Friday, July 23, 2010

Brief Interlude: Tron: Legacy Music Surfaces Online

One of my geeky childhood film obsessions was Tron, and I'm discovering this year just how many people shared that obsession with me. I only had it on a VHS copy taped from TV, but I loved every weird, dark, absorbing, and stylish moment of it. It embraced computer geekery when computer geekery wasn't cool, and of course it's famous for breaking the digital animation barrier in film special effects -- even though there were just a few minutes of full CGI in the final film; the rest was done with traditional animation trickery and some complex photographic processes.

I never knew it was beloved by so many others until the word of a sequel started to spread online sometime last year. That sequel, Tron: Legacy will be in theatres on December 17. It will be a record for the longest time between an original film and a direct sequel featuring the original cast members: 28 years, for those of you keeping score.

Tron: Legacy is all over Comic-Con in San Diego right now. The new trailer premiered yesterday, and provides fodder for geeking out for an agonizing five more months before we can actually see this in the theatre. I'm getting more excited for this than for any movie since The Phantom Menace . . . and I'm hoping that this will not be another Phantom Menace-sized disappointment. This is one franchise from the '80s that's being mined hopefully for good and not evil.

Anyway . . . this is a film music blog, right? So, here's the interesting part. Some tracks from the score by Daft Punk have now hit the Internet, and I'm pretty fascinated by what I'm hearing so far.

First of all, Daft Punk was a pretty inspired choice for the scoring of this film. It's a perfect reflection on the current state of electronic music compared to where it was in 1982, when digital pioneer Wendy Carlos scored the original Tron. Carlos was a fringe personality, a maverick who'd been reinventing classical music with a synthesizer and turning in bizarre soundscapes for the avant-garde likes of Stanley Kubrick for a while. Geeks knew her, folks in the mainstream mostly didn't -- just about the same way that personal computers were mostly a geek hobby at the time. Now computers and digital technology are ubiquitous, and an electronic music group like Daft Punk are international megastars.

I'm hoping that the new film will also delve somewhat into the different position computers have in our lives now than in 1982, but anyway, this is about the music. So, several paragraphs in, here's the bloody link already, courtesy of a Seattle radio station called The End:

Daft Punk Tron music Go listen to this now. I'm not asking.

A few of these tracks bring to mind a somewhat cynical thought: "I guess the Dark Knight soundtrack was playing in the editing room a lot." But there's a lot more here beyond the generally Zimmer-esque brooding style and rhythm. Layered underneath is a gratifying texture of retro-electronica -- intentionally more primitive sounding synth riffs and soundscapes that call to mind some of the mood of Carlos' original score, and the nascent digital era of Tron 1.0. The second and third tracks shared here on The End's little collection of music really bring the retro-synth style to the fore. (Yes, in my last entry I was just complaining about how out of date the synth sound was for Vangelis in 1992 -- but here it's entirely appropriate. It's all about context. In fact, there's more than a little Vangelis influence in these tracks here as well -- more Vangelis, perhaps, than Carlos.)

The last couple of tracks simply are the compositions you'll hear in the two theatrical trailers tha have been released so far. I especially like the selections for the first trailer, once we're over the rainbow and into the Tron-scape. The intentional incorporation of a glitch in the score toward the end, when the digital pulse seems to fragment and stutter, is just cool. It's perhaps the 21st-century equivalent of the record scratch that's been a staple of DJ performances for thirty years, and it's not the first time that effect has been used, but it speaks to the notion that not all is well in the digital underground. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)

I'm still excited. If you talk to me on December 18, I might tell a different story, but I have a feeling I'll be buying this soundtrack album when it's released anyway.

Soon, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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