Friday, August 21, 2015

Music for the Clone Club

Over the past few months, I've found a handful of interesting new soundtrack albums for TV series I've been enjoying -- shows I probably should have written about here on the blog at some point. Now, talking about the albums will give me an excuse to bring them up.

First up is Orphan Black. This Canadian show, airing on BBC America, recently wrapped up its third season. It follows a group of women who've discovered they're all clones. Each deals with the issues in their separate lives as they work together to pierce the conspiracy behind their own creation. If you've never seen the show, you've really been missing out. The writing can be a bit hit and miss (seasons 1 and 3 being the former; season 2 the latter), but one thing that's always a hit is series star Tatiana Maslany. She plays the clones to perfection, imbuing each with a personality so distinct you can catch yourself forgetting it's all the same actress.

But while I could praise the show at length, for now I'll stick with the newly released album of Orphan Black's score. The music is composed by Trevor Yuile, and is shrewdly matched to the show's subject matter. Yuile's music is created on synthesizer, but in very much the right way if you're going to eschew a live orchestra. Conventional instruments take a secondary roll; a string section usually grounds the music in reality (occasionally helped by a short burst of brass), but most of what you hear is supposed to sound electronic.

The choice of "instrument" is often key in telling the story. The theme for the most dangerous clone, Helena, is accented with a processed two-tone noise that sounds vaguely like a screeching tire. Suburban mom Alison gets a theme on light and airy chimes; it always seems to be forcing itself into some other musical flow, in the same way Alison's personality always comes on strong.

Instrument choice is also key to the general atmosphere of the soundtrack. Synth bass is often used as percussion, in a rat-a-tat manner that ratchets up the tension. Oscillating drones sometimes imply sirens (and danger). When events are spinning out of control, the sounds themselves often sound like they're fraying during sustained notes. The pops and hiss of old vinyl records play over the music for more nostalgic moments. And at other, specific times, you might imagine you're hearing an out-of-tune music box, banging inside a rusting pipe, the squeaks of unoiled hinges, slurping through a straw, or the buzzing of a gnat. These sounds are always far more musical than literal, but they strike you as just familiar enough on some subconscious level to help in stirring an emotional response.

Some of my favorite tracks on the album include the propulsive recap music for "Previously On," the discordant and angry "We Meet Helena," the staccato strangeness of "They're Killing Us," and the light/sinister sandwich of "Alison Kills." Plus, of course, there's the theme itself -- though that song is composed by electronic artist Two Fingers. It's incredibly short, in the way of modern TV show themes, but it packs a lot of oozing attitude in 30 seconds. And its use of an all-female chorus "ooh"ing in tight, airy harmony seems perfect for a show about clones.

Not all of the music works well when stripped from the show's visuals. Some cues are so sparse, they seem almost like a piano lesson. One or two feel too similar to other tracks on the album. But overall, the Orphan Black soundtrack is a good collection of music for a great show. I give it a B. And I'll be using it to fill in the wait until season 4.

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