WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE – Sheridan Tongue


Original Review by Alan Rogers

Carl Sagan’s influential early 1980s documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is one that I remember watching avidly. I particularly remember the use of Vangelis’ music as the title theme – I even bought the vinyl record that the BBC released as a single. From a score perspective this show used a wide variety of musical styles as underscore. The music of Vangelis played side-by-side with the music of classical music greats such as Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi and Holst and more contemporary composers such as Alan Hovhaness. An eclectic mix indeed. Jump forward in time roughly thirty years and we come to Wonders of The Universe, a four-part TV series hosted by physicist Brian Cox. Each of the four episodes focuses on a specific “wonder” with the goal of explaining and understanding questions such as “Why are we here?” and “Where do we come from?”

Sheridan Tongue’s specially-composed music for Wonders of The Universe mirrors the music used in Cosmos in that, on the evidence of the soundtrack release of the music used in BBC documentary series, it comprises of a series of music tracks that do not share a common denominator other than they all appear on this soundtrack. This does mean though that there is bound to be something here for most peoples’ musical taste. Tongue’s classical training and experience with cutting edge technology are brought together to produce a score that is firmly based in contemporary electric guitar and drum combinations (e.g., “Wonders of The Solar System” and “Mini Solar System” could easily be B-side instrumental tracks). (Perhaps I have just found an aspect of the music that links them together?) Each track spends a couple of minutes repeating and exploring the musical ideas contained within them. Listening to them away from the visuals, there’s very little connection to anything akin to an emotional response – but instilling emotion into the visuals, it can be argued, is not the job of music used in a documentary. However, the use of low register solo strings does tend to give some tracks a hint of calmness (“Connected”), sadness (“A Star Must Die” and “Death of A Planet”) and tenderness (“Death of A Planet”). A bed of electronic “twinklings” and ostinato flute effects are suggestive of a “Symphony of Light”. 

At the time of broadcast in the UK, how Sheridan Tongue’s music was used in Wonders of The Universe was the catalyst for several complaints to broadcasters BBC. Viewers complained that the music in the first episode was mixed so loudly that the presenter’s comments could not be heard. As a result, the subsequent episodes were re-edited in order to reduce the music’s volume levels. Presenter Brian Cox was not happy and disagreed with the re-edit, commenting that the music helped to provide a “cinematic experience”. Apparently, the original music volume levels have been re-stored for the DVD and Blu-ray releases. I do remember watching the series when it was originally aired and being conscious of the music. And listening to the tracks for the soundtrack away from the visuals, each track does have something to offer (e.g., “Symphony of Light” and “Wonders of The Universe” are particularly memorable). However, the album falls down slightly when you try to connect the separate listening experience to the programmes: the music could be used as music in almost any documentary. And, there’s no wonder in the score. Wonders of The Universe is available as a digital download at selected online stores and is apparently available on CD in the UK.

Rating: **

  1. Wonders of The Solar System (1:59)
  2. Endless Hands of Time (2:16)
  3. The Iguazu Falls (2:53)
  4. A Star Must Die (1:43)
  5. Surfing (2:08)
  6. Building Blocks (1:50)
  7. Connected (2:06)
  8. Symphony of Light (3:53)
  9. The Power (1:41)
  10. Wonders of The Universe (2:29)
  11. Invisible Light (2:12)
  12. Driving (2:24)
  13. Release of Energy (1:51)
  14. Mini Solar System (2:09)
  15. The Universe (1:25)
  16. Death of A Planet (4:03)

Running Time: 37:08

Cube Soundtracks (2011)

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