March 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Wendy CARLOS
Tron  
  The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Douglas Gamley OST
  WALT DISNEY RECORDS 60748-7   [58:59]

Tron

It is interesting that Wendy Carlos' "Tron" finally became available on CD so close to the release of John Williams' "Heartbeeps". One presents a synthesizer pioneer utilizing symphonic elements, the other is a symphonic wizard trying out electronics, and while neither score is especially commendable, their sharp reemergence amid the similar soundscape of today's filmusic scene suggests the fascination with blending the natural orchestra with seemingly otherworldly sounds remains strong.

"Tron" is arguably the better of the two. Carlos' orchestral sense is fairly generic, and the booms, bleats and babblings of the acoustic instruments are not too different from those of the electronic trappings. Occasional effects, such as military snares and overused stinger chords, give the music the feel of a crude cartoon score, making Carlos' impressive electronics suddenly seem cheap. The sound Carlos creates manages to be highly intriguing without being particularly entertaining. Where the soundtrack gains momentum is through the composer's thematic sophistication (one, she observes, is 'quasi-military;' the other is unabashedly romantic), which beautifully bridges the gap between form and function, and the performing skills of 'synthesist' Carlos, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and, in a lovely touch, organist Martin Neery.

On the subject of function, the score accompanies the 1982 film about a computer programmer who literally enters into a mainframe and fights to save it from an evil program. The picture's greatest distinction was its use of computer animation, an effects technique now standard even in quiet, dramatic features. "Tron" might appeal most to those early videogamers that now remember the movie through the strange nostalgic filter of kids who grew-up during the '80s. I certainly have fond memories of the film from its U.S. cable run during my formative years, and it continues to be wholly re-watchable on rainy Sunday afternoons. However (and not surprisingly), the music is as uneven there as it is here.

So the form isolated on this disc approaches a sort of bizarre mediocrity, where the sum of the parts depends on what you are looking for. Will it be entertainment, or intrigue? The former, as I said, frequently turns to the Bland Side; the latter offers some analytical challenges that may become entertaining in their own unique fashion. But either way, the soundtrack’s range is scattershot with majestic peaks and flooded valleys.

Adding to the album length are two grooving '80s rock songs from the band Journey, as well as three 'bonus tracks' of music cut from the original LP. One of the new score selections, 'Break In (For Strings, Flutes, and Celesta)', is an improvement over its electronic counterpart in an earlier track ('Tower Music'), and a Bernard Herrmann influence appears!

Steve Sterling's album design is simple but slick, though it would be nicer if there were track times. Carlos' liner notes are in-depth and personable, only the content suffers through her stilted writing style. As for the audio, this is the best this score has ever sounded (an amazing accomplishment considering how seriously the masters were damaged).

It has its high points. Offered as a budget CD, Wendy Carlos' "Tron" is undoubtedly worth considering. Whether it is actually worth recommending is another matter, in which I find it wise to err on the side of caution.

Jeffrey Wheeler

**(*)

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