Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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All Kinds of Stuff

Songs of the Heavens Rescued

One of my best mixes had fallen on bad times. I made it at the beginning of 2003, just before my computer crashed. I was unable at the time to make a back-up copy, and I never got around to it.

This was one case where I couldn't possibly reconstruct the thing; the crossfades were too meticulously designed, and I was so satisfied with the original results that revising it was out of the question.

The CD had gotten old, and, while it still played, it kept getting stuck in my computer.

Luckily enough, Raz and his friend Eric were able to help me extract the tracks from the disc and re-burn it. I have already made a back-up copy for the future.

This was a close call, and a reminder how important it is to back up CDs you tend to play a lot. I almost lost forever some of my best work.

"I can't go with you watching."

Alien Sketching

While my fascination with the Xenomorph is certainly no secret to anybody who reads my LJ, I also must say there is an aspect to the creature that is something apparent to those peering through my notebooks or drawing pads. The alien is one of my favorite subjects to draw.

Of all the things I could get stuck on, faces and Xenomorphs are the most interesting things for me to doodle. Part of the reason is that of form, but I also love working with shading. Faces, of course, are all about shading, but the Xenomorph presents certain specific problems I love dealing with.

The Giger work that was Ridley Scott's inspiration for the appearance of the alien.

There is the domed head. My Xenomorphs tend to be what H.R. Giger (rhymes with "eager," damn it!!!) designed for the first Alien, although the revision for Alien3 by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff based on some work by Giger sometimes finds its way out of my pen or pencil. James Cameron removed the dome for Aliens, he says because he found the ridged skull underneath more interesting, although the effects personel claim it it was because the cowl was too brittle for the more active beasts of the second film. The dome is translucent, and the shots in Alien and Alien3 in which light shines through the cowl gives the beast the eerie feeling that it is alive. Attempting to replicate that effect in pen with crosshatching or pencil through shading is is an interesting challenge. The dome is elegant, and it also drives home the chilling fact that the Xenomorphs have no eyes.

Then there is the exoskeleton. The rib cage and, for the first two films, shoulder ridges... the trick, though, is to keep the detail behind the exoskeleton consistant. The tubes, spike and tail protruding from the monster's back have to be carefully placed to maintain proportion.

Giger's Alien final design and book cover

Of course, the real hard part is the detail of the creature. Giger's design is disturbingly biomechanical, and the alien is covered with tubes, lines and whatnot. The creatures of Alien3 and Alien Resurrection had a more biological than mechanical aspect, which kind of makes sense, but is less fluid (the dog alien from Alien3, however, is interesting in form) than that odd solid-state look Giger gave the creature.

Finally, there is posing. Giger's drawings tend to be of a frontal view or profile, never from a practical perspective, so the only real inspiration comes from the films or the McFarlane model that I have. I generally present the alien with its lips peeled, revealing its teeth (yeah), but I rarely have the shooting jaw visible unless it is an image of the creature attacking.

In general, I don't like drawing the head of the beast from Aliens as I feel that the erotic lines of the smooth dome is more disturbing, and I like the six-fingered hand that Giger designed that was simplified in the sequels to a three-fingered thing. The creature from Alien3 is fun to draw because its quadruped stance creates great posing opportunities. I don't much care for the way that the creature was redesigned for Alien Resurrection, as sort of a cariciture of Giger's original design with some elements of the dog alien thrown in for no reason, including, for some reason, the additional leg joint that made sense with the dog alien but doesn't make sense on a bipedal creature at all.

A good drawing of the alien will convey its grace and uncomfortable beauty. It is a strange thing, that something so horrific can be so compelling, but that it the attraction of Giger's creation.

Illustration of the head, from Alien3 with cowl...

...and from Aliens, without.

Here is some Alien humor!!!


One of the benefits of a large CD collection is that, while it is impossible to listen to everything all at once, by keeping a system of rotation in place, one can easily rediscover music that one may not necessarily have appreciated as much when one first acquired it. One such case are the scores for the two Stephen Sommers Mummy films. It is interesting to compare them because they are by different composers, but both are doing something similar with their own styles.

"Imhotep, you have something caught in your teeth."

Although I saw The Mummy upon its original release in 1999 and liked Jerry Goldsmith's score for it, I had my Goldsmith yen filled at the time by his score for The Thirteenth Warrior. The latter score had a lot of Viking macho bullshit in it, with its male choir and driving main theme. I sort of relegated The Mummy as sort of a lesser The Wind and the Lion, which, in a way it is, but The Wind and the Lion is one of Goldsmith's best scores.

The Mummy is airier, sharing with The Thirteenth Warrior some of the Arabic instrumentation, bit while The Thirteenth Warrior is a ballsier breathless thrill ride, The Mummy has a sprightlier element reflecting the film and is more rounded.

The Mummy also has a georgeous love theme, and Goldsmith excells at this type of material. I was also surprised to notice the sound quality on The Mummy was slightly clearer than on The Thirteenth Warrior.

I started rediscovering this score when I pieced together a suite for my mix The Farthest Reaches, and then for third disc in my Fantasy Epics series. I noticed how much great music there was in this score, with the rapturous love theme and tongue-in-cheek heroic music.

Jerry Goldsmith

While I was initially disappointed that Goldsmith wouldn't be returning for The Mummy Returns due to a scheduling conflict, one has to admit that Sommers kept his musical priorities straight (if not the narrative and visual priorities). Alan Silvestri is a great choice for this type of film.

Keeping a similar textural approach as Goldsmith, but working with original thematic material, Silvestri bridges the gap between his and Goldsmith's styles and created a great score in its own right.

Silvestri is very adept at creating muscular action music without sacrificing melody, as is evidenced by the Back to the Future trilogy, the Predator films and even Judge Dredd (where the music is a thousand times better than any other element in the film). The quality of The Mummy Returns is so high that it makes me even more incensed that Silvestri was replaced on Pirates of the Carribean as he would have no doubt created a new classic, while Klaus Badelt simply did the Media Ventures formula score.

Silvestri's theme for the heroics of Brendan Fraser's character and his compatriots is actually less satirical than Goldsmith's, which has the effect of making it even more ironic with its over-the-top brass. There is also a secondary theme, introduced in the latter portion of the album (showcased in the track "Sandcastles," which followed "To Hamunaptra" on The Farthest Reaches) that is a unabashedly beautiful but adventurous motif.

The CD itself, unfortunately, does not represent the score very well, as the deadline for the album release came before much of the second half of the score was recorded, which means that quite a lot of the climactic music is missing. This is a shame, as there are many great cues, such as the fight between the Rachel Weisz and Patricia Velasquez characters (featuring great percussion) that never made the disc. In a way, the CD has an "it ends just when it was getting really interesting" aspect. On the other hand, the CD does have a generous amount of score... although there is a totally inappropriate Live song... whose idea was that? The Sinfonia of London performs this score, and they always sound best either under Bruce Broughton's baton or Silvestri's, and the sound quality is reference, thanks to engineer Dennis Sands. This is a CD to take with you when buying audio equipment.

Alan Silvestri

Sound System Shopping Reference Discs
Just so you have some useful information by the
time you get to this point in the post...

Bernard Herrmann: Vertigo (Joel McNeely conducting)
Varese Sarabande re-recording
Excellent, flowing strings with an extremely spacious sound is good for checking speakers.

Lee Holdridge: Into Thin Air: Death On Everest
Crystal clear, with rich tones and deep percussion will give a good workout for speakers and headphones.

Alan Silvestri: The Mummy Returns
A very detailed recording with excellent sound. Nice for watchdogging high-end distortion.

Guns N' Roses: Appetite For Destruction
Warner Bros
Quite simply, one of the best sounding rock albums ever, courtesy of engineer/producer Mike Clink. It will sound good on anything, but the better the equipment, the better it sounds.

Alice In Chains: Sap and Jar of Flies
This is good for checking bass response, as some of the tracks have a tendency to distort on lower-end systems

Suit Is Having a Hunter S. Thompson Morning

Poor boy is on the phone right now with me. It's very interesting to follow his already twisted thought patterns whilst also battling the aftereffects of a night that could only have happened to him or certain members of the Gonzo journalism press.

Tags: alan silvestri, alien, audio, cinema, film music, jerry goldsmith, lists, mix workshop
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