Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tron: Legacy, Soundtrack Review

I mentioned before that I liked the soundtrack to Tron: Legacy.  Now that I have listened to it for several days at home and in the car, I can offer a review.

First, the soundtrack is a mix of traditional orchestral music and electronic synthesized music.  It seems that Daft Punk works chiefly in the electronic space, but their vision of the soundtrack sold the producer and director early in the production process.  They collaborated significantly to produce the soundtrack, and in my opinion it was a fruitful effort.

Second, the first half of the soundtrack mirrors the development of the storyline in the movie.  The tension in the music is hinted at in the early tracks, and becomes incredibly noisy and fractious in the second half.  The bass is amplified so much on some tracks that it literally hurts my ears with every beat, forcing me to adjust my bass setting downward.  On other tracks, the instruments are overdriven so much that they create a cacophany that literally stressed me out.  I think that my stress is due to listening to these tracks separately from the visual cues in the movie.  Despite these minor problems, my enjoyment of the soundtrack was only slightly diminished.  The tracks I like the most make the album completely worth the purchase.

Third, the CD comes with an insert filled with pictures from the movie.  The art and paper quality is excellent, making the actual purchase of the disc a benefit over simple download.  Even the lettering on the disc cover has a holographic quality, leading one to remember the strip lighting on everything within "the Grid."

Here's a track-by-track (Warning: Spoilers):

1) Overture
The overture begins with a drone in the low strings and a soft choir of horns.  This opening reminded me of the Prelude to Wagner's Das Rheingold with its similar instrumentation and rhythm.  The introduction of synthesized instruments later is a little jarring, but then so is entering the Grid.  It works!  The heroic theme is simple, descending through a single octave.  It reminded me a little of the 1-3-2 tones played on an older phone (I can't hear these being any different on my modern phone), followed by the 4-6-5 and the 7-9-8.  The phone was the original hacker tool in the 70's, and that may be what brought this to mind.

2) The Grid
The initial voiceover by Jeff Bridges threw me at first.  I'm a geek though, so I got to like it the more I heard it.  The Grid theme occurs here.  This voiceover then segues into an electronic repeat of the heroic theme introduced in the Overture.  There's a mix of triumph and lament in the melody, which will play out in the film.

3) The Son of Flynn
I really liked this melody.  It's synthesized arpeggiated chord progressions patterned off the Grid theme.  I immediately thought of arcade games when I heard this, but it is set to Sam Flynn's motorcycle ride (on his dad's bike).  The camera work was great, including from the bike itself as it sped down the freeway.  Can you say "foreshadowing?"

4) Recognizer
A spiccato playing of a melody similar to Sam's theme, this is tense, dark, and probing ever lower.

5) Armory
Contemplative, soft music.  Fits the scene well.  ("What is going on," Sam thinks.)

6) Arena
Sam finds out soon enough what is going on.  It wouldn't be Tron without disc wars.  The music builds as the world of the Grid is revealed and the games begin.

7) Rinzler
Rinzler is the superbad, undefeated program in the games.  There is a hint of James Bond mixed with Sam's theme in the melody.  The overdriven instruments start in this track, but only briefly near the end.

8) The Game has Changed
The underlying melody is pure 80's synthetic, but the spiccato Grid theme is back in the strings, intertwining and repeating with the underlying melody.  The brass interrupt for emphasis from time to time, but the main energy is in the endless rhythm of the strings.

9) Outlands
Alternating notes in the upper strings, then broadening to the lower strings, with a quick and light touch that accompanies the escape from the electronic world of the Grid into the dark and rough world beyond it--the Outlands.  The theme is like the Grid, yet not fluid--it is apprehensive and discontinuous.  Brass instruments give slow, crescendoing notes, building toward the arrival at the destination.  Suddenly brass and woodwinds alternate in a frenzied descending staccato chord progression and finish the piece.

10) Adagio for Tron
Kevin Flynn tells his son where he has been, and of the death of Tron.  Strings provide the atmosphere and divide to also provide the melody.  Cellos and violas take the theme and share it with us in even richer tones.  Synthesized arpeggios quietly come in, and then an organ takes over the same theme.  The lower strings finish the moment of remembrance.  Then a pause, and a new direction.  Lower strings play staccato, followed by legato upper strings repeating the adagio.  Brass provide crescendo until a sudden retreat leaves a solo cello with soft upper strings slowly playing the adagio.  A very sad, pensive moment.

11) Nocturne
Slowly starting in the strings, playing softly, with a synthetic bass strumming slowly underneath.  This gives way to a slow synthetic melody.  The mood is dark and uncertain, and it ends slowly.

12) End of Line
Run by the DJ's at the club (Daft Punk in disguise?), this electronic piece is for dancing, but not frenetically fast.  In the background, one can hear the sounds of the arcade game "Pong," one of the original inspirations for the first Tron movie.  The original Tron movie (and arcade game) had a Pong-like game through which the player had to escape.
13) Derezzed
Much faster than "End of Line", this very synthetic track is frenetic in its pacing.  The bass pulses so strongly that it squeezes in on my head with every beat.  The repetition is part of the story, so it is hard to imagine doing anything other than being drunk and dancing (or other similar things) to this.

14) Fall
The elevator plummets.  The overdrive of the instruments sounds like the overdrive of the elevator as it is stressed by too much speed.  The beats are merciless.  The lower strings play the Grid theme over and over, rising as the tension mounts.  Brass instruments join in, then a drum roll, and then it is suddenly complete.

15) Solar Sailer
As with real sailing, the world around is quiet.  This track is a sea of tranquillity, with a steady pulsing of a synthetic bass driving the Solar Sailer forward..  An Enya-like arpeggio fades in, like Orinoco Flow in a calmer setting.  Strings add atmosphere, rising and falling in volume and scale as the journey continues.  Then it fades out.

16) Rectifier
A rectifier is something that allows electric current to flow in only one direction.  This martial piece is the beginning of the march to the final confrontation.  There is no turning back.  The mood rises as the lower strings chant, the upper strings strain to warn us of danger, and the brass announces the purpose of C.L.U.'s army.

17) Disc Wars
The drums are beating out the Grid theme in a toneless rhythm.  Synthetic brass add continuo.  The strings join, quietly, adding tone to the Grid theme.  Suddenly, a synthetic melody appears, arpeggiated downward always, building tension as the chords are struck.  More drums, accelerated this time, drive the track forward seemingly faster, yet without tempo increase.  Then the drums go quiet, and only the strings and synthetic bass are left to fade away quietly.

18) C.L.U.
A bass drone sets the stage.  After a few moments, strings beat out the Grid theme in rising tension.  Without warning a synthetic, jaunty instrument completely takes the music, repeating an alternating pattern of notes.  The strings return to raise the tension.  Trills sharpen the high edges of the score.  Brass suddenly dominate--C.L.U. is relentless in his pursuit of perfection.  High strings take us up, then turn the note again and again as the drama reaches climax.  The lower strings take over and beat out the Grid theme, now stronger and with synthetic help.  Drums beat only for emphasis.  Brass raise the scale and the tension over and over.  Drums then beat 1-2, 1-2-3-4, repeating again and again and again.  Then full stop, and only echoes are left.

19) Arrival
Synthetic and haunting, a new melody, related to the heroic theme, like a slow lament, plays.  Voices like an angelic choir seem to hover high above the slow melody line.  High strings mimic the angels, and then it is quiet.
20) Flynn Lives
A rhythmic line related to the Grid theme, played spiccato, forms the foundation.  Low brass sing solemnly.  The horn choir return, playing to us the heroic theme from the Overture.  Winds arpeggiate this time, increasing the feeling of triumph, causing the feeling of lament to diminish.  Sam, with Quorra behind him on his father's motorcycle, ride off into the sunset--her first ever on her first night outside of the Grid.
21) Tron Legacy (End Titles)
Echoing "End of Line", a synthetic music line takes us through the electronic credits.  Strings join with the heroic theme and bring it to a satisfying climax.

22) Finale
This track was not in the movie.  It is orchestral, building slowly from a pensive start--like the Overture.  But this is a heroic synopsis of the music of the movie.  It quickly builds to a climax, then retreats to a soft, upper strings and woodwind conclusion.  When the last high note ends, one releases a sigh for what has happened.  The journey is complete, and cannot be repeated.

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