Wednesday, May 30, 2012
PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE: THE LATTICE OF COINCIDENCE
March 28, 2012 LEO COLUMN #10
PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE: SO BRAVE, AND SO BOLD
April 25, 2012 LEO COLUMN #11
PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE: So fresh, and so clean
Thursday, February 16, 2012
PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE
Bats: one of the most misunderstood creatures on the planet. While they protect us from insect-related diseases and provide essential pollination for fruits and flowers, they still get a bad rap for drinking virgin blood and other jugular infractions. Sure, they look scary, and it’s weird how they can turn into mist and paralyze you with their eyes, but these nocturnal mammals have spawned whole genres of music (examples: Beck’s 2005 album Guero and Louisville Slugger-themed hits).
Let’s start with Meat Loaf’s legendary album Bat Out of Hell. You probably know the singles “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” by heart, or by classic rock radio. Meat Loaf was the perfect vocalist to make Jim Steinman’s songs soar. Add in producer Todd Rundgren, and you have more than 40 million copies sold. You say it can’t get more epic? Along comes Bat Out of Hell II: Back To Hell. While most sequels fall flat, this album yielded a mega No. 1 single with “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”
A quick glance at the record shelves show that bats are still inspiring us. LEO’s batcomputer yielded more than 200 hundred songs with the title “Dracula,” ranging from Desmond Dekker to Kronos Quartet and Medeski, Martin & Wood. There’s Bat For Lashes, whose 2009 album Two Suns resonated with powerful art-pop. Or the Fruit Bats, with their scientific album title Echolocation (another name for our furry friends’ “sonar” hearing).
Part 2: Disk-Winged, Leaf-Nosed and Vampire Bats
Goth struck a defiant sonic chord, borrowing iconic images from film and expressionist art. Bauhaus became a semi-reluctant spokesperson for the scene with their classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a brilliant mix of creepy guitar atmospheres and dub music with a slightly camp lyric and overall sense of bloody cool. Tony Scott’s film “The Hunger” shocked audiences with the deadly (and beautiful) vampire couple David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve casually night-stalking artist/musician Ann Magnuson. Of course, the film wisely cut back and forth to Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy performing in a smoky-neon-punk dungeon during these dark deeds, capturing an incredible tension. The soundtrack also featured new wave synths, a Bach cello suite and the beautiful “Flower Duet” from Leo Delibes’ opera “Lakmé.”
Part 3: Shadow of the Bat
Prince had a major hit with his 1989 LP Batman, the musical response/soundtrack to Tim Burton’s film (not to ignore Danny Elfman’s unforgettable orchestral score). Folks were quickly hooked by the quirky track “Batdance” and propelled the album to almost 3 million sales.
Honestly, is there any TV theme song greater than Neil Hefti’s 1966 “Batman” score? How many times have you hummed this tune in your life: “Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da ... BATMAN!”? Not convinced? Here’s a list of artists who have performed the bat-rock classic: The Who, R.E.M., The Ventures, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, The Flaming Lips, Alien Sex Fiend, 50 Cent …
Jumping ahead three decades, we saw the magnificent live orchestra score for “Batman: The Animated Series” by composer Shirley Walker. “BTAS” received serious critical praise for its moody jazz-influenced score. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard teamed up to score Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” creating an orchestral suite fused with digital samples, keyboards and musique concrète (which won them a Grammy for Best Score).
Part 4: Bat Bites!
OK, I’ve been saving the best for last: the ultimate musical tribute to the more than 1,200 species of bats living around the globe … The Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats.” This 1981 single has everything Nick Cave and friends do so well — blistering guitars, galloping hell bass, thunderous drums, epic/hilarious lyrics and … bat bites.
So now, as the sun casts long lines and shadows draw closer, take a moment to appreciate these wonderful, misunderstood creatures. Don’t be afraid. Slightly crack your bedroom window. Yes, that’s perfect. Lay your head down on this soft pillow. Easy. It’s easy. What was that sound? Nothing. Just close your eyes.
The United Nations has declared 2011-2012 the International Year of the Bat. To learn more, visit batcon.org
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE
At the multiplex, there was an encouraging diversity of styles. “Captain America” cleverly included a 1940s USO musical number that was hilarious (and heartfelt) by songsmiths Alan Menken and David Zippel. Herzog’s surprise 3-D crowd-pleaser “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” featured a wonderfully weird score by Dutch cellist Ernist Reijseger. Terrence Malick, a director with a history of great soundtracks, brought us “The Tree of Life,” which requested audiences to enter a poetic world of sounds and images. Its composer, Alexandre Desplat, has a growing list of inventive scores from “Birth” to the Harry Potter finale.
A strange companion to “Tree” is Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia,” which feels like its darker twin with a similarly oblique vision. “Melancholia” presented one of the most shocking and beautiful moments in many years, scored by Richard Wagner’s prelude to “Tristan und Isolde.” Keeping with his provocative tendencies, the director then almost punishingly repeats this lovely music. Thanks, Lars.
Michael Giacchino continued his prolific partnership with J.J. Abrams on “Super 8” (a robust homage to Spielberg’s films and John Williams’ music) and created the rousing orchestral tribute to Lalo Schifrin for Brad Bird’s super fun “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” The most overlooked action masterpiece of 2011? Joe Wright’s “Hanna” featured a brilliant score by The Chemical Brothers, full of dreamlike collages and distorted beats.
Many independent or low-budget films had incredible music, often utilizing the filmmaker’s talent for digging up the perfect track. Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block” was the surprise of the year, fusing an awesome premise with humor and social commentary. It worked in classic beats from KRS-One, Basement Jaxx and Richie Spice, and orchestral dubstep by Steven Price. “Drive” perfectly blended Euro-pop songs (eerily sounding like actual 1980s recordings) with Cliff Martinez’s synthesizer atmospheres. Martinez found the perfect tone for Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” (avoiding melodrama and apocalyptic bombast). The pulsating rhythms propelled the film without emotional tricks, accompanying dedicated scientists fighting to save the world.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” featured a masterfully paranoid suite from Alberto Iglesias. “Win Win” scored with fuzzy jambox rock and a new song by The National. “Beginners,” an absolute triumph for actor Christopher Plummer, had the best use of “house music” as a story moment and featured sweet selections like Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” As for “A Dangerous Method” (score by Howard Shore), “The Muppets” (songs by Brett McKenzie of “Flight of the Conchords”) and “War Horse” (music by the innovative John Williams), I can’t wait to see them. “The Artist,” “Pina” and “Tin Tin,” too.
Versatile and intense actor Michael Fassbender arrived in several great films. “Jane Eyre” had elegant string arrangements by Dario Marianelli, while “X-Men: First Class” rocked a retro/spy feel. Steve McQueen’s unsettling and powerful “Shame” mixed NY nocturnal pop and aching modernist classical. Weirdly, both “X-Men” and “Shame” borrowed from Hans Zimmer’s “The Thin Red Line” soundtrack. “Take Shelter” examined ordinary life and 21st century dread, with a song by Ben Nichols of Lucero and creepy ambience by David Wingo. “The Descendants” captured family drama in beautiful, painful detail, and its Hawaiian setting inspired songs by many celebrated local musicians. Martin Scorsese’s sweet and wonderful “Hugo” showed the whimsical side of radical composer Howard Shore. Scorsese also released the George Harrison documentary “Living in the Material World.”
What will 2012 sound like? While I’m brutally excited for “Prometheus” and certain Dark Knight and Avengers films, it’s also great to imagine the emerging young directors and composers. With new films by Mary Harron, Wes Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, Genndy Tartakovsky and John Hillcoat, we’re in for a damn good year.
P.S.: Thanks to Moonshake for this column's title, and Ryan Patterson for movie research.