Sagan (Scientist)

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

“The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”
— Carl Sagan

Several years ago, inspired by a book of Hubble photographs, I organized a playlist specifically to accompany the astronomy images that I have as my screensaver for my Apple TV. I enjoyed it very much, and a few weeks ago, I started thinking how I could make the playlist into a mix. I thought of several other pieces that would fit, as well as how to tweak the tracks I had already included to make a better musical program.

The sheer enormity of the universe is mind-bogging. Our human brains find it difficult to think in astronomical scales which are so beyond our personal experience, it is often challenging to comprehend and communicate. And yet, that vast ocean of stars has an irresistible pull toward the ancestral wanderer within us. The astronomical scope, and the human desire to explore it are the central ideas behind this album. In choosing music, I was looking for pieces that would reflect the scale and beauty of the universe, but that desire to probe the cosmos ended up providing a surprisingly intimate dimension to this anthology.

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Kambei (The Seven Samurai)

I am the scales of justice, conductor of the choir of death!

Mad Max: Fury Road may be the work of a 70 year old director returning to a franchise (and genre) he last worked on 30 years ago, but I challenge anybody to call it “old fashioned.” Upon my first viewing of this movie, I said that it was George Miller looking at the past three decades of cinema and showing all the young upstarts how action films are made. This is not some has-been dinosaur trying to maintain his relevance in an art form that has long since forgotten him, but rather the work of a master craftsman embracing the newest tools and techniques of the medium without abandoning the flesh-and-petrol approach that rocketed him to the international stage 35 years ago.

The War Rig

The widescreen cinematography in Mad Max: Fury Road was carefully framed by cinematographer John Seale to keep the focus of the action in the center of the frame. This means that no matter how much the camera may move or how quickly the editing pace is, the viewer is properly oriented to the geography of the scene, and the activity being depicted is clearly communicated to the audience. So while there is a lot of hand-held camerawork in the film, it isn't the notorious “shaky-cam” (this has the added advantage of making the 3D conversion a lot more effective than most, because the compositions tended to lend themselves to the depth of the image). The film is also vividly colorful, a sharp contrast to the desaturated look that has become de rigueur for modern action and science fiction films.

A lot of attention has been given to the fact that the bulk of the most stunts and pyrotechnics were captured in camera as opposed to using CGI. Miller is no Luddite, however, (as is evidenced by his work on the Babe and Happy Feet movies); there are plenty of CGI effects employed in the film, but they are mostly employed to extend the environment, adding minor flourishes to existing shots. What you see on the screen is mostly real, and it gives the action real weight, a visceral quality that ties into the film's themes of survival and redemption. Indeed, if you look at the pictures in the link above, you'll often find that the most impressive aspects of each shot are identical in both the before and after photos.

Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter from ‘Mad Max’) as Immortan Joe

Which brings us to the crux of why this film is special: this film is pure cinema, a story that is told through action and not dialogue, the old adage about “show, don't tell.” There is an audio montage and some minor narration to give the audience the barest of introduction to the story, but otherwise the viewer is dropped into this situation in media res. Tom Hardy's taciturn Max is more of our conduit into this world than he is the main character; indeed, many have said that this is more Charlize Theron's movie than his. However, her Furiosa is such a brilliant performance and character that it I can't really call that a bad thing.

The film also got some press before its release because a PUA, angered at the presence of powerful women in the trailer, wrote an angry screed about how this is a feminist treatise disguised as an action movie. The film does touch on several issues feminism deals with (ownership of female bodies, sexual exploitation, women as breeding stock, female agency, among others), but despite Eve Ensler's participation to give the female cast members psychological context for their roles, the most feminist thing about this movie is just that it treats its female characters with respect. Their experiences matter on their own terms, and none of them exist for the benefit of a male character's story arc. “We are not things” is scrawled upon the wall of their lair in the Citadel, and the film is, refreshingly, about women — Furiosa, the wives, the Vuvalini — refusing to be victims.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa

The simplicity of the story is one of this film's main strengths. Like the cinematography, the focus of the film is clear and concise, and the forward momentum of the movie is unimpeded by unnecessary details and distractions. Mad Max: Fury Road is a triumph of world-building, with more information being conveyed in a single shot than most films manage to convey in paragraphs of dialogue. A few tracking shots through Immortan Joe's Citadel shows the viewer everything they need to know about that setting and the people who live there, and who Joe is and what motivates him. Similarly, we end up finding a lot out (though not everything) about Furiosa through her actions and very minimal dialogue. One short exchange between Nux and Capable three-quarters of the way into the film in which he shows her “his mates” explains a major element of the War Boys' place in Immortan Joe's cult.

The movie sports a music score composed by Tom Holkenborg (better known as Junkie XL) that is another example of Miller embracing more modern aesthetics. Brian May's score for Mad Max is a loud, booming affair of extremes, harsh and uncompromising brass contrasted to a beautiful love theme for strings and saxophone. May's music for the follow-up Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior is an action powerhouse with a melancholy element mourning the death of civilization. Maurice Jarre was brought in by Warner Brothers for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and delivered a thunderous score that hearkened back to his work on Lawrence of Arabia.

iOTA as the Doof Warrior

Holkenborg's score is a very different animal, more electronic than orchestral, its overall style kin to the Media Ventures/Remote Control sound established by Hans Zimmer (who raved about this score). While I was not initially thrilled with this prospect, particularly considering that The Road Warrior is one of my all-time favorite film scores, Holkenborg not only crafted an interesting accompaniment to the filmic action, but linked the score to the diegesis in interesting ways. The cue “Spikey Cars” is initiated by Furiosa herself, honking her War Rig horn in the three-note motif that signifies Immortan Joe's war parties. The music produced by the notorious Doof Wagon, a vehicle consisting of taiko drums played by War Boys on one side, and a wall of speakers with the blind Doof Warrior playing a fire-spitting electric guitar on the other, has a tendency to blend into the music scoring the chase itself. The film supplements Holkenborg's score with a few pieces by Eleni Karaindrou, Giusseppe Verdi, Krysztof Penderecki, and Massive Attack, but the central thrust of the music score is Holkenborg's. The cue “Brothers In Arms,” which scores the canyon chase, is one of the best action cues of the year so far.

How does this film fit into the franchise as a whole? There are numerous ideas as to where it takes place in the chronology of the first three films — some say it takes place between the second and third films, Miller has said it probably takes place after Beyond Thunderdome, and a persistent fan theory is that Tom Hardy's Max is not the same Max that Mel Gibson played, but rather the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior, all grown up and with his own inner demons.

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky

My answer to this question is that I just don't care. This is a movie made thirty years later with a different guy as Max, it's not going to fit perfectly with the original three films (in which continuity was often very loose as well) no matter what you do — and I honestly think there are as many discrepancies if Max is the Feral Kid than if he's still just Max. I don't need everything to fit together perfectly (if the Interceptor is destroyed in The Road Warrior, how does Max have it again in Fury Road and/or vice-versa?). If it helps, imagine that these are all legends told about the mythic figure of Mad Max.

On the other hand, thematically it fits very well with the other films. While Mad Max dealt with the main character's loss of his humanity, the other two films, which were much more Joseph Campbell-inspired, were about him finding glimmers of it within himself through interactions with others in the wasteland. Fury Road follows this template, with a haunted PTSD-suffering Max finally committing himself fully to the cause of others, and rediscovering his own empathy in the process. Fury Road even literalizes this concept with blood in its penultimate scene. In some ways, Fury Road goes beyond either of the previous films by postulating that survival is not enough, that in order for life to be worthwhile there must be something worth living for.

Mel Gibson as Rockatansky in ‘Mad Max’ (1979)

Regardless of the differences, it is undeniable that this is indeed a Mad Max movie, from the cobbled-together vehicles to the stunning stunt work to the way characters are defined by their actions rather than their dialogue to the sheer energy and forward momentum on display at all times in the film.

Max is back. May he ride eternal, shiny and chrome.
Hagrid (Harry Potter)

Priori Incantatem

While they are an imperfect reflection at best of J.K. Rowling's iconic series, a lot of credit has to go to everybody involved in the Harry Potter film franchise for not only having stayed the course throughout, but with such a generally consistent level of quality. Just as the characters grow up over the course of the books, so did we see their cinematic incarnations mature over the course of eight films over eleven years.

As does the film series itself, so too has the music evolved.


My primary interest in the 2001 theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as it was titled in the United States) was John Williams' score. I really enjoyed the music, highly melodic and bursting with different themes and motives, and while there are a few moments in the film that I consider overscored, I think that this is more an element of Chris Columbus' kitchen-sink approach to the film than anything else. I would otherwise compare his first Harry Potter score to Superman, and there is no question that, like Williams' contribution to the musical legacy of the Man of Steel, Hedwig's theme would be associated with the character for a long time to come.

I found Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the first sequel, a bit more enjoyable (enough to send me to reading the books). Unfortunately, while Williams wrote a myriad of new themes and cues, other projects prevented him from fully scoring the film, and William Ross was brought in to arrange music from the first film to fill in the blanks. While this was quite well-executed, this meant that the first sequel, which does have quite a few very entertaining moments, it never develops its own discrete identity, and acts mostly as an extension onto the first film's score.

Williams returned to fully score the third film in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a sharp revision of the franchise by director Alfonso Cuarón. Surprisingly, Williams eschewed all of his original thematic material except Hedwig's theme (aside from a brief quote of his "Nimbus 2000" theme at the very end for Harry's test-flight of his Firebolt), instead building a completely original score incorporating Medieval period instruments into the orchestration to emphasize the antiquity of Hogwarts. This very different approach gives the film a unique flavor in the franchise, and on a meta level, ended up setting the stage for his departure from the series.


Shortly after the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it became apparent that John Williams would not be able to score the next film in the franchise. Patrick Doyle had provided notable scores for Into the West and Donnie Brasco for director Mike Newell. Although he incorporated Hedwig's theme into the score, Doyle didn't try to emulate Williams, instead choosing an unabashedly romantic approach, with an appropriately British flavor and spectacular action scenes. Doyle's score is the most classically styled of the franchise, emphasizing the more traditional style Newell brought to the franchise. While Doyle is the only composer to have worked on only one film in the series, the score he provided is an excellent stand-alone work, and I was pleased to find the recording sessions while preparing this compilation.

Director David Yates brought on board his collaborator Nicholas Hooper for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, who, despite referencing Hedwig's theme, moved away from a thematic idiom into one that is more minimalistic (in the repeating musical cells sense) and textural. I wasn't particularly taken with this score when the film first came out (an impression no doubt aided by the completely haphazard programming of the music on the album), but I have since warmed up to it quite a bit; Hooper develops several motives that would become more prominent in his sequel, and give this score a greater weight in context of the series. One of my favorite cues in the film the Scottish variation of the friends theme heard as Harry rushes toward Hagrid's cottage, doesn't appear on the album.

Because I wasn't really thrilled with the fifth film's score, I wasn't expecting much from Hooper's follow-up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised to find that I rather enjoyed the score both in context of the film and on the album; I felt that Hooper's sense for the characters was more focused and thematically driven, with his theme for Dumbledore standing out as being an excellent match for the character. Hooper builds on his material from Order of the Phoenix in quite interesting and engaging ways; the Possession theme from the previous score forming not only the basis for the climax of the film, but also shows up quite chillingly right after Harry casts Sectum Sempra on Draco, which is quite appropriate as that is the moment when Harry is most like Tom Riddle (another cue sadly absent from the film's album).

Hooper chose not to return for the two-part adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Alexandre Desplat was tapped to complete the series, and his scores are an interesting blend of both thematic and textural writing, ranging from quiet, intimate moments to raging blood and thunder when appropriate. Rather than quoting Hedwig's theme at key moments as both Doyle and Hooper would do in their scores, Desplat tends to integrate it into the cues, often broken or re-arranged, along with the myriad of other themes he authored for his two films, of which there are many, with many variations. Despite all of these themes and motives, Desplat also engages in quite a lot of theme-sharing, a technique often employed by Ennio Morricone. He creates a heroic theme for the Order of the Phoenix that is eventually passed on to Dumbledore's Army; it also doubles as a love theme for Harry and Ginny. There is also a theme for the trio's quest to find and destroy the Horcruxes that doubles as Ron and Hermione's love theme. There is also a menacing theme for the Death Eaters in Part 1 and an arresting theme for Lily Potter in Part 2 as well as numerous contemplative passages. Desplat sent the movie series off in style.


John Williams' contribution to the franchise was the subject of my Lumos Musica! compilation (which will be revised the millisecond I find the recording sessions for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I'm all set with the other two). As the film series continued to unfold, I didn't know whether or not a mix was feasible. I recently re-watched the movies and started getting some ideas for how to put together a follow-up album concentrating on the fourth through eighth films, years four through seven. While this disc would supplement that one (the title and cover art is designed to be the "after" for the "before" of the Lumos Musica! cover art), it would not be subject to the same structure (that is, reflecting the stories themselves), instead having a more free-form, purely musical approach. This disc is more representative than explorative, as some of my others are (including Lumos Musica).

Mixes like these are interesting illustrations of how different composers can approach similar subject material. Each of the represented composers worked in their own particular style, but the tracks tend to mix well together because they are all for the same franchise, with certain requirements thereof. I often found myself creating small sequences in which different composers were scoring similar scenes in their respective films, and ended up with a very cohesive result.

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Audio Enthusiast

Audio On the Run

Okay. I have made a decision that I am going to finish the edit on my [i]Lord of the Rings[/i] mix soon and be done with it. My enthusiasm for the project took a serious blow last year when the two Semajic files with the Livejournal entries I was preparing for the discs completely disappeared, negating all of my work on the program notes.

As was apparent from the fact that my character count far exceeded the Livejournal limit for a single entry, the notes were the exceptionally painstaking, with the source tracks listed, relevant quotes from the films and book, comprehensive listings of which choral texts were used in which tracks with links to the lyrics, and very elaborate descriptions of the music and how it was used in the film or on the album, and how each part fit into the compilation as a whole. I will never be able to re-create all of that work.

On the other hand, the mix itself is pretty much finished, it just needs a few tweaks here and there. It is time for me to put this one to bed so I can move on to other projects.

It has been a strange week for my portable audio.

My iPod died. It was getting a little twitchy here and there, and I had to restore it at least once, but it played on for the most part like a trooper. This was it, though, when I ran the diagnostics, it showed me that the hard drive had died. I've had that iPod since 2008, so upon reflection, it was actually the longest lasting portable audio player I've ever had.

Then there was the car stereo. It began when I cleared out my trunk to make a Costco run with friends. I knocked something loose, and it caused the fuse that controls my stereo to blow. I replaced the fuse, and the stereo worked for two more days. Then the fuse blew again. And again. And again after that; it was shorting out as soon as I turned the car on. Eventually the offending trouble was found — as I said, there was a loose wire that got grounded. The problem has been resolved, and the car stereo sounds awesome, as new rear speakers were my birthday present last year. I was as ecstatic once I got the car stereo working again as was the Dude when he got his car back and was driving home singing along to “Looking Out My Back Door,” except I needed something louder and meaner, so I blasted “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in celebration.

It has not escaped my own self-reflection that I was willing to drive my old car for months after the transmission had gotten so bad that I couldn't go in reverse anymore, but a problem with the car stereo gets fixed within a week.

I have finally seen The Hobbit; a friend of mine had the 3D Blu-ray (which is in standard 24p, wonder why they couldn't at least have taken advantage of 30p, but perhaps that was because of the negative reactions that 48 fps projection got from audiences). If you have the 3D Blu-ray, it's on two platters and the second disc is the stronger of the two.

I… I liked the parts that were good. And there were a couple of them. But… why… did… it… take… so… long…

Bloated, overbaked and interminably long. Everything this review isn't.
Garber (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3)

Mastering Big-Boned Despecializations

This week Varinia had her annual check-up over at the vet's office, and it's official: I have a fat cat.

This wasn't entirely unexpected, as it was pretty obvious from recent photos that she was getting pretty huge, although it was a little odd because I did cut down significantly on her food intake. It turns out, however, that the food I'd been giving her was just way too rich and she had become a lot less active as she settled into apartment living, and she needs to go on a diet. The vet drew up a plan, and I have started implementing it.

“I'm not fat. I'm storing for the winter.”

Ironically, the amount of food I am to give her is actually more than she would have been eating otherwise, but the caloric content is much lower. She's okay with the wet food but is not too fond of her new kibble, although she will pick at it.

The good news is that she is young and doesn't have any other health issues, so once her weight is gotten under control — I have a follow-up appointment with the vet next month to check on her progress — she should be perfectly fine.

In other news, I have a confession to make. After I had posted my entry blog for my revised Star Wars Trilogy compilation, I noticed some sonic issues that I felt I could correct — not just artifacts in the recordings (although I did minimize those as best I could, with some damn fine results if I may say so myself), but dynamic and presence. What this means is that the edits and flow of the album have not changed at all since I posted the original entry, but I was tinkering with the master for the past few weeks to get it as close to perfect as I could possibly make it. It's finally complete, for real this time.

And yes, I did edit the entry and the CD-Text on the album master to change all references from “A New Hope” to “Star Wars.” I feel better now.

I gave a cursory listen to my prequel trilogy mix and may be revisiting that disc at some point in the near future as well. I can certainly make a cleaner presentation than that nowadays, although I have to say that I was impressed with how much I managed to accomplish with what I had at the time. The prequel trilogy in some ways was a more ambitious mix than that for the original trilogy because I was combining music from the three films to make completely new sequences that played out across multiple tracks. This is something that was very hard to do back when I last worked on the prequel trilogy mix, but is par for the course nowadays.

Like the original trilogy mix, I like the general structure of the prequel trilogy compilation, and so will be preserving a lot of it, but I will be making a few structural changes, such as the location of “Enter Darth Vader” and “Battle of the Heroes,” which are horribly misplaced on the current version (even if the former has a great transition from the previous track).

Another point of somewhat related interest is that Harmy has released an AVCHD of the rough draft of his upcoming Star Wars: The Despecialized Edition Blu-ray. I was so satisfied with the previous version that I was wondering what sort of improvements he could offer. It turns out that he re-color-timed quite a lot of the footage to bring it in line with its original values. This has its most obvious advantages during the scenes on Tatooine, which looked a slightly washed-out in the older version but are vivid now, but the entire film has a much more natural, film-like appearance — much more so, in fact, than the official Blu-ray of the film.

The “Despecializations” have been recomposited with higher quality sources as well, with Mos Eisley (formerly the “messiest” of the footage because of all of the shots that needed to be worked on to remove additions made to the Special Edition) looking almost completely seamless. Footage of the Death Star battle is much more solid now, any issues now look more like the limitations of the optical printing process required to generate the effects footage.

Harmy's Blu-ray should be out soon, and I am eagerly looking forward to it. He is including all of the English language options in DTS-HD MA lossless, and I am excited about hearing both Hairy Hen's reconstruction of the 70 millimeter track and the 1985 home video mix* in lossless. He is also including several of the Blu-ray's commentary tracks edited to conform to the GOUT, which are very nice to have. Whenever they refer to a Special Edition change, I just have to smile.

* — I had originally stated that the 1993 laserdisc mix was my preferred way to watch Star Wars, but that was mostly familiarity. I have since changed my mind, especially after viewing the film with the various audio options available. The 1993 mix, which is what I'd been listening to for Star Wars for nearly twenty years, has some elements I now find distracting (one of the most prominent being the sound of glass breaking added to the cameras exploding during the cell bay shootout). The 1985 mix is essentially a slightly embellished version of the 1977 Dolby Stereo track with a few extra effects and lines here and there. Most importantly (at least to me) is that the music is at the forefront in this mix, spacious and clear. The surround field is very nice as well, especially in Pro Logic II.
Han's Balls (Empire) (by mimisoliel)

“An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”

John Willliams' music for the Star Wars trilogy contains some of the most popular and recognizable film music in history. Much of this is because of the monumental social impact that the film series had, becoming the reigning mythology for an entire generation (and swelling both George Lucas' bank account and ego to Death Star-like proportions). The thematic material is well known not just to film music fans, but to the casual man on the street. Luke's theme, the Force theme and the Imperial March are cultural icons unto themselves now.

It was perhaps inevitable after seeing Harmy's Star Wars Despecialized Editions that I would have Star Wars on the brain. I realized that my Star Wars compilation was nearly six years old, and while it had remained amongst my personal favorites of of my own mixes, I felt that there was some room for improvement. Between the new software I employ, better techniques I have developed, and better sound quality sources I could use, that it was perhaps time to revisit one of my first compilations and correct some of the problems I have noticed over the years.

What those familiar with the earlier versions can expect from this revision:

  • A more flowing and balanced listening experience that better explores the themes of the trilogy while retaining the swift pace and excitement of the previous editions.

  • A return to the wider, warmer, more analog sound for Star Wars.

  • The dynamics of The Empire Strikes Back are now more consistent with that of Return of the Jedi (both are different from Star Wars, but that was more the result of the acoustics of the different venue).

  • Smoother edits and transitions.

The first and most prevalent change is that of sound quality, which, despite a variety of sources, is much more consistent on this album. Star Wars in particular had a overly aggressive sound which I was able to temper with good results. Several tracks in Empire suffered from clipping or balance issues, and dynamic was a constant issue. I was able to correct issues that I couldn't before, such as the skips in “Brother and Sister” and “The Throne Room and End Title” (the latter track appears whole on the RCA/Sony version, but I wanted to use the take and mix that appeared on the Arista). The transitions and edits have all been completely redone from scratch, and they are much smoother than was possible before.

Another change is in the overall structure of this version of the disc. On the whole, I wanted to use an “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” approach to this assembly, and I wanted to keep it as close to what I knew worked as I could. However, there were a few changes I wanted to make, the most significant perhaps being the elimination of the cue “The Return of the Jedi” which has appeared on all previous incarnations of this album. This track came in the middle of an extended action suite which I felt went on too long, and it consisted almost entirely of variations on Luke's theme and the Rebel Fanfare, both of which are well-represented elsewhere on the album. By dropping this track, I was able to both smooth out the listening experience and flesh out the rest of the album.

Between the expanded palette size I have and the space made available by removing “The Return of the Jedi,” I was able to expand the scope of the album a bit. Several new tracks have been added. “Luke's Nocturnal Visitor” establishes Yoda's theme early on, allowing the variations on his theme that appear later to be more effective. “The Scavengers” presents the memorable music for the Jawas. “The Ewok Battle” provides symmetry for “Heroic Ewok.”

Ultimately, however, my mission statement has been the same for all but the initial revision of this disc — I based this album on two overarching concepts, and I think that is part of what makes it work; the first was the film's representation of good versus evil, in this case represented by the Force theme in conflict with the Imperial March, while the second is the music's representation of the mythic elements that made the films so successful. The Imperial March is heard often and quite stridently at the beginning of the album, but becomes less aggressive as the album goes on, eventually giving way to the diabolical choral theme for Emperor Palpatine; whilst the Force theme begins in a more meditative place and becomes more noble by the end of the disc, reflecting the defeat of tyranny and the restoration of Ben's values to the galaxy.

I received two of the best complements I ever could receive for my original Star Wars trilogy mix... the first was from Nate. I had given him a copy because he was somewhat interested. He called me a few days later from his car with it blasting and asked if he could borrow the DVDs of the trilogy — the music had re-ignited his interest in the originals after having been brutalized by the prequels. The other one was from Art, who, upon receiving my initial revision, viewed it with some skepticism, saying, "I don't know, man, you're fuckin' with the Mona Lisa here." That was big acclaim coming from somebody whose interest in these scores mirrors my own. I was therefore very careful when replacing or moving material not to deviate to much from the structure that I know works.

Index markers appear at several points on this disc (the same places they have appeared in previous versions). If anybody actually has a CD player that still recognizes index markers (let me know, I'm curious if there are any left), they're still there.

I felt that it was time to revisit the cover art, which I had changed only slightly after the initial revision. In creating cover art for the discs I burned for myself of the Despecialized Editions, I found myself gravitating toward the original poster art for each of the three films. These images were not only vintage representations of the films in question, befitting the restoration aspect, but they were also the artwork used on the 1992 Widescreen Edition VHS box set, which contained an abbreviated version of ‘The Creative Impulse’ and From Star Wars To Jedi: The Making of a Saga (Star Wars featured the 1985 sound mix), that I have a personal attachment to because it was the first time I'd seen Star Wars in widescreen since seeing it in the theater. I felt that this collage of all three one-sheets featured in the 1993 THX CAV Definitive Collection laserdisc box set — until ehowton's gift of the 1995 CLV “Faces” editions, and now the Despecialized Editions, that was my go-to presentation for Star Wars — was the best presentation for this version of the album.

While I did want to create smoother transitions, make more seamless edits, and present the scores in cleaner sound, the primary impetus for taking up this project again was to better balance out the overall listening experience. This edition better communicates the scope of Williams' music for this historic trilogy: the swashbuckling adventure, the white-knuckle tension, the romantic passion, the exotic creatures and locations, and most importantly, the fun!

Star Wars: Music from the Original Trilogy


3. THE EMPEROR ARRIVES (Return of the Jedi) (0:43)
4. THE EXECUTOR (The Empire Strikes Back) (2:12)
5. TALES OF A JEDI KNIGHT (Star Wars) (2:09)
6. HAN SOLO AND THE PRINCESS (The Empire Strikes Back) (2:21)
7. HEROIC EWOK (Return of the Jedi) (1:01)
8. LUKE’S NOCTURNAL VISITOR (The Empire Strikes Back) (1:22)
9. INTO THE TRAP (Return of the Jedi) (2:30)
10. THE PRINCESS APPEARS (Star Wars) (4:03)
11. THE ASTEROID FIELD (The Empire Strikes Back) (4:06)
13. CITY IN THE CLOUDS (The Empire Strikes Back) (1:39)
14. BROTHER AND SISTER (Return of the Jedi) (3:04)
16. YODA AND THE FORCE (The Empire Strikes Back) (3:48)
17. REVELATION AND SULLUST (Return of the Jedi) (0:34)
18. BLASTING OFF (Star Wars) (2:09)
19. THE DUEL (The Empire Strikes Back) (3:26)
20. THE SCAVENGERS (Star Wars) (2:00)
21. THE EWOK BATTLE (Return of the Jedi) (2:19)
22. ATTACK POSITION (The Empire Strikes Back) (1:02)
23. THE RESCUE OF THE PRINCESS (Star Wars) (2:55)
24. THE CONFRONTATION (Return of the Jedi) (2:39)
25. HYPERSPACE (The Empire Strikes Back) (3:57)
26. FINAL DUEL (Return of the Jedi) (2:50)
27. THE LAST BATTLE (Star Wars) (8:49)
28. THE LIGHT OF THE FORCE (Return of the Jedi) (3:18)
29. THE THRONE ROOM AND END TITLE (Star Wars) (5:29)

Music Composed and Conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS

Recording Engineer: ERIC TOMLINSON
Recording Supervisor: LIONEL NEWMAN

Star Wars
Produced by GEORGE LUCAS
Recorded at ANVIL RECORDING STUDIOS, Denham, England

The Empire Strikes BackReturn of the Jedi
Recorded at EMI/ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS, London, England

John Williams conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at the
Star Wars sessions at Anvil Recording Studios in March of 1977

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May the Force be with you.

Felis Silvestris Catus: Year Three Begins

It has been two years since I have brought Varinia home. A lot of things have happened over the course of that two years, both accomplishments and disappointments, but she has been a positive presence throughout.

Our relationship has evolved over time, and while it was always been warm, there is a level of intimacy (not in the prurient sense) that has developed over the course of our time together that I find it difficult to explain. I guess the best way to describe it is that we understand each other on a much deeper level over time.

These days, it's really hard for me to stay angry for any length of time with Varinia around. She's so friendly and affectionate that most residual frustration from the day evaporates as soon as I get home and she's there to enthusiastically greet me. Every day starts off on a much more positive note because the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is pet my cat. I was never a dangerous person — no matter how furious I might get, I have never and would never resort to violence — but I have been known to let those feelings get the better of me and I could get unnecessarily vicious, but now, negativity doesn't really have a chance to take hold.

An important element of this is that there really is rarely any friction between us. There are times when she does something that I'll need to stop her from doing, but since she usually listens to me, that sort of thing rarely ever goes very far. She is very communicative, which makes things easier for me. For example, when she wants me to clean the litter box, she stands in the bathroom doorway and stares at me until I do it (this sounds like it could be annoying, but I much prefer it to how other cats I've known would transmit this request).

While I don't like to speak for others, I'm willing to say that I think she's happy too. It's the only way that our existence could possibly be as harmonious as it is.
Han's Balls (Empire) (by mimisoliel)

“That's impossible! Even for a computer.”

I just watched Star Wars.

Not Star Wars: A New Hope. Not Star Wars: Episode anything.

Just plain old Star Wars.

I stumbled by accident across a project by a fan who has created 720p HD editions of the original Star Wars trilogy from various sources. The project is in 720p for several reasons, including both the processing power it would have required to make the edits in 1080p, but also because the because some of the footage was sourced from the '93 and '97 laserdisc transfers, and 720p was the highest resolution where the difference in picture quality from the source to source wouldn't be so obvious. However, I've seen the 1080i broadcasts, and this is equivalent to them, and the HD picture is quite solid throughout.

The first film contains a reconstruction of the original 1977 70 millimeter six-track Dolby Stereo magnetic mix in Dolby Digital 5.1, the THX Dolby Surround mix for the 1993 CAV Definitive Collection laserdiscs in Dolby Digital 2.0 (this is my preferred mix), the original 1977 mono mix (which features the original actress voicing Aunt Beru), and the original 1977 Dolby Stereo optical mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 (there is also a dubbed track and a descriptive track for the hearing impaired, which I did not sample). The bit rates for all of these tracks is much higher than DVD standards for Dolby Digital, which means that the sound has space for the oomph that the official DVDs of the theatrical versions don't, and with some minor manipulation, sounded quite fantastic.

This was the movie that I saw when I was three, and was the first movie I ever asked to see again. This was the movie that demonstrated that space opera could be popular entertainment. This was the movie that revolutionized what the industry thought could or could not be depicted visually on film. It's the film that brought back the symphonic score to Hollywood in a big way.

This was the movie that had me transfixed as a child.

And you know what? It still transfixes. Strip away the sequels and the hoopla and you get a sprawling adventure yarn depicting distant worlds told in a swashbuckling but economical manner. And I loved every minute of it.

Watching Star Wars up until now had been a tedious process; I could watch my laserdiscs which sound great but they don't look so great and there are side-flips (although I now have the CLV editions, thanks so much to ehowton, which helped a lot). I could watch the 2004 DVDs, but I really can't stand all of the additional effects, which I always found quite distracting, and I loathe the changes in content Lucas has been introducing since the 1997 Special Editions. I haven't bought the Blu-rays, because they're essentially spruced-up Special Editions with even more changes of varying shades of repugnance, and I've just gotten sick and tired of all of that.

Yes, I know there were alterations and alternate sound mixes before, but c'mon, those were really, really minor — in addition to the whole “Han Shot First” controversy (actually a misnomer, Han shoots; Greedo doesn't shoot at all), one of the funniest scenes is severely blunted in the new version. Han chases cadre of stormtroopers, shouting and creating the illusion that he is more people than he actually is. However, he runs the stormtroopers into a dead end and they are forced to turn around and realize that THERE'S ONLY ONE SCHMUCK CHASING THEM, and the tables are turned. Isn't that a much better “oops” than running into a room with more stormtroopers?.

It felt… relieving. This was exactly what I wanted to see; a good HD transfer of the movie I had seen many times in the theater and too many times to count on home video. It's a film that I had memorized, and while some of the effects have dated, I have to say, they're still quite effective. During the last battle above the Death Star, I just found myself thinking, “There's nothing wrong with these special effects!” And that's a sequence I think looks good in the Special Editions.

To make my position clear on this: I don't mind that Lucas is constantly revising these films. I think that's actually kind of cool that he can do that. What I don't like is that he is attempting to erase the existence of the previous versions, which, let's face it, are the versions of the films that had the cultural impact and made him into what he is today.

Worse, the self-indulgent George Lucas of today is not the same person as the maverick filmmaker determined to make this science-fantasy film that everybody knew was going to flop. The changes he's making to the films at this point seem to be just to fuck with people.

So for Star Wars, I have turned to other sources, and all I can say is that everybody who was involved in that restoration has my gratitude. It has been a long time since I could watch that film in a manner even approaching state-of-the-art. This was just immensely satisfying.

If you're interested in finding these for yourself, search for them under the term “Despecialized Edition.”
Conan the King (Conan the Barbarian)

“Do you want to live forever?”

Intrada's new 3 CD set of Basil Poledouris' epic score for Conan the Barbarian represents for me the end of a journey that was begun in earnest on January 1 of 1991 with the purchase of the MCA Records cassette of the original soundtrack album. The original LP configuration concentrated on the more introspective aspects of the score and that is what colored my initial impressions of it. One does sort of expect a certain level of brutality from the score to a film about a barbarian, and so to be presented with so much incredibly varied but beautiful and flowing music was something that took me by surprise upon my initial exposure to the music.

That tape lacked Dolby noise reduction, and its already muddy sound was dulled even further by the sheer amount of plays it got throughout my remaining high school years. Shortly afterward, I rented the film and was shocked by how much more music was in the movie than on the (relatively generous for the era) album. When I was a freshman in college, Varèse Sarabande came out with their expanded edition, which I devoured greedily.

The Varèse disc was rather satisfying for its time: the sound was much better than my tape cassette, and most of what I really wanted was on there. The thing about time is that it moves inexorably forward, and eventually I wanted more. I satisfied that yen throughout the years through a series of alternate sources, all of which were mono and all of which had severe audio issues, most primarily that they were buried under a thick layer of hiss. It was therefore with great relish that I anticipated Intrada's edition.

Intrada MAF 7123

However, a few years ago, James Fitzpatrick produced a brand new Tadlow recording of this score for Prometheus Records with Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. The new recording wasn't supposed to reproduce the original, but rather the score that Poledouris had written but was forced to alter to accommodate the abilities of the two Italian orchestras involved in the recording. As a result, there were many differences between what one hears on the original soundtrack recording and on the Tadlow.

When I first got the Tadlow recording, I primarily noted the different orchestrations, and then praised the performance itself, while acknowledging some issues with the sound that I considered pretty minor. And while I never stopped listening to the original soundtrack recording, as well as my Conan compilation Let Me Tell You of the Days of High Adventure, over time I found that when I listened to Conan the Barbarian, it was the Tadlow edition I reached for most often.

Thus, rediscovering the original score through Intrada's new edition was in many ways re-acquainting myself with an old friend. The music has been completely remixed from the original masters, and it sounds great; there are those who would have liked a little more low end, but I agree with Doug Fake's contention that what's here is the more natural sound of the orchestra. It is an undeniable fact that there is much more detail to be heard now; instruments that were buried before are crystal clear, strings have a fine sheen, and the brass is more cutting. It's like a veil was taken off of the music. Everything here is in pristine stereo except for the prerecorded source music; "The Hall of King Osric" (which wouldn't have much of a stereo presence anyway) and the adaptation of 'Las Cantigas De Santa Maria' that incorporates the Clemenic Consort performance, both of which appear in somewhat hissy mono. Given the story behind those cues, especially the latter, I'm just glad they were able to be included.

Ironically, the clarity of the sound does reveal some of the shakier elements of the two Italian orchestras' performances. There is much power there, to be sure, but there are moments when the music gets a little ahead of the orchestra (more so on the expanded edition, as Poledouris selected the cues with the best performances for the previous editions). In fact, this remaster puts to bed any doubt in Fitzpatrick's statements that Poledouris, who was by all accounts a perfectionist, wasn't satisfied with the performance of Conan the Barbarian. While this obviously wasn't the sort of disaster he experienced whilst working on Conan the Destroyer, there certainly are moments that are rougher than they ought to be.

So, while it should be no surprise that I've been listening to Conan nonstop since I received Intrada's set, what I've ended up doing – not by design, it's just how it ended up working out – is alternating between the Intrada and the Tadlow versions. Each one has elements that I like, and frankly having two complete versions of this particular score makes me gibberingly happy.

While there are some who have said that the Tadlow performance is more mechanical, I disagree and I've found that I've gotten rather attached many of Raine's readings of the music. Despite its sonic limitations, his "Anvil of Crom" has more energy and fuller orchestrations, more resembling Poledouris' own performance of "Conan the Symphony" at Ùbeda than that in the film. The City of Prague Philharmonic's take on "Pit Fights" is much tighter than the film version, which comes apart a bit as it gets faster; the better performance allows the cue to be more brutal. Raine's rendition of "The Tree of Woe" incorporates a female choir that turns what I had previously considered a primarily ambient portion of the cue into something more mysterious and eerily beautiful.

Most importantly, the Tadlow's version of "Recovery" is in every way an improvement over the original – and I'm talking about one of my favorite cues from one of my favorite scores. In my notes for Let Me Tell You of the Days of High Adventure, I said of this piece, "This is one of the most arresting pieces of music from either film, a beautiful reworking of familiar material to illustrate not only how a character feels but how he has been changed by his experiences." The performances are so introspective and the direction, particularly the transition from the first statement of the main theme with cor anglais and trumpet, to the second with the choir, is absolutely sublime.

Conan the BarbarianComposed by Basil Poledouris
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus Conducted by Nic Raine • Prometheus XPCD 169

On the other hand, the film versions of "Riddle of Steel · Riders of Doom," "Wifeing," "The Battle of the Mounds (Part I)" and "Orphans of Doom · The Awakening" just can't really be beat. There are also some cases where the versions are so different that they aren't really comparable, such as "Column of Sadness · Wheel of Pain," "The Leaving" and others. The Intrada edition also adds a few alternate versions of "Orphans of Doom" that are just beautiful. I also have to say that I really like the reprise of the "Pit Fights" material in the unused cue "The Snake," which does not appear on the Tadlow album (although the Tadlow version of the following cue "Infidels" is a much better performance than the messy one that appears in the film).

There were also a few surprises, most notably that there the film versions sometimes differ from what appeared on the LP and the Varèse edition – "Atlantean Sword" is noticeably different in presence and has a longer finale. I had tended to ignore the retracked section "The Defilers" despite it being included on all of the unmentionables because of their horrid sound (although I have to admit that I quite enjoyed its appearance as "Orgy Fight" on the Tadlow album, which ironically more accurately reproduces the edits made to "Anvil of Crom" in the film than the Intrada edition), but I found the alternate takes of "Battle of the Mounds" and "Riders of Doom," which feature additional lines for the brass section instead of choir, were actually quite exciting.

There was also something else that initially shocked me: "The Kitchen" – which was a cue not included on the LP but I was familiar with from the film and thus had been pining for when the Varèse disc came out – was not the same as what appeared in the film and on the Varèse CD! At first, I thought that Doug had messed something up, but when I listened closely to both, I realized that the track on the Intrada edition was actually what was recorded, while what's in the film, and subsequently reproduced on the Varèse disc, was achieved by switching two sections of the music! It's funny to me because when I first got the Varèse CD and could hear "The Kitchen" in stereo and without sound effects, I thought that section sounded like it had been edited, but I never thought much of it (the Taldow recording is of the film version).

I've seen too many Twilight Zone episodes ever to make desert island lists, but if I ever were to list my top ten favorite scores, for nearly twenty-three years, this score would have been on it. Having this score in complete form, with extras (including a remaster of the original LP configuration) in good sound is a dream come true. It's not perfect, but my issues are so minor that they are pretty much worth a footnote.*

When Intrada releases their edition of Conan the Destroyer, I will revisit Let Me Tell You of the Days of High Adventure. I will be simply recreating the original edit with the new masters, however. I don't want to mess with that one.

So this is it. This is all of Conan the Barbarian in all of its operatic glory, and the best it has ever sounded. I've searched far and wide for this music in the past, and it is all here, along with material I hadn't heard yet. There is no more. And while when Alexander saw the breadth of his kingdom, he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, I look forward to the years of pleasure this score has yet to give me. I've been listening to it for twenty-three years, and it hasn't gotten old yet.

Conan Collection
Clockwise from the Top:
The original MCA LP
The aforementioned MCA tape cassette
The Varèse expanded edition
The Milan edition (LP configuration but with the opening prologue with Mako's narration)
The Intrada complete edition

* — The initial entry of "Anvil of Crom" after the Prologue on the first track should have had much more power, I could really have done without the crossfade from "War Paint" to "The Kitchen," and the tracked music in "The Defilers" doesn't reproduce the internal edits on "Anvil of Crom."

Today marks my thirty-seventh straight day of work. We are no longer working twelve hour days, but rather have gone down to ten. I don't know how much longer this is going to be, but I could really use a weekend.

On the other hand, working this much does have certain benefits. I am currently typing this LiveJournal entry on my brand new, fully loaded MacBook Pro. It's verrah nice-ah, and it is all set and ready for me to do what I need to do with it (and I may need it for that sooner than I thought…

…but that is another story).

I bought it the week before last, and this is the first time I have had a chance to really sit down in front of it for any length of time outside of transferring all of my music to the Mac. This actually wasn't really all that time consuming, at least, it wasn't time consuming for me. I set it to read the drive with all the music, went to bed, and it was done when I woke up. The music drive is currently connected wirelessly through my Airport Extreme, which also hosts the printer, my stalwart Epson RX-580 (it's what prints on the CDs, see?).

Well, I am off to bed. I must awake at the ass-crack of dawn to get to work. I exaggerate, especially seeing as the days are getting shorter, but that's what it feels like, damn it.