June 19th, 2007

Goldsmith (film composer)

North by Northwest

One of the more frustrating things about putting together a mix is towards the end of the preliminary selection period, when I'm still listening to all the albums and making notes as to what cues I might want to include and any editorial notes I might have on them.* The problem is not the listening... that is rather nice, and allows me often to discover scores that are new to me, such as Shoes of the Fisherman, or give me a chance to make good on the scores that I always meant to devote more time to, such as Cleopatra. Towards the end of the selection process, however, there is a point at which the album has started to take on a general shape, and I am itching to get my hands on the tracks to start putting it together... but of course, I'm not ready to do so.

"Do you like movies about gladiators?"

Happily, I reached that point last night and was able to start work on the tracks for the Alex North epic compilation. I started, fittingly enough, with Spartacus; my first task was to create a wav file that is a reconstruction the film version of the main title, which I've added to my Spartacus playlist. I was working very hard on tracks, whittling down each cue and assembling short suites. I had just finished the Spartacus tracks and was ready to start ripping some of the other CDs... which would no doubt have meant that I would have ended up unwittingly working well into the morning. Luckily, waystone gave me a very well-timed phone call, and I was able to save my work and power down the computer before I was assured of becoming a zombie today.

* For example, seeing "'Waiting' + 'Gladiators Fight to the Death' → 'Draba,'" written in my notebook means I'm combining the cue for Spartacus and Draba's pre-battle vigil and the actual fight itself into a single track titled "Draba."

I have made myself a liar.

Marcus Licinius Crassus (Lord Laurence Olivier) enjoys
one of his frequent visits to the Appian Way Chippendales

Oh, what confidence I had in my youth! This Alex North compilation has been throwing me some serious curve balls. While I was quite familiar with most of the scores already, I had no idea when I first got the inspiration to make this mix the real scope of the project. The selection and whittling process has been extremely grueling not only because of the wealth of material, but because of how intricate so much of it is. North's unique sound makes it very easy to move from the grandeur of something like Spartacus or Dragonslayer to the the layers of subtlety in Cleopatra or The Agony and the Ecstasy, but the sheer breadth of the scores themselves has been simply overwhelming.

And so I have decided to reverse a decision I made early on: I was adamant that this would be a single disc, but it is clear to me that there is no way that I could possibly create a satisfying listening experience thus. All I could hope to do would be to create another "themes" compilation, and I don't really like those, preferring to concentrate on the music that is more functional, and so I've decided that the best way to accomplish this is to make it a two-disc set.

So the mix about epics has now become an epic unto itself. While I originally was resisting making a two disc set, this is perhaps one of the few projects that could support such a canvas. This actually fits in a strange way with why my eventual Lord of the Rings mix will be two discs for a single trilogy, while the Star Wars trilogies only got one each; they are roughly equivalent in terms of scored film. This is certainly true here, as most of these films are of quite a generous length.

The scores themselves lend themselves to a long form presentation to begin with... Spartacus sticks out when compared to the presentations of Cleopatra, The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Shoes of the Fisherman and Dragonslayer simply by being a standard LP length. 2001 isn't quite as long as the others, but that's because of how far North was allowed to proceed in the scoring process, and the original issue of Dragonslayer was on two 45 RPM vinyl discs (reportedly with amazing sound quality which I'm always keeping my eye out for as there are mastering defects on the Southern Cross CD issues). I am, of course, supplementing the album of Spartacus with material from other sources in order to present a better cross section of thematic material than was on the original LP, but that just goes to demonstrate how impossible it really is to present a decent listening experience with any form of brevity.

Now, this means that I will have to restructure the album somewhat. As soon as I realized that I really had to expand the palette (which occurred, fittingly enough, whilst listening to The Agony and the Ecstasy), new possibilities really started occurring to me as to how to arrange the tracks. The longer running time of course meant that I could include a wider selection, but it also means that it is more difficult to keep the listening experience interesting for its length. The answer to that issue, though, is simple. It's Alex North.

I previously posted this clip before as part of my Saul Bass title sequence gallery, but I'm reposting it for two reasons. The first is that it is one of my favorite title sequences of all time. The second is because part of the music for it was created editorially, and I have recreated that edit for this North compilation. The opening brass fanfare was repeated, with a portion of an alternate take of the main title spliced in between the two quotes, after which the track plays out as North intended. The alternate take of the main title (a fantastic rendition of which was superbly recorded by Silva and can be heard on their Warriors of the Silver Screen compilation) featured an extended interlude before Spartacus' theme is heard on the timpani, which was somewhat harsher in orchestration. The only source for this portion is the film itself... and in order to maintain the best sound quality I could, I used 44.1 kHz audio source... the laserdisc. The film mix is a bit boxier than what appears on the album, so I only used that small portion in the creation of the track. While it sounds like it should be fairly simple, it actually was quite difficult to get the edit exact to what appears in the film, as there are some minor overdubs that are almost inaudible, but are vital to keeping the musical continuity.

So, without further ado, here is the resulting track in mp3 format. It consists of the music as it is actually heard in the clip.

title sequence designed by Saul Bass
Spartacus Main Title (Film Version) (3:40)
music composed & conducted by Alex North
orchestration by Maurice De Paakt

Please also note that Joseph Gershenson is credited as co-conductor. He is also listed as the conductor of Henry Mancini's Touch of Evil. Of course, he conducted neither score, he was simply the executive in charge of the Universal music department, so he go that credit on the films.