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Cluster Reviews #3 A Silva Screen Special

September 18, 2018

Silva Screen very kindly and continuously send me copies of their releases for review; and all too often I don’t review them. Now, whilst I’m not here to do record labels any favours or to promote their albums, I do feel a bit bad that I’m so far behind with Silva’s releases. With this episode of Cluster Reviews I want to see if we can restore some balance in the universe. I’ll be covering two Doctor Who releases, Shetland, Edie, an Essential Games Music Collection and no less than 100 Greatest Science Fiction Themes!

Let’s start with two of their latest releases: Doctor Who: The Five Doctors from 1983 with music by Peter Howell and Doctor Who: The Invasion from 1968 with music by Don Harper. Thanks to Murray Gold we now associate ‘recent’ Doctors with lush orchestral scores; but that wasn’t always the case. The Five Doctors is fully synthesized and relies as much on sound-design (in this case by Dick Mills) as on musical composition. Doctor Who always seems to have been of its time but pushing boundaries. The Five Doctors sounds dated now, but undoubtedly utilised the latest technology available. Certain motifs, sounds and even fragments of the main theme recur throughout the score. There are plenty of synth brass pads and bell-like sounds. It reminds me a lot of John Carpenter’s music from that era. If that’s the sort of retro electronica that you’re interested in then The Five Doctors may well be up your street. It’s not my cup of tea though. For me it’s not musical enough; it’s too sound driven, too effects driven and lacking in depth. The album is just shy of 80 minutes, featuring 80 tracks. Needless to say they’re all very short; and they’re also all very similar, quite repetitive, making it a tough listen for me.

Similar criticism applies to The Invasion. This is an hour-long album with 44 cues. I don’t think there is great depth and variation to this score, with quite a bit of repetition occurring between or within cues. That said, the arrangement, I think, is largely acoustic with that jazzy spy sound that was popular in those days. Bass guitar, cimbalon, timpani and wooden percussion dominate this score. My knowledge of that era is limited, but hearing the timpani and cimbalon makes me think of The Saint and The Ipcress File. As the album progresses we’re treated to a few upbeat cues, but things become increasingly electronic. The score, at the time, was augmented by the use of electronic sounds created by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. In all, both albums will offer something for hardcore Doctor Who fans, as well as electronica fans. There’s a lot of nostalgia here and even some important musical history. Doesn’t make it an easy listen though.

A couple of weeks ago Silva released 100 Greatest Science Fiction Themes. This is the kind of compilation we see every few years when there’s plenty of new material to justify such a release. Now, I’ve only been send a short sampler of the album, but the selections are rather unexpected. Music from Westworld, Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, Moon and The Hunger Games are amongst the most recent titles. Classics like Lifeforce, Forbidden Planet and Things To Come are also present. For the full line-up I’d recommend you visit Silva’s website, but let me mention… Ready Player One, Solo, Stranger Things, Interstellar, Iron Man 3, Prometheus, various Star Warses, Inception, Galaxy Quest, Gattaca and so on. Looking at the playlist, it appears to be going back in time, opening with Ready Player One and closing with Things to Come. Orchestral cues are handled by the City of Prague Philharmonic, whilst the electronic cues are performed by London Soundworks. For me these compilations have always been hit and miss. Some cues work, some don’t. There’s a lot of music here and anyone is bound to find something they like. Are they really the 100 greatest sci fi themes? Does it need three cues from Inception? It’s a massive release and definitely a great way of sampling some scores you may not have heard before.

The Essential Games Music Volume 2 is a lot less comprehensive in comparison. Twelve cues from games like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Fallout 4, Tombraider, The Last Guardian, Dragon Age Inquisition, World of Warcraft, Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter II. Most cues combine orchestral and electronic elements. Most cues are also quite epic-sounding, which makes the album sound like a collection of trailer music. Not a bad thing, if that’s what you’re in to, but it offers a slightly one-sided view of game music. Some cues are performed with orchestral samples, which feels like a shame; and Street Fighter II goes full-on 80s with synths, slapped bass and drumkits.

Now for something completely different… music from the TV drama Shetland by John Lunn. I love this show and its suspenseful stories. Lunn’s Scotland-inspired score adds hugely to the show’s atmosphere. The main theme is pretty and quite lush, performed on violin and accompanied by guitar and soft synth pads. It’s a brilliant cue; offering an authentic sounding melody shrouded in mystery. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, and Lunn does well to stay consistent with his overall sound. The violin continues to play a central role, but there’s also room for guitar, piano, synth pads and other subtle electronic elements and light percussion. It’s moody music, very melancholic, but never oppressing or depressing. I think Lunn has found a superb balance between authentic ‘highland’ sounds and modern, mysterious stylistics. It also happens to make for a great chill-out album.

Lastly, and this goes back a few months, Edie by Debbie Wiseman. Edie is an elderly woman, who in the aftermath of the death of her controlling husband, decides to fulfil a life-long dream of recapturing the magic she had as a young girl by climbing a Scottish mountain. The album opens with a few reasonably upbeat cues, though the remainder of the score sounds rather melancholy, mournful and perhaps even lonely. I think the cover art is very apt. The music is melodic with recurring themes and is nicely orchestrated for strings, guitar, piano and woodwinds. The performing ensembles appears to be quite small, which enhances the intimate character of the music. It’s all very pretty and pleasant, but I’m not really hearing ‘adventure’ or ‘magic’ and certainly nothing ‘Scottish’ as the synopsis might suggest.

Reviews by Pete Simons (c) 2018 Synchrotones

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