Joel Goldsmith’s Stargate: Atlantis score
seems not to have been affected by the rushed deadlines and limited budgets
usually associated with the art of television scoring. Along with his
orchestrator Nicolas Dodd, Goldsmith has delivered an extremely detailed,
dynamic and complex orchestral score worthy of any large-scale epic film. The
fact that a musical opus of this magnitude was composed for commercial
television is nothing short of spectacular, and what is even more impressive
than the actual scope of the work is just how good it is.
The album kicks off with the Emmy award
winning ‘Main Title’ which evolves around two brief themes: a principal and
secondary subject. Notice the word “brief”, as it is essential. A television
composer has to deliver a message with a minimum of notes, to maximum effect.
Goldsmith has truly triumphed in this most difficult task. Because not only
does he introduce a main theme, he develops it, contrasts it with a secondary
subject performed by a full choir, and then restates it – all within a minute.
In the same amount of time, Richard Wagner is not even halfway through
introducing his opening theme from the Tannhauser overture.
Joel Goldsmith’s musical heritage is quite
obvious: he is his father’s son. His appetite for complex rhythmic patterns and
frequently alternating time signatures are reminiscent of much of his father’s
music and dominate large parts of the Stargate score. Furthermore,
Goldsmith’s affection for a lonely solo trumpet accompanied by strings is also
noteworthy; the older Goldsmith famously used the same instrumentation to
similar effect in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).
There were particularly two elements of the
Stargate soundtrack that impressed me more than anything else: first of
all it was the complexity of the suspense compositions, with all the
sophisticated cluster chords in the brass and the seamlessly integrated
electronic effects. Second of all, and much more importantly, the performance
of the orchestra is a great example of outstanding musicianship. The dynamic
transitions are most convincingly executed, always keeping the listener at the
edge of their seat, and the fast string and woodwind passages are played ever
so evenly. Nicolas Dodd really did an outstanding job with the conducting and orchestrations,
and the result sounds terrific.
Besides the exhilarating main title, the
most exciting track from the Stargate soundtrack is probably the track
titled ‘Wraith Abductions’. Surely no film music fan could resist a 7\8 time
signature suspense motif? It’s like the adrenaline of music! Some of film
music’s greatest suspense cues from recent years have been composed with that
very preset. ‘Tunnel Chase’ from Marco Beltrami’s I:Robot or ‘Electrical
Storm’ from the same composer’s Flight of the Phoenix are great
examples, along with some of John Williams’ scenes for the recently concluded Star
Wars series. In ‘Wraith Abductions’, Joel Goldsmith has made a solid
contribution to the suspense repertoire with two deceptively simple motifs that
he develops masterfully throughout the piece. It’s all about orchestration and
performance, both done expertly and it if this isn’t music to catch your
attention, chances are that little television music has to offer will.
Goldsmith remains true to the two main
title themes throughout the score, revisiting them frequently either
melodically, or by suggesting their harmonic structures. The score is well
represented on the soundtrack, and is a balanced and dynamic listening
experience in its own right. Although all the action music does eventually get
weary, the chronology of the cues feels right and the ending composition, ‘Our
new home, Atlantis’, forms the perfect conclusion with a simple string
statement of the main theme.
Had Goldsmith’s Stargate score been
composed for a feature film, it would perhaps not be receiving so much praise
from this reviewer. But since this effort is aimed at the television medium it
really does deserve the big words. After all, this is television scoring at its
very best. Surely enough there are clichés, but it really comes with the turf
when your efforts are aimed at a mass audience like the Stargate
franchise so obviously is.
Mark Rayen Candasamy