July 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings / July /


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EDITOR’s RECOMMENDATION July 2003

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Soylent Green / Demon Seed  
Music Composed by Fred Myrow / Jerry Fielding
  Film Score Monthly FSM Vol. 6 No.8  
Soylent Green 40.21
Demon Seed: 39.28
Total running time: 79.51
Available from Film Score Monthly, 8503 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232; Tel: 1-888-345-6335; overseas: 310-253-9595; fax: 310-253-9588; e-mail: Info@filmscoremonthly.com

soylent green

Clocking in at nine seconds short of 80 minutes, this must be the longest soundtrack CD yet to come my way. It amounts to, effectively, two complete LPs worth of music on a single disc. Both are from 1970's science fiction pictures of the old school, before Star Wars came along and replaced more-or-less thoughtful dystopian adult dramas which then dominated screen SF with rather less intellectually considered action adventure. The music is also very much pre-Star Wars, Williams SF scoring, which is to say that both scores tend toward alienation, seeking to confront rather than comfort the audience faced with dark screen futures.

Soylent Green (1973) is first, Fred Myrow's music from the Charlton Heston version of Harry Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room! In typical Hollywood style the film dumbs-down the book. The novel was a serious examination of life in an over-populated future, while the film instead predicated itself upon a high concept gimmick as nonsensical as The Matrix's people-as-batteries. It nevertheless remains a stylish, at times moving evocation of a horrendous 21st century New York.

Myrow is a composer whose name is little known, his greatest successes coming with Soylent Green and the Phantasm series of horror movies. His score is very much of its time, a mixture of arranged pop-jazz and ambient atmospheric pieces often arranged with disorientating electronic effects. From example the "Prologue/Opening City Music" cue develops an increasingly urgent jazz march which gives way to slowly drifting chords and textures introducing a future New York. In contrast the second track, "Can I Do Something For You?" begins like a mid-tempo Lalo Schfrin Latin dance, before introducing unsettling cross-modulated synthesiser effects. Then "Out For A Walk/Nothing Like This/Assassin Approaches/ Necessary to God/New Tenant " moves from tuned percussion and reverberant electronic guitar effects not so far removed from the sound world of Norwegian experimental jazz composer Terje Rypdal into atonal suspense writing with processed sounds over a cycling piano motif, and finally into a wigged out electric Latin rocker. So the score goes, from kitsch MOR melodies (try "Home Lobby Source") to avant garde extrapolations of obsessively spiralling motifs. Electric groves meet ambient run through such pieces as "Tab's Pad/Furniture Party", so that one might think of the progressive rock of the period, or perhaps John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, but whatever the points of reference, this is an arresting piece of work which makes fine use of the stereo sound stage and detailed, precise recording.

Soylent Green offers a real showcase for a film composer, the whole is reminiscent of Schfrin's score for THX 1138, recently released on FSM and reviewed here. Many will find it hard going, and its certainly not a score for hard-line Golden Age devotes, though even they may find the comparison between the eventual classical montage used in the final cut and Myrow's same mock-classic piece for the same scene interesting. (It seems no SF picture which desired to be taken seriously could be without some classical music in the decade after 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Even so, with the wide array of styles and often ingenious arrangements, this score shows what could be done in the field of seemingly commercially orientated scoring in the 1970's. It's sad such invention isn't brought to bear on more recent rock orientated soundtracks.

The finale montage of "Infernal Machine/Thorn in Danger/Are You With Us?/Alternate City Opening/End Credits" takes the score into particularly bizarre an unnerving territory, all discordant shocks, growls, agitated strings and weird electronic textures, perfectly setting the scene for the second half of this double-feature.

I saw Demon Seed on its original cinematic release and have never forgotten it, the chilling exercise in cerebral (by Hollywood standards) SF coming from the visionary mind of Donald (Performance) Cammell via a novel by Dean Koontz. Jerry Fielding's score takes no prisoners, makes not the slightest concession to commerce - though the album fascinatingly provides original and revised versions of music for two parts of the film ("Last Voyage" and "End Credits") where it was considered Fielding had gone too far. A mixture of modernistic orchestral score and musique concrète, the reference points might be Scriabin meets Stockhausen; the result being a score often constructed from low menacing strings and the most extreme of processed electronic sounds. This is music designed to unsettle and alienate, and it makes for a tough listen on disc; invention is high, though melody is in short supply. Those who find the electronic parts of Goldsmith's Logan's Run too much need not apply, though anyone who considers John Corigliano's Altered States too MOR may wish to give this a go.

Highlights include the hair-raising yet uncannily beautiful epic montages "The Gaz Chamber/Rape of the Earth/How?/Hypnosis/Chimes" and "Pre-Trip/Big Wind/Sperm/Spirograph/Tetra Waltz", which achieve the science fictional quality of portraying a futuristic reality, a world seriously removed from our own which is at once terrifying and compelling. It is, in the spirit of 2001, transcendent, achieving with a new score what Kubrick accomplished via the classics. After these cues the "Last Voyage" offers a cosmic vision as dazzling and richly orchestrated as the worlds of Scriabin, an austerely romantic climax leading to the rejected "Closing Crawl" - another terrifying electronic soundscape - and the release print's "End Credits", an orchestral resolution which is majestic and inhumanly monumental.

If Soylent Green is a highly commendable score for an interesting film, Demon Seed is a superb score for an under-rated science fiction classic. To have both available on one disc is a bargain no one seriously interested in either experimental film music or in science fiction should miss.

Gary Dalkin

****(*) 41/2

Soylent Green

  • Prologue/Opening City Music 4:20
  • Can I Do Something for You? 1:47
  • Out for a Walk/Nothing Like This/Assassin Approaches/Necessary to God/New Tenant 5:29
  • Stalking theliad 1:41
  • Tab'sliad/Furniture Party 3:43
  • Shirl and Thorn 2:08
  • Home Lobby Source 2:58
  • Sol's Music 6:29
  • Symphony Music (Tchaikovsky/Beethoven/Grieg, cond. Gerald Fried) 6:17
  • Infernal Machine/Thorn in Danger/Are You With Us?/Alternate City Opening/End Credits 5:13
  • Total Time: 40:21

Demon Seed

  • Birth Scene/Speaking Room/Elk Herd 3:17
  • Proteus Requests/Light On/Your Phone Is Out 8:24
  • Visiting Hours/Probed and Put to Bed 3:24
  • The Gaz Chamber/Rape of the Earth/How?/Hypnosis/Chimes 8:23
  • Pre-Trip/Big Wind/Sperm/Spirograph/Tetra Waltz 7:18
  • Last Voyage 2:35
  • Closing Crawl 2:03
  • End Credits 3:59
  • Total Time: 39:28

FSM Publicity release:

FSM adds to its library of science fiction soundtracks with a doubleheader of provocative music from 1970s M-G-M films: Soylent Green and Demon Seed.

Soylent Green (1973) was the last and arguably the finest of Charlton Heston's trilogy of early-'70s sci-fi films, beginning with 1970's Beneath the Planet of the Apes and continuing with 1971's The Omega Man. (All three soundtracks are now immortalized as FSM CDs.) Heston plays a detective in this dystopian, overcrowded future, where the death of a prominent executive leads to a discovery of the shocking truth behind the society's precious foodstuff.

The music to Soylent Green was composed by Fred Myrow (1939-1999), an eclectic musician who worked in film, theater and the concert hall. Myrow provided an imaginative, pop-based main title (for a montage of still photographs), futuristic-sounding source cues (featuring electric violin and synthesizers), and strange, atmospheric moods for the underscore. The CD includes his original, unused classical-styled music for Edward G. Robinson's death sequence, as well as the actual classical works (by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Grieg) conducted by Gerald Fried for the finished film. The Soylent Green portion of the CD is entirely in stereo.

Demon Seed (1977) was directed by Donald Cammell (Performance) and stars Julie Christie as the wife of a scientist (Fritz Weaver) who has invented the Proteus IV supercomputer. However, Proteus soon develops the need to procreate -- and uses Christie as the means to that end, trapping her in her house and terrorizing her. Jerry Fielding's avant garde score was a high-water mark in the composer's experimentation, featuring eerie suspense and violence as Proteus and Christie engage in a battle of wills.

Fielding conceived and recorded several pieces electronically, using the musique concrete sound world of Karlheinz Stockhausen; some of this music he later reworked symphonically. FSM's premiere release of the Demon Seed score features the entire orchestral score in stereo, as well as the unused electronic experiments in mono and stereo.

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