Friday, July 15, 2016

TOTAL Total Recall

Jerry Goldsmith is probably my favorite composer of film music. His triumphant anthems heralded five Star Trek movies (and two Star Trek series). He subverted liturgical music for The Omen. He invoked tension and terror in Alien and Poltergeist. He's also responsible for what I regard as one of the best action movie scores ever written, Total Recall.

Long before I'd built my soundtrack collection to even a fraction of what it is today, I played my cassette tape (and later, my CD) of Goldsmith's Total Recall over and over again. And since that was years before I became a real movie score enthusiast, I never really noticed how incomplete it was. At the time the movie was released in 1990, Goldsmith was one of the few composers whose work could get a soundtrack album of any kind released. But even this album contained only 10 tracks, with a running time amounting to barely half of the music he'd written for the movie. Nowadays, there are several small labels catering to fans like me with small print run releases of movie scores, re-mastered from the original source recordings. And last year, for Total Recall's 25th anniversary, Quartet Records released a fantastic new 2-CD version of the soundtrack.

This version of the score is more than complete. The first disc includes all orchestral cues from the film itself -- even including sections of music that weren't actually used in the completed film. The second disc preserves tracks that were slightly different in the original album release, adds several new alternate takes, and presents all the movie's "source music" (TV jingles, dance club songs -- any music whose "source" is visible in the movie itself). It's finally the release that one of Jerry Goldsmith's best scores deserves.

In a Goldsmith trademark, this music is clever about how it blends conventional orchestra with synthesizers. (According to this album's extensive liner notes, three different synthesizers were used in the score.) An echoing ostinato that pops up throughout the movie comes straight from the uncanny valley, blending woodwind with some artificial noise. The main title itself is full-throated brass over sweeping strings... but slaved to scratchy synthetic percussion. Different tracks have synthesizer phrases that sound like a mocking laugh ("The Implant"), sonar pings ("Clever Girl" and "The Johnny Cab"), whale song ("Where Am I?"), choir ("Without Air"), and more.

Even when his focus is away from the synthesizers, Goldsmith toys with how different instruments change the perception of the same music, turning an action melody into a love theme, or a chase into a tense game of cat and mouse. Sometimes, percussion seems to take on the role of melody ("A New Face"), while other times Goldsmith sets up a call and answer between different sections of the orchestra ("Howdy Stranger / The Nose Job" and "Identification").

The score also throws conventional time signatures out the window. The theme itself may be in familiar ol' 4/4, but the action scenes are routinely scored with skip-beat patterns that relentlessly press forward -- 5/8 in "The Implant," both 5/8 and 7/8 in "The Big Jump", and 15/8 (? !) in "End of a Dream." Other action rarely stays on one motif for long. "Old Times Sake" changes up melodies every 5 to 10 seconds, while "Swallow It" toggles between pizzicato stealth and brazen action (after kicking off with a wailing brass chord that builds note by note).

The music is in fact so complex and demanding of the musicians that the first orchestra contracted to play it wasn't up for the job. The album's liner notes describe how the score was first recorded in Germany, by a group of "pickup players." After completing just two cues (and pieces of a third that both Goldsmith and the film's director, Paul Verhoeven, found unusable), they scrapped the rest of the session and started again in London. That third cue is one of the score's most complex, "Clever Girl," and the album presents the original orchestra's attempt to play it, assembled from seven(!) different takes. It's a powerful illustration of what a difference good performers can make (or, at least, it is to me, knowing this particular piece so well). The less skilled orchestra plays with noticeably less confidence, their staccato notes not filling the space in the way the final performance does.

The only weak part of the album are three source cues composed by someone else, Bruno Louchouarn. Two of them ("Rubble City" and "Running Out of Air") are almost painful to listen to. The other, a squeezebox future synth-pop track called "Mutant Dancing" is better -- though the four-minute song wears out its welcome in a quarter of that time. Still, in the interests of this truly being the complete score to Total Recall, I don't mind them being on the album. They show that Jerry Goldsmith is even a master of intentionally cheesy music, when you compare those three tracks to Goldsmith's commercial and promotional jingles later on the same album. (Also, for classical fans, you'll find a snippet of Mozart's "Divertimento in D" included too.)

I could keep going on, in excruciating detail, about how much I love Jerry Goldsmith's work, and this score in particular. But I've surely made my point. This is a must-have album for film music fans, an absolute grade A.

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