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Generation Iron (Jeff Rona)

December 16, 2013

Cover_GenerationIronGENERATION IRON

Jeff Rona, 2013, Milan Records
27 tracks, 67.40

“Generation Iron” is a documentary about body building; and all the competition and drama that goes with it. Can Jeff Rona’s music match the testosterone on-screen? Does it need to?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Less about huge muscles and more about what it is like to pour every last part of yourself into a single dream“, this film offers a glimpse into the competitive yet emotional world of body building. Directed by Vlad Yudin and narrated by Mickey Rourke, it stars Phil Heath and Kai Greene amongst others. The director writes in the liner notes that he wanted “the emotional aspect of this film to be illustrated by the right ambience“. And that finding “the right rhythm” was key to the score’s success. Keywords here are ambience and rhythm; composer Jeff Rona delivers both in spades. And not only that – he has produced a very slick and stylish album.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with two songs. “Some Say” by Solardrive & TC offers distant electronics and a distinct urban feel; whilst “Never Gonna Stop” by Mind the Gap feat. Quan mixes R&B with rock elements. They’re decent songs and in line with what you’d expect for a film like this – perhaps a little softer than expected, which make them accurate indicators for what follows.

The remaining 25 tracks (approximately 58 minutes) are taken up by Jeff Rona’s mesmerising electronic score. Let’s get that out of the way  – it’s all synthesized. Fellow musicians will notice the mentioning of 8Dio and Native Instruments in the credits. But let us not forget that Jeff Rona is a pioneer where midi and synths are involved. And when it comes to combining all this gear with filmmaking, well, he quite literally wrote the book on how that’s done (“Scoring for Pictures” is a really good read, by the way).

For “Generation Iron” Rona has put together a very stylish album; one that has a surprisingly organic feel to it – more so than many of his previous works. With few exceptions (plucked strings, guitar) the composer uses only distinct electronic sounds. As such this is not a ‘sampled’ work trying to sound like an orchestra; this is pure electronica. Every now and then a discussion about whether synthesizers can be used to write emotional music rears its head. Scores like Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire”, Mark Isham’s phenomenal “Crash” and this one, Rona’s “Generation Iron”, prove beyond doubt that it’s definitely possible. If you are firmly set in your orchestral ways, than this one is not for you; but it’s nothing if not moving.

The title track “Generation Iron” present the score’s main theme and sets the tone for what’s to come. A recognisable 8-note theme for a guitar-like sound over soothing synths pads and various echoing bells, clicks and plucks. Superficially one might make a comparison to Thomas Newman, but fans of Rona will know that this is very typical for him (and a bit like Michael Brook for that matter). A cue like “Pumping Iron” incorporates soft beats and slightly harsher arpeggios, but nowhere does this score get aggressive. As per the liner notes, Rona is scoring the emotional side of this story. For the most part, the music has a beautiful dream-like quality.

“Olympia” offers a repeat of the main theme for piano, whilst “Victor goes Home” combines it with soft percussion. Tracks like “Tampa Competition”, “Top of the Hill” and especially “Stress Relief” offer trance-like patterns, rhythms and sounds, but still do so in a restraint manner. Heck, if you’re into your Armin van Buuren then you’ll probably find this album a little too meek. The sound is very polished, very ambient; more akin to Underworld perhaps. “Showing their Stuff” and “Kai’s Plan B” convey a sense of hope, without taking it over the top.

One could argue that the album lacks a dramatic arc. This may well be deliberate. I have yet to see this documentary, but I could imagine that these people’s stories are never fully told. They will not give up; and they will carry on long after the credits roll. The result, if I’m honest, is that the album plays a little like a relaxing ‘new age’ work with various highlights.

Is it any good?

It’s quite an unusual sounding film score and I welcome it all the more for it. Synthesizers and electronics often conjure up resistance with film score fans, not least as they’re often inadequately (or inappropriately) used to emulate acoustic instruments. However, when composers draw on the real strength of the synthesizer, the results can be amazing. Vangelis’ “Blade Runner” still stands the test of time, even after more than 30 years! Mark Isham “Crash” is an incredibly emotional work and a personal favorite of mine. And I’m quite happy to add “Generation Iron” to the list of successful electronic scores; as well as to my list of favorites for 2013. It won’t be for everyone; and even those in favor of synths might find it saunters a little. However, I believe Rona has delivered a nicely polished, beautiful original work.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

1. Some Say (Solardrive & TC) (5.44)
2. Never Gonna Stop (Mind The Gap & Quan) (3.41)
3. Generation Iron (2.54)
4. Breakfast (1.40)
5. Pumping Iron (1.11)
6. Olympia (1.22)
7. Branch (2.21)
8. Tampa Competition (2.11)
9. In The Pool (1.31)
10. Losing Tampa (3.13)
11. Kai’s So Different (1.55)
12. Flex (2.19)
13. Victor Goes Home (4.16)
14. Do Anything (1.42)
15. Phil Shoots Hoops (2.01)
16. Venice Beach (2.06)
17. Stress Relief (2.02)
18. Overcome (1.28)
19. Top Of The Hill (1.33)
20. Walking The Strip (1.17)
21. Pump It Up (1.44)
22. Showing Their Stuff (1.40)
23. Day One (3.03)
24. Competitive (3.44)
25. Top Ten (1.34)
26. Back On Stage (6.30)
27. Kai’s Plan B (2.58)

Availability

Digitally on iTunes and Amazon.

Album credits

Album credits on allmusic.com

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