Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Music Behind the Ride: Soarin'

When Disney California Aventure opened in 2001, one of the opening attractions was Soarin' Over California.  In this edition of Music Behind the Ride, I'll explore the music used and the versions around the world. 

With Soarin' Over California, the extremely popular flying simulator incorporated the feeling of hang gliding over various California sights, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Napa Valley, Yosemite, Downtown Los Angeles and even returning to Disneyland.  Scents and the swinging ride vehicles are also used through the ride to match the locations.  The innovative ride system with the stunningly large Omnimax screen made the ride an instant hit.  

The queue for the ride led visitors past displays of aviation history and significant figures in its history.  Cues from a wide variety of film scores and composers are played through the queue hallways.  It's one of the few Disney park rides that plays such a mix of non-Disney film music.  Some of those films include:
Explorers (Jerry Goldsmith) 
The Right Stuff (Bill Conti)
Air Force One (Jerry Goldsmith)
Contact (Alan Silvestri)
The Rescuers Down Under (Bruce Broughton)
Apollo 13 (James Horner)
Dave (James Newton Howard)
Always (John Williams)
Hook (John Williams)
The Musketeer (David Arnold)
The Last Starfighter (Craig Safan)
Field of Dreams (James Horner)
Far and Away (John Williams)
The Rocketeer (James Horner)
Medicine Man (Jerry Goldsmith)

Not all are flight related, but have the inspirational orchestral sound Disney was looking for.  Once the seats have risen up, the ride video and the stirring Jerry Goldsmith score take over.  The 4 minute orchestral and synth score alternate between the opening fanfare and sweeping main melody.  The majestic brass and cymbal crashes are synched with the film, ending with the twinkling magic of returning home.  Story goes that Goldsmith left the ride in tears and was happy to compose the ride score.  Expanding into Walt Disney World's Epcot in 2005, it was renamed to Soarin'. The show building used an airport theme, taking you on Flight 5505 to California.  The queue music and ride video were identical to California Adventure.  Soarin' quickly became one of Epcot's most popular rides, with wait times easily up to two hours.

The biggest change was the closure, refurbishment and reopening in 2016.  Both versions of the ride were renamed to Soarin' Around the World.  Straying far from California, this new video travels past the Alps, over ice fjords, the Sydney Harbor Opera House, Neuschwanstein Castle, a herd of African elephants, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid, Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower at night before arriving at the Disney park of your departure.  Shanghai Disneyland's Soaring Over the Horizon is the same 2016 music and video but ends with the glowing skyline of downtown Shanghai.

With the ride video changing, Bruce Broughton arranged new music for the ride.  Thankfully, the main themes from Goldsmith's score are still present.  Broughton added more orchestra embellishments into the arrangement and also allowed the orchestration to change with the various locales.  The London Studio Orchestra recorded this new version at Abbey Road, and you can hear all the international flavor added, like the African drums and the Indian sitar, among the others.  The ride will expand again in summer 2019, with Soaring: Fantastic Flight at Tokyo DisneySea.

As far as recordings, Goldsmith's original ride score first appeared on the Music from California Adventure album in 2001.  It has since appeared on several Walt Disney World and Disneyland compilation albums.  Broughton's newer arrangement hasn't been released yet, so you'll have to go experience it yourself!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Honorary Oscars

The Academy Honorary Award is awarded by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Given as a Special Award since the 1920s, only a few composers have won for their lifetime work in the industry. At the time of their respective awards, none have received a competitive award - perhaps this could be seen as an Academy Award correction. With Lalo Schifrin's Honorary Award ceremony in November, 2018, let's look back at the previous winners and their past Oscar history.

Alex North (1910-1991)
Nominations for:
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Death of a Salesman (1951)
Viva Zapata! (1952)
The Rose Tattoo (1955)
Best Original Song: "Unchained Melody" from Unchained (1955) [lyrics by Hy Zaret]
The Rainmaker (1956)
Spartacus (1960)
Cleopatra (1963)
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
Shanks (1974)
Bite the Bullet (1975)
Dragonslayer (1981)
Under the Volcano (1984)
Honorary Academy Award 1985 "in recognition of his brilliant artistry in the creation of memorable music for a host of distinguished motion pictures."

North was the first composer to receive this Honorary Award after his 15 nominations (and losses) to composers Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin, Alfred Newman, Victor Young, Ernest Gold, John Addison, Maurice Jarre, John Barry, John Williams and Vangelis.

Ennio Morricone (1928- )
Nominations for:
Days of Heaven (1978)
The Mission (1986)
The Untouchables (1987)
Bugsy (1991)
Malena (2000)
Honorary Academy Award 2006 "in recognition of his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music."

In 2016, Morricone won the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight (2015). Fun fact: this win made Morricone the oldest Oscar winner at 87, until 89 year old James Ivory won for the screenplay of Call Me By Your Name (2017).

Lalo Schifrin (1932- )
Nominations for:
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
The Fox (1967)
Voyage of the Damned (1976)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Best Original Song: "People Alone" from The Competition (1980) [lyrics by Will Jennings]
Best Original Song Score/Adaptation: The Sting II (1983)

Honorary Academy Award 2018 "in recognition of his unique musical style, compositional integrity and influential contributions to the art of film scoring."

Monday, November 5, 2018

Quick Review: First Man

First Man
Music composed by Justin Hurwitz
Music orchestrated and conducted by Justin Hurwitz
Soundtrack running time: 67 minutes
Available on Back Lot Records

After their Oscar winning success on La La Land (2016), Justin Hurwitz and director Damien Chazelle continue their collaboration with First Man. Based on the book of the same name, the film explores the life of Neil Armstrong - his family life, training and eventual moon landing in 1969.

Rather than the jazz influences in La La Land and Whiplash (2014), Chazelle and Hurwitz wanted to score it differently than anything they worked on before. Working with storyboards and the script, Hurwitz composed some main themes and sketched out some of the major sequences prior to the main scoring process. The instrumentation of the score is unique - Hurwitz employs the use of interesting retro electronics both as a melodic and rhythmic texture. He also liberally uses solo harp and theremin (performed by Hurwitz himself). The music often keeps the score from a personal point of view – Armstrong's family, and the loneliness that goes with space travel. The longest cues served as jumping off points for the rest of the score - the Apollo 11 launch and the landing sequence.

Two main themes support the film - Neil's theme and family theme. Both appear all through the score separately with a few tracks where they intertwine. A work theme as he prepares with NASA appears in handful of tracks.

I've decided to make a handy guide for the album as divided by main theme: Neil's theme, family theme, work theme and electronic tension.

Neil’s theme is highlighted in Armstrong Cabin, Houston, Sextant, The Armstrongs, Neil Packs, Apollo 11 Launch, The Landing, Quarantine.
Family theme is highlighted in Karen, It'll Be an Adventure, Baby Mark, Squawk Box, Docking Waltz, I Oughta Be Getting Home/Plugs Out, Contingency Statement, The Landing, Crater, Quarantine.
Work theme is featured in Another Egghead, Multi-Axis Trainer, First to Dock, Dad's Fine, End Credits.
Electronic tension is found in X-15, Good Engineer, Elliot, Searching for the Aegena, Spin, Naha Rescue 1, News Report, Translunar, Moon, Tunnel, Moon Walk.

The family theme seems to be the framework for Pat and Janet, Neil Packs and Home; while the melody in Apollo 11 Launch is derived from Neil's theme. While supporting the film, the electronic tension cues are easily the most skippable during an album listen. You might enjoy the vintage synth work he's crafted, but it's not my cup of tea. It's really The Landing and Quarantine that sum up Hurwitz's score. Neil's theme intertwined with the family theme bring all parts of the story of Neil Armstrong together.

The score is bold in its choices, and I'll give it to Hurwitz for that. The film and score don't have the overt heroics of Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff (and nor does it need to). The film and score go for a personal look at Armstrong rather than "Moon Landing: The Motion Picture". The use of theremin is a neat idea and used well in context and the moments with solo harp are simple and effective. Even with the musically fine themes, I found the album a bit of a slog. Of course film music's main goal is to support the film (which it does), so you can't rate the score on album alone. Overall, what you get is a collection of short cues that feel like thematic statements rather than letting them evolve throughout the score.