a sort of title theme (“Sunset”). Played by the brass it acts as a fanfare leading into an extended melody on strings. It is quite a striking cue and the same components close the show (“65 Million”). One thing I found quite distracting about the 4-note motif used in “Sunset” is that it sounds very similar to the title theme for the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. Whenever I hear this motif I am finishing it off in my head with the TV theme! The tracks that follow highlight the mystery and beauty of the universe well, using delicate ostinatos and string glissandi in small groups of instruments. These early cues highlight the beauty of the observable universe (there’s a grand musical crescendo in “Mount Wilson and Hubble” that almost marks the boundary between end of “traditional astronomy” and the beginning of “modern astronomy”). The cues towards the end of the score emphasise the abstract ideas and theories that occupy the minds of today’s astronomers and have a definite Twilight Zone feel to them. “Language Math” and “Expand Cool” both feature soundscape elements such as washes of electronic music (“Language Math”) and slightly unsettling ostinato patterns and dissonant chords (“Expand Cool”), techniques that make for a more unsettling feeling for the listener compared to the first few cues. Another ingredient of the score is heard in a couple of tracks that represent specific times and places visited along the way. There is nothing subtle about these tracks as the composers use well-worn musical styles and instrumentation to suggest a Middle Eastern/Arabian location for “Alexandria” and use a harpsichord to establish a sense of time and place for “Galileo”. Musical suggestion of the broad brush type. As mentioned earlier, the score closes with a restatement of the thematic material heard in “Sunset”. We are back to the wonderment of the universe and its contents and “65 Million” ends the score with a grand, dramatic climax.
On balance, Centered In The Universe has some excellent tracks: particularly the early and final two cues that reflect the wonders of the astronomical world. They are pleasing to the ear and their power to instil the feeling of awe at the natural beauty of the night sky and its contents is something that does linger after the music finishes. Centered In The Universe is available as a digital download from the usual outlets.
Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.
- Walk-In Music (L’enfant à La Fenêtre 1) (1:56)
- Sunset (2:04)
- The Stars (3:55)
- The Planets (1:27)
- Alexandria (2:28)
- Galileo (1:19)
- 1781 (1:20)
- Mount Wilson and Hubble (2:01)
- Language Math (1:32)
- Expand Cool (2:20)
- We’ve Learned (3:18)
- 65 Million (3:59)
Running Time: 27:45
Alan Ett Music Group (2008)