Sound Points: the film soundtrack addiction

Our musical director, Alex Feather,  shares some thoughts on his soundtrack addiction. 

He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow

                         (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

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I am a soundtrack addict. By confessing this now I hope others can come to terms with the fact that they too will happily listen to film music out of context. If you dream of the soundtrack section in record shops, walk with me. Ever moaned about the fact that some soundtracks have never been properly released or even released at all? I am with you. But as Diana Ross sang in the soundtrack to Looking for Mr Goodbar “If there is a cure for this, I don’t want it, don’t want it”.

My addiction has been indulged by the lovely lot at Magic Lantern who have allowed me to accompany their selections of films with a mixture of mood pieces for the intro, the intermission, and the curtain closing. As a former DJ who has made 100’s of mixtapes to bore girlfriends, friends, relatives, and promoters with, I have always thought that the art of DJing has similarities with the art of making a moving pictures soundtrack. When you set about putting the dusty records together for a gig you are creating a soundtrack for someone else’s night. In compiling a mix for someone I have visions of the scenes in which it will be played. Sometimes I might even give people suggestions about how, and where, to listen to a mix. “This is best listened to on a road trip”. “You might want to think of this as a soundtrack to a movie that was never made” ,“This might need a stiff drink”. Right now, somewhere in the world, DJ’s are tripping over their headphones in the clamour to remix their favourite soundtracks. DJ’s and musicians will be sampling a soundtrack or slotting a slice of soundtrack into their mix. Bands have been forever creating sounds that they consider ‘cinematic’, (Hey Cinematic Orchestra, you didn’t think of it first, but that’s ok).

In truth I am using the term soundtrack a bit loosely here as it is not a thing set in stone. Music, dialogue/vocals, and sound effects, are usually recorded separately and entwined into a composite track. Further complications arise with dubbing and variations of film ‘cuts’ and the way in which the mastering is done, kept and transferred. Throw into this complex menagerie the tangled web of licensing and song writing credits. For the full horror of how film making in general can go askew I recommend you read the excellent and hilarious book Inside The Wicker Man by Allan Brown. Consequently … what you get in a released soundtrack is usually a compromise of sorts and this is where the fun (and torment) begins. In 2016 we were greeted with the news that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) would finally get a soundtrack release, yet even with this they bottled it and left off three songs. In fairness to the director John Hughes, he didn’t think the public could stomach the full set of tunes out of context but went to great pains to supply two whole songs to his fan mailing list. But to be honest, my main interest is not films with ‘sourced’ (Tarrentinoesque) music but films with original scores or a mixture of both. I am happy to have some dialogue (very few have been released with all or large parts of the original dialogue). Some collectors want a soundtrack which will ‘lock’ to the original picture (i.e. be a good match if you played them together) but others are satisfied that they own tracks which are unique versions, tracks ‘isolated’ from the composite track or snippets of the score which attempt to represent key scenes.

Original Soundtrack recordings (OST’s) are notorious for omitting and fiddling with tracks and sometimes this is made ‘good’ later, but usually on the new fangled Compact Diskette format-wotsit. A case in point: the Soundtrack to The Wicker Man (1973) went unreleased until Trunk Records dubbed the original mono Pinewood Studio recordings onto vinyl in 1998 though without the seminal track Gently Johnny and er bits of the kitschly erotic Willows Song. All hail Silva Screen Records for pulling together a super stereo version in 2002 from another tape source which included the two songs in full and added further delights, this time though, on CD. Completists will have both. Fans of Goodfellas may count the tracks included in the film, I think its forty or so, and so be puzzled with the official release which contains only twelve! And many heads throb (mine included) with frustration at the inability of Vangelis to release what they regard as the definitive soundtrack to Blade Runner. Horror fans might recall the troubled score Lalo Schifrin put together for The Excorcist. Lalo didn’t hear Tubular Bells, it was more like the sound of the bells you get in a boxing ring with lawyers substituted for the managers shouting from the ropes. Magic Lantern Cinema screened Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982) as part of 2014’s ‘Up Yours’ Punk Xmas special. This didn’t get a (limited) release until the DVD came out and even then there were internet arguments (how Punk?) about the track listing. Thirty years of record collecting, and working at a record label (Chocolate Fireguard), have taught me that releasing a soundtrack can be more fiddly than a Donald Trump tax return. Check out Peter Lawton and Claire Munro from Thinksync for an honest, if somewhat off-putting, examination of the tricky issues.

Further into the murkiness of the addiction are releases that contain music ‘inspired’ by the film, scores entirely redone, bootlegged, re-mastered, remixed or otherwise tinkered with e.g. “enhanced for stereo” (sounds like it was recorded down a well, but has a certain charm). There are, of course, some cracking cover versions of tracks or scores and there is much fun to be had in seeking these out. I have to give some credit to the CD thingy for making it easier for many lost gems and holy grails to be ‘heard’ for the first time and with additional material which would never have made it to vinyl. That said, I am more inclined to go gooey over the weightiness of vinyl, and the loveliness of the artwork, which is a pleasure in itself. Thanks to labels like Finders Keepers, Cinevox, Crippled Dick Hot Wax  and LaLaLand  for keeping the addiction alive.

I will hand over to the DJ, collector, musicologist at Finderskeepers and fellow soundtrack addict Andy Votel for his treaty on the top horror soundtracks of all time: Andy Votel’s Top fifteen Horrors


 

Alex Feather aka Alixio Brains/DJ Brains is the volunteer Director of Music at Magic Lantern Cinema.

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