Thursday, October 10, 2013

It Ain't Got No Words In It: The Magical Mystery of OSTs ETC

At some point in my early teenage years, I realized that listening to music helped me focus when studying. I didn’t get as restless, didn’t get as distracted. This was before, well, every modern portable distraction: tablets, smartphones, Wi-Fi, iPods, or even GameBoys. Basically, if you could keep from turning on the TV or answering the phone, you were good to go.

One of the reasons I listened to a lot of Rush in high school is because their prog-rock albums, especially A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres, were heavy on instrumentals with an occasional Geddy Lee screech that made it impossible to want to try and sing along.

It didn’t take long to realize that classical music was a better option. No words whatsoever, and not even any air guitar or air drums calling my name. I bought a pack of six Mozart cassettes for a few bucks, and thus began my long-term love relationship between wordless music and work.

By my senior year, I’d begun moving beyond my cheap classical cassettes and into movie and television score, and by college graduation, I’d built up my own personal canon of pieces:
  • The Mission
  • Mozart’s Serenade for Strings No. 48*
  • John William’s “Greatest Hits”
  • The Princess Bride
  • Glory
  • Rudy
  • thirtysomething
  • Forrest Gump
These were the best of my collection, and they nurtured me through long nights of essay writing, note-taking, studying, and intense reading. Sadly, once I left college, and once my nighttimes became less about work and studying and more about personal time and family time, I left the scores behind. I closed off that whole universe for some 15 years, until Bob reminded me just a few weeks ago that Rocktober was on the horizon, and somehow that got me eventually thinking about that canon of instrumental stuff above. I have no idea why.

I realized how much I’d missed them.

Orchestral movie scores are the closest thing our modern world has to the classical music of the 1700s. They are symphonic pop music, ergo my simpleton's ear is drawn to them. Modern classical music (I don’t even know what it would be called) might be better, or more “classical,” but few ever hear it, and fewer care. Play the first six notes of “I’m Forrest… Forrest Gump” by Alan Silvestri, on the other hand, and good luck finding someone 25-50 who can’t name that tune.

I realized I hadn’t thought of or purchased a movie score since college. Not a one. So I started looking for recommendations, for the best scores of the past 20 years, and finding reliable lists is unusually difficult. Further, I realized that, even more than the musical genres we tend to explore at BOTG, preferences for instrumental music and scores is deeply personal and exceedingly difficult to explain.

My preferences can be defined by the first three scores I sought out: “Inception” (Hans Zimmer), “The Dark Knight Returns” (Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard), and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” (Michael Giacchone). I wanted intensity and testosterone-fueled melodrama. I wanted the sound of a symphony sweating it’s collective ass off, generating a sort of instrumental ball of fire.

But a few days in, I wanted more than just that but had no idea where to go, what to seek. So I posted the question to my Facebook wall, asking people to give me their recommendations for the best instrumental scores of the last 15 years. And I got 75 responses from several dozen people, some of whom couldn’t stop giving me suggestions because the question had rekindled their interests, too.

One friend insisted that I sign up for Spotify immediately to properly enjoy these recommendations, and I caved, and I instantly began crafting a playlist of the best scores and selections from scores recommended to me. Some of the things added due to my Facebook recommendations:
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • The Virgin Suicides
  • Dan In Real Life
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Green Mile
  • The Assassination of Jesse James
  • Atonement
  • Tron: Legacy
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Downton Abbey
What’s missing, reader? What brilliant piece of relatively recent instrumental or symphonic genius is missing from this list? I have rekindled my love affair with this forgotten universe of beauty, and I hunger for more. Feed me your suggestions, and I shall lend them my ear.


Anonymous said...

Branagh's Henry V; even my Shakespeare kids love it.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing these aren't too recent, but my two favs are:

Barber's Adadgio For Strings from Platoon (and Someone To Watch Over Me).

The score from The Last Of The Mohicans.

The funny thing is, I can hum those instantly, but I cannot remember one note of your favorite scores, which leads me to believe that I need a lot of repetition (which both of the scores I mentioned have) in order for a soundtrack to be memorable.

Robert Berman said...

James Horner's score for Star Trek II is terrific. He was going for a strong and classic nautical theme to go along with the "Horatio Hornblower stars in 'Run Silent, Run Deep'" concept of the movie. Horner recycled much of it for his work on Star Trek III, and also for the guilty pleasure fantasy film Krull.

Also, the original Tron movie soundtrack by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos was a groundbreaking piece of electronica by an award-winning composer. You can appreciate or ignore the Journey song at the beginning, at your discretion.

Bob said...

Who doesn't love Krull????

Billy said...

Thanks Anon. I actually owned both of those already, believe it or not.

And Mr. Berman - Your explanation of and recommendation of Star Trek II is appreciated and has been included in my Spotify playlist!