Friday, July 17, 2015

Music to Evolve By

Earlier this week, I wrote about last year's sci-fi action flick about an evolving superhuman, Lucy. (Not amazing, but more enjoyable than you might expect.) I noted the film's effective score, composed by long-time Luc Besson collaborator Eric Serra. Since watching the movie, I've picked up the soundtrack album, and if anything, I've grown to like the music even more as I've listened to it on its own.

It shouldn't be surprising that the score for this film has a fair amount in common with Luc Besson's other big sci-fi movie, The Fifth Element. It's not that the music for the two films is overtly similar in many ways, but it's related in more of a Netflix recommendation sort of way: "if you like this, you'll probably like that." An interesting quirk of the Lucy album is the way in which the tracks have been broken up. Though the album clocks in just under 50 minutes, it contains 29 tracks; most of these are barely a minute or two long. But the album doesn't consist of 29 truly distinct cues. Instead, some pieces that run 5 minutes or more are broken up across three or more consecutive album tracks, tracks that flow uninterrupted into one another. The result is an album you're encouraged to listen to in its entirety, as opposed to letting fragments of songs bubble up on random shuffle.

The music itself decides on a few particular methods of experimentation, and then mines them deeply through the film. There are a lot of techno stylings: percussion that sounds like bursts of static, riffs built around ostinato melodies, unusual electronically generated instruments. But it's hardly a "techno" score. For one thing, the tempo of much of the music is decidedly slower than dance music -- and sometimes even free times for long sections. For another, the music has its other foot firmly planted in the orchestral world. Several tracks are punctuated with militaristic snare. All registers in the string section are used. In general, just as many sounds seem organic as synthesized.

Of course, I do allow tracks from the album to come up at random, and there are a number of them I've rated highly. "First Cells" opens the album with a very retro sci-fi sound, a vaguely Casio vibe that's what a lot of 80s movies thought the future would sound like. The two tracks presenting parts of "Mr. Wang's Bloody Suite" make marvelous alternating use of dense and sparse orchestration to build a sense of dread. "All We Have Done With It" is an odd but wonderful little jazzy riff on contrapuntal clarinets. "Taipei Airport" is a short but clever piece using electronic noises in an organized and musical manner.

There are tracks with ominous, thrumming bass. There are pensive, emotional melodies on instruments both familiar and unusual. There are tracks that skew more orchestral, and tracks that come across like Trent Reznor riffs (the Nine Inch Nails music, not Reznor's own film composing). There are amorphous soundscapes with insect-like percussion skittering over the top of it. There are tracks of interesting organized chaos. There's even a track with an operatic soloist soaring prominently above it all ("Mind Into Matter").

Indeed, I'd say that the Lucy soundtrack is better than the film for which it was created. I'd give it an A-. Though I don't imagine ever watching the film again, the album is going to stay in the rotation for some time to come.

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