June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Stargate Atlantis  
Music composed and produced by Joel Goldsmith
Performed by Unnamed Ensemble
Orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD 6700)
Running Time: 42:20
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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

Rating: 5
Standalone: 4.5

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