Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Prehistoric Music

Not, literally, of course although there are people who have attempted to recreate such things as Mammoth skull drums.  No, this is about what music I play when I am painting prehistoric figures.  Of course I have a Prehistoric play list on my iTunes which has a surprisingly large amount of music in it.  First on the list is Benjamin Bartlett's truly excellent score for the BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs.  "Imagine you can travel back in time, to a time long before man," intones Kenneth Brannagh in the short spoken introduction to the first track.  Well, I certainly can with this evocative score.  Highlights are the lumbering The Ankylosaurus, Islands of Green, Secret Flight and, above all, Time of the Titans which accompanied the aerial sequence of sauropods walking down a valley which, as one TV critic said at the time, really brought a sense of wonder back to the small screen.  Oddly, it also reminds me of the Isle of Wight (or Dinosaur Isle as the local tourist board christened it a few years ago) as I bought this CD in the Dinosaur Isle museum in Sandown.  The score is performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and Bartlett won the BAFTA for best TV score for Walking with Dinosaurs in 2000 as well as being shortlisted for an Emmy award.

Next on the list, naturally, is Walking with Beasts, Bartlett's follow up to Walking with Dinosaurs.  This also contains a few re-recorded (and therefore slightly different) cues from Walking with Dinosaurs and some music from one of the Walking with Dinosaurs specials, from which we get the theme music to Walking with Dinosaurs without Sir Kenneth. Best tracks are the title track, the Dies Irae inspired Lucky Escape and New Dawn.  Sadly, these are the only two Bartlett soundtracks that have been released, even though he went on to score Walking with Monsters and several Walking with Dinosaurs one off programmes.  Currently, you can hear his score for the second series of The Tunnel, which has just been released on DVD.

The soundtrack for Prehistoric Park by Daniel Pemberton (who went to the same school I did) is as good as Walking with Dinosaurs and, perhaps, melodically even stronger. Pemberton is a very prolific composer, with over a hundred TV and film credits to his name.  Recently he has been hired to score much bigger budget work, such as Steve Jobs (2015) and the recent Man from U.N.C.L.E.(2015) reboot.  Prehistoric Park was not nearly as successful a show as Walking with Dinosaurs (although it was made by the same team) and had a curious approach wherein the annoying wildlife presenter Nigel Marven supposedly goes through a time portal to collect prehistoric creatures for a modern park. Enjoyably, in Series 3 of Primeval (also made by Impossible Pictures who did the Walking with... and Prehistoric Park series) they had Marvin eaten by a dinosaur, in a sequence filmed at the Top Gear track at Dunsforld Aerodrome.  Best tracks are: Opening, Entering the Park, The Time Portal, Magical Flight and Mammoth Dawn.

Next on the list are two tracks from Hammer the Studio that Dripped Blood!  This features their horror scores, of course but also has an eight minute suite from One Million Years BC (1966) by Mario Nascimbene who is best known for his stirring score for  the Kirk Douglas/Tony Curtis epic The Vikings (1958).  There is also a suite from Nascimbene's score from When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970).  Nascimbene would also score Creatures the World Forgot (1971) but, although he lived until 2002, he only produced one feature film score and some TV music after this.

The score for Primeval, by Dominik Scherrer, as do the Walking with... and Prehistoric Park scores mixes soaring orchestral music and percussive action cues.  The Swiss born, but London based ,Scherrer won an Ivor Novello award in 2014 for his soundtrack to Ripper Street, which is also in the Legatus' collection.  Best tracks in this are: Primeval Titles, Primeval Theme, Cretaceous Sea and Into the late Permian.

You can't have a prehistoric playlist without John Williams Jurassic Park of course, which contains some of his finest themes (indeed I might venture that it is  his last really memorable soundtrack).  Best tracks are: Theme from Jurassic Park, Journey to the Island and My friend, the Brachiosaurus.

Williams' follow up to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, was a very different score; eschewing the big themes of the first film for a much more percussive, dissonant score which, like the film itself, didn't go down quite as well.  It's actually a clever score but uses the Jurassic Park themes sparingly. Best tracks:  The Lost World, Malcolm's Journey and The Hunt.  Very difficult to come by, I had to get my copy from Hong Kong.

Although I enjoyed Michael Giacchino's score for the TV series Alias, I have never been that convinced by him as a big screen composer and felt his Star Trek scores (all for JJ Abrams) were rather weak.  This is a better score and although it quotes John Williams themes a lot there is some good original music too.  Best tracks:  As the Jurassic World Turns, Pavane for a Dead Apatosaurus and The Hammond Lab Overture.

The final piece on my nine hours long Prehistoric playlist is an original composition, not a film or TV soundtrack.  The Lost World by Michael Stearns (who does produce TV and, especially, IMAX film soundtracks) is a sort of New Age journey into the rainforest which includes recordings of birds in the jungle in a sort of ambient version of Martin Denny's exotica records of the fifties.  It's a bit indescribable really but if you like the wailing Lisa Gerrard parts of Hans Zimmer's Gladiator score you will probably like this. Best tracks are: The Lost World Theme, Matawi: Killer of Men and Warao.  

Now, time to do some painting!

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