ALIEN:COVENANT Soundtrack Review

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A sequel to the Aliens Prequel Prometheus, this is the 6th film of the Alien Franchise [hate that word] … well this is what I have gained from my research, which, I am glad to say is ‘tight’. We have had teasers and a Prologue video and the trailer. It’s all been built up slowly to wet our appetites and even now there is scant information on the plot as a whole. This is the way I like it as I want to be surprised rather than spoon fed every morsel so that by the time you are seated in a dark cinema you know what’s coming before it happens.

MTV’s NEWS website says, “[Ridley] Scott has been adamant that while “Prometheus” “carries the DNA” of “Alien,” it is an original piece of science fiction that delves into everything from biotechnology to artificial intelligence to the origins (and possible destruction) of mankind itself.” Whatever Covenant is, I am in! I Being an avid sci-fi fan seeing Alien for the first time changed all future science fiction films, along with Blade Runner, for ever and both had a tremendous impact on me.

The plot is short [again as it should be] ….
Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

Originally the score was to be done by Harry Gregson Williams but it has now been handed to Australian composer Jed Kurzel. For me his score to Macbeth was one of the best soundtracks of 2015 and last year he scored Assassin’s Creed so it’s going to be interesting to hear what he has done for Covenant.

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                                                                    Jed Kurzel

Opening with Incubation and a reworking of Jerry Goldsmith familiar ‘pulse’ from Alien, is very short but you feel you are in familiar territory. The Pulse also opens  The Covenant with the pulse AND the familiar 7 note brass which branches out into an eerie sound palette – we are definitely in Alien territory. Neutrino Burst is a mixture of strings and electronics, it’s a slowness which works, building tension. The piano led A Cabin On The Lake has a feeling of calm and reminiscence as does Sails.

Planet 4/Main Theme is a strong cue which slowly builds but is then controlled again by the pulse, almost as if beauty had been glimpsed but we are then reminded not to feel safe. Spores is dominated by strange electronic sounds filled with dread which run into the next track, The Med Bay, seamlessly. This cue is brimming with terror! Payload Deployment is even more terrifying, almost like a bad dream session complete with a sound which resembles a muted scream, glad it was short!

The next 2 cues have titles which bring much expectation – Face Hugger being the first. A low start it may have but when – after a few seconds silence – the coarse sound of a metal like screech is launched, I jumped out of my skin! On screen this is going to do it’s job. This is followed by Chestburster which is eerily calm and dreamlike. Only Bring It To My Turf and Terraforming Bay could be classed as standard action cues but even these has electronic tones which elevate them above standard.

This soundtrack never goes over the top, there is no reaching where the composer wants to make his score stand out from all others. Kurzel has totally embraced what went before and embellished it with slices of electronic scariness. I applaud his loyalty. Whilst sticking closely to the Aliens ‘sound’ [and I would have been disappointed  if he hadn’t of] there are distinct swathes of his own smoothly intertwined.

I’m glad I don’t rate my reviews with points or stars as in reality the majority of the soundtrack is a re-placing of elements from the original and that would negate marks of originality. I was hoping for the Alien ‘feel’ with a little twist here and there and this is what this compact, clever score does.

Track Listing:

  1. Incubation
  2. The Covenant
  3. Neutrino Burst
  4. A Cabin On The Lake
  5. Sails
  6. Planet 4 / Main Theme
  7. Launcher Landing
  8. Wheat Field
  9. Spores
  10. The Med Bay
  11. Grass Attack
  12. Dead Civilization
  13. Survivors
  14. Payload Deployment
  15. Command Override
  16. Face Hugger
  17. Chest Burster
  18. Lonely Perfection
  19. Cargo Lift
  20. Bring It To My Turf
  21. Terraforming Bay
  22. Alien Covenant Theme

Milan Music

KONG SKULL ISLAND, LIFE & THE COMEDIAN – Pocket Reviews

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Composed by Henry Jackson

As lively as you would imagine but with a little thought behind it. The very short [0:36] opening track South Pacific has a slight throwback style to those awful 40’s & 50’s movies. Not that the track is awful, it’s not. It’s a scene setter as they say, an old fashioned prelude. Packard’s Blues has a a displacing, distortion on what I can only describe as a rusty piano, very effective and ‘wired’ sound. Assembling The Team gives us a little electric guitar, obviously their are some hot shots in said team. Kong The Destroyer has really mean brass and anxious violins. Things hot up with Spider Attack, the cue starts with a deep [I think electronic] buzz and you can just sense that the spiders are watching somewhere, it’s followed by rapid percussion. Another strange noise appears in an unsettling cue called The Boneyard. The tracks which cover the main event are never over the top and altogether this is another really strong score by Mr Jackman.

Water Tower Music

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Composed by Jon Ekstrand

The first track Welcome to the ISS, very conveniently tells us about the mission as spoken by a member of the crew Dr. Miranda North [Rebecca Ferguson]. That mission is to get soil samples from Mars. This opening track is like a space meditation, you could imagine floating to this. It continues to sound like a parred down Gravity soundtrack in It’s Alive but ends with a heralding trumpet saying ‘all is not well’. It doesn’t really change over the next couple of tracks and should action be needed it’s somewhat formulaic. Spacewalk cranks up the tension nicely as does Thrusters. It pretty much sticks to this sound palette all the way through until the dynamic A Long Way Back which again doesn’t veer from it’s doom-laden drop note. Swedish composer Ekstrand does say in his bio that he is a composer and film sound designer and this is definitively an outer space mood board. I will say I have not yet seen the film and this soundtrack wouldn’t encourage me to but as a true sci-fi fan I will get to see it and hopefully it will fit the film like a glove.

Milan Music

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Composed by Terence Blanchard

Joy of joys, a JAZZ soundtrack. Jazz soundtracks are one of my passions and this is a welcome score to the list. Composer Blanchard [also trumpeter and bandleader] has composed several jazz scores including Inside Man and Red Tails. A jazz led score is just right for the story of ageing and out of control comedian Jack Burke [Robert De Nero] and to get a sense of how out of control he is you only have to listen to the mighty Blanchard trumpet in the free fall track Electricity On MacDougal. Jackie In the Rain opens with a slow bass line making it easy to imagine the key character, shoulders slumped, ambling along in the rain. Each track is a gem and this score could easily be played anytime – but if you don’t like jazz then it probably will not appeal.

Blue Note Records

A CURE FOR WELLNESS by BENJAMIN WALLFISCH Soundtrack Review

 

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This is by far one of the most interesting of Wallfisch’s scores. Given the eerie subject matter – a company’s CEO is in an idyllic but mysterious ‘wellness centre’ in the Swiss Alps. An employee, sent to retrieve him, who soon realises that the spa treatments are not what they appear to be – the scope is quite wide. And with cues entitled .. Terrible Darkness, Nobody Ever Leaves and Clearly He’s Lost His Mind, Wallfisch has definitively delivered.

It opens with a young female voice humming a short refrain which we hear throughout the score and which has an old world feel about. Rites is a strong cue, dark and ethereal with chorus and very deep mail voices [such as in Buddhist chants], these seem to rise from another world. Feuerwalzer is a waltz intertwined with a full orchestral dramatic cue. Clearly He’s Lost His Mind starts with music that would have suited the end piece in The Shining. The end cue, Volmer’s Lab has a childlike feel, almost a message after the mayhem trying to assure us that everything is well. Volmer Institut has an unexpected beauty about it whilst Lipstick is almost indescribable and sounds like continued distorted volume!
This is an odd score for a very odd film but it’s totally compelling. The mix of orchestral works with some of the darkness sounds I have ever heard on a soundtrack, give this score a overwhelming sense of fear and madness.

TRACK LIST
1. Hannah And Volmer (4:35)
2. Nobody Ever Leaves (1:49)
3. Bicycle (2:00)
4. The Rite (3:42)
5. Feuerwalzer (3:44)
6. Magnificent, Isn’t It? (2:11)
7. Actually I’m Feeling Much Better (1:59)
8. Clearly He’s Lost His Mind (2:49)
9. Our Thoughts Exactly (1:03)
10. Volmer Institut (3:02)
11. Terrible Darkness (3:18)
12. Lipstick (4:21)
13. Waiting (0:55)
14. Zutritt Verboten (3:38)
15. There’s Nothing Wrong With You People (1:25)
16. Lockhart’s Letter (2:12)
17. Volmer’s Lab (3:32)
18. I Wanna Be Sedated – Mirel Wagner (3:38)

Milan Music

Interview with Nicholas Britell

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Nicholas Britell is an award-winning composer, pianist, and producer. His music is diverse to say the least. From his spiritual, work and dance music for 12 Years A Slave to Whiplash then The Big Short. Each piece is different and compelling. His recent scores for Free State of Jones [sparse, mean & moody and down right good] and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness push the boundaries again, no score is alike. Our interview covered this diversity and also working with Natalie on Love and Darkness.

LB
Re-visiting your previous scores, there is such diversity in the range of projects you have taken on. From the period music for 12 Years A Slave, to the contemporary feel of The Big Short, you then moved to atmospheric sparseness in Free State of Jones, and now we have your new score to A Tale of Love and Darkness. You certainly like a challenge.

NB: Thank you Ley, yes it has definitely been a fascinating few years. One of the things that I really love about film music is the opportunity to explore different musical worlds with each project. And the fun challenge is to discover a way to create a unique sound world for each film. I feel that each film is like a different creative assignment where you can try out new ideas, new techniques, new palettes of sounds.

LB: How did you become involved in A Tale of Love and Darkness?
NB: Natalie and I have been dear friends since college, and I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with her on her other short-film projects which she has directed. In 2008, I performed a piece of mine, “Forgotten Waltz No. 2” in her short film Eve, and I scored the vignette she directed for the film New York, I Love You as well. In 2013, Natalie asked me if I would be interested in scoring A Tale of Love and Darkness; I was incredibly honored to get the chance to work with her on it.

LB:  WAS there any remit to what music was required?

NB: From early on in the project, Natalie and I spoke extensively about many different musical possibilities. In fact, Natalie asked me to write some musical suites for the film before shooting commenced; in this way, she and her DP Slawomir Idziak could have some musical rhythm and atmosphere for their on-set experience of the film. From the beginning, Natalie and I discussed the many potential musical influences of the characters within the film. We talked about the Eastern European origins of Amos’ family, the Middle Eastern world into which they entered, and also the Western European classical music which their family cherished. Ultimately, I tried to craft a musical landscape which was not directly related to any one of these traditions; my hope was to create a musical language which felt inspired by – but not beholden to – any of these influences.

LB: The beginning of The Opening Music gives not only the feeling of sorrow but of something lost, the strings almost sound rusty, it’s quite haunting and certainly grabs the attention. It then goes into a classical mode. It’s not a opening theme as such but rather creates an unsettled atmosphere and then it just stops.
How did you approach this first track?

NB: The opening music for the film presented a distinct challenge. Certainly, opening music often “sets the tone” for a film. Yet, there were many other elements which needed to be considered here. First, the opening of A Tale of Love and Darkness has a voiceover – an element which requires that the music balance itself with the need for verbal clarity. In addition, the opening of the film presents an exposition of the history of Amos’ family, of his mother’s dreams and worldview, as well as of the tragedy of the execution of their friends and relatives in Rovno. With all this material to cover, the music needed to weave a connection between everything while maintaining a musical cohesion.
I’m glad you pointed out the almost “rusty” sound of the strings. I really wanted the instruments to have a unique texture in the film – we recorded and mixed them in such a way that we emphasized the sound of the bowing itself. The sudden stop of the music was an idea that we discussed early on as well – we wanted there to be a musical counterpoint to the sudden revelation of the execution in the Sosenki forest. By literally cutting off the music at that moment, we hoped to create an additional drama: the disappearance of the music paralleling the disappearance of the people.

LB: Main Theme in F#/ Poeme in F# is achingly sad, it made me realise that my emotions were not being flooded by a full orchestral overdoing it with strings, but with a piano refrain and the beautiful voice of Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev. Is this how you perceived your score to be? Did you ever consider an orchestral score.
NB: Throughout the project, Natalie and I were in total agreement on the need for intimacy and restraint in the score. We never wanted the music to feel too overt, or to feel like we were pushing too much. The instrumentation I utilized was an ensemble of primarily lower strings (violas, cellos, basses), pianos, bells, and harp. In certain cues, I introduced some woodwinds (as in the “Soldier’s Tale” piece), in others there were instruments like altered sitars (“The Monk’s Tale”) or even prepared pianos (in the scene with Steletsky’s story). But overall, it was absolutely a conscious choice to not utilize a full orchestra. I often feel that when you reduce the instrumentation, you increase the potency of each note; sometimes the most powerful music is really the most sparse.

LB: The simplicity of the seven note Post-War Jerusalem [one of my favourite cues] is short and effective as is the ‘quietness’ of Arieh Goes Out. It’s a very measured score.

NB: Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed those! We really tried to tailor each moment in the film to its most appropriate musical idea. Natalie and I worked very closely together on the score – we experimented with many different ideas for each scene until we found the ideas which felt most “woven into” the fabric of the film.

LB:The incongruity of a gavotte being given the title of Dance of Death is unsettling and yet this is the most lyrical of the cues. Given that I have not yet seen the film, can you describe what this piece of music is the background to?

NB: Yes, that cue is in fact the “climactic” piece of the film. Without giving too much away in the film, this “Dance of Death” is the musical counterpoint to what we see onscreen: the culmination of Fania’s hopes and dreams which, sadly, are disappointed by the harsh realities of her new life in Israel. Throughout the film, there is a recurring appearance of a mysterious figure: the “Pioneer,” a personification of Fania’s “ideal” man. While the Gavotte plays, we see a surreal “dance” in which Fania finally embraces the Pioneer, just before her death.

LB: Toccata is the longest piece on what is quite a short soundtrack. It’s movement tells of hope. This is a very accomplished soundtrack and given it’s source I was expecting a heavier score, but less is most definitely more here, is that what you had in mind?

NB: The Toccata is, in many ways, the focal piece on the soundtrack. It is the last cue in the film and, interestingly, it was the first piece which we knew was really “right” for the film. It was from this final piece of music – which plays during the last montage in the movie – that we discovered the sound of the film. The theme in the Toccata became the main theme for the film; for us, this theme seemed to signify musically “the world through Amos’ eyes.” As I described earlier, it was really crucial for Natalie and for me that the music always be extremely sensitive and restrained. Any time we experimented with larger-scale musical ensemble textures, it always felt unbalanced with the nature and nuance of the film. We worked very hard to really find a musical landscape that felt like it was part of the fabric of the film. It was an extraordinary experience working on the film, and I really feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Natalie on it.

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  • 1. Opening Music (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 2. Women’s Dance from Aleko (Excerpt) (feat. Tim Fain)
  • 3. La mer – Charles Trenet
  • 4. Swing Sequence (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 5. The Monk’s Tale
  • 6. Main Theme in F# / Poeme in F# (feat. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev)
  • 7. The Soldier’s Tale
  • 8. War Footage
  • 9. Post-War Jerusalem (feat. Caitlin Sullivan)
  • 10. Arieh Goes Out
  • 11. Amos Sees Arieh (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 12. Pioneer on the Mountain (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 13. Cossack Lullaby (Traditional) -Natalie Portman
  • 14. Emunah V’omanut (feaat. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev)
  • 15. Dance of Death (Gavotte) – Emunah V’omanut -Ben-Ze’ev
  • 16. Toccata

MILAN MUSIC