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Cosmos (Alan Silvestri)

March 8, 2014

Cover_cosmosCOSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY (VOL. 1)

Alan Silvestri, 2014, Cosmos Studios Music
13 tracks, 43:28

After scoring “Contact” Alan Silvestri seems a logical choice for the new “Cosmos” series, seeing as both were originally penned by Carl Sagan. Can the composer once again bring something magical to the screen?
Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

The long-awaited sequel to Carl Sagan’s popular 80s series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”, “A Spacetime Odyssey” offers a view of the universe and focuses on mankind’s pursuit of knowledge. The project is (executively) produced by Seth MacFarlane and premiered on March 9th, 2014 on Fox and National Geographic. The funny man behind the hit animated show “Family Guy” turns out to be passionate about astronomy and astrophysics. The show is directed by Brannon Braga who is more widely known for his writing credits on various “Star Trek” shows and films and “Terra Nova”. Composer Alan Silvestri may have become involved through his work on “Contact” (which is based on a book by Sagan), as well as through MacFarlane’s love of good film music. It has been mentioned that this release is the first of four!

What does it sound like?

Not surprisingly, the scores owes a bit to “Contact” as it relies on warm strings, noble horns and innocent piano in a similar fashion. More literally, you may hear a rising 3-note motif that shares some similarities to the main theme from “Contact” (in both the opening and closing tracks). On a few other occasions (particularly in track 7) the resolution to a theme resembles that of the wonderful “Pandora’s Box” from Silvestri’s “Tomb Raider” score. Electronics are present, presumably to underline some of the scientific elements of the show, though are generally kept subtle and to a minimum.

The album opens with “Cosmos Main Titles” which manages to evoke a sense of grandeur, without going overboard, through it use of horns, woodwinds, piano and some majestic chords. It introduces a couple of motifs and thematic ideas but, in all honesty, at this stage it’s difficult to establish what is going to be the main theme. Only after repeated listens can I say that the twinkly piano and chords that commence from 0:45 are pivotal and are reprised in many a following cue. This particular chord-progression does have a ‘space’ feel to it, though I couldn’t tell you why. The score as a whole is rich in melodic ideas and even richer in orchestration. Silvestri’s typical ‘call and response’-writing for brass, strings and winds is ever present; as are many of his other mannerisms.

However, as the tracks go by I still find it very difficult to pinpoint a clear main theme on this album, which surprises me (and, to some extent, disappoints me). There are many nice touches throughout, though. The slightly retro electronics in “Come With Me” (almost recalling “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”), as well as an ‘old fashioned’ viola passage; a broad theme for strings in “The Cosmos Is Yours”; the harp and staccato flute in “Virgo Supercluster”; to name just a few.

“Giordano Bruno” is an utterly beautiful cue. It offers a theme so elegant it could’ve come straight out of a classical ballet. Choir and a Horner-esque crescendo lend the cue some grandeur, but it’s the gentle strings and woodwinds that steal the show. It is “Revelation of Immensity” that really gets the adrenaline flowing, with a soaring theme for strings, lush counterpoint by horns and accompanied by racing flutes. It owes a little bit to “Pandora’s Box”, but it is most welcome here. “The Inquisition” offers some brass and snare hits, typical for the composer; whilst “The Staggering Immensity of Time” is a much lighter affair than the title might suggest. Well, it briefly builds towards a strong “Abyss”-like crescendo, but focuses on soft piano and strings thereafter. Various motifs that have been established throughout the score are reprised here.

“Star Stuff”, “Chance Nature of Existence” and “New Years Eve” rely increasingly on electronics and synth percussion. As big a fan of Silvestri’s as I am, I’m not overly keen on his use of synthesizers as it often sounds amateurish. Unfortunately these later cues in “Cosmos” are no exception. The use of synths during the earlier tracks is much more pleasant and appropriate. The album ends with “Our Journey Is Just Beginning”, which is build around the various themes and motifs introduced throughout the score (as well as one of two lifted from “Contact”). It is only now that all these ideas start to fall into place; and as such the album benefits from repeated listens. Oddly, the sound quality seems to lessen towards the end of the album (there seems to be a flanger-like distortion making the music sound tinny), which is especially noticeable on headphones. I’m not sure whether this is a recording issue or an iTunes formatting issue.

Is it any good?

“Cosmos” is a typical Silvestri score. The writing, the orchestrations, the motifs and crescendos are all exactly what you would expect, and want, from this composer. Surprisingly, in spite of (or perhaps due to) its many thematic ideas this album does feel a little fragmented. It’s all very nice and occasionally great, but I’m not so sure about its narrative. Maybe Silvestri has thrown in a few too many ingredients; or perhaps his themes aren’t pronounced quite clearly enough. Things do improve with repeated listens as Silvestri’s motifs start to reveal themselves more easily, but still… they’re often cut short and, with some exceptions, fail to maintain real momentum. The whole thing sounds great, but feels a little unfocused. Perhaps that’s due to the often ‘incidental’ nature of TV, but not having seen this particular show yet that may be an unfair and unjust assessment. Hopefully things will become clearer once the next albums have been released. Having said that, this is a most welcome addition to any Silvestri collection; after just a few listens I did find myself humming the “Revelation of Immensity” theme. There are plenty of wonderful moments here; and the detail in the writing and especially the orchestrations leaves as much to discover as space itself. With “The Abyss”, “Blown Away” and “Clean Slate / The Perez Family” recently receiving new or expanded releases, this is a great and exciting time for Silvestri fans!

Rating [3/5]

Tracklisting

1. Cosmos Main Title (1:38)
2. “Come With Me” (2:02)
3. “The Cosmos Is Yours” (6:25)
4. Virgo Supercluster (4:06)
5. Multiverse (2:11)
6. Giordano Bruno (2:40)
7. Revelation of Immensity (3:59)
8. The Inquisition (3:36)
9. The Staggering Immensity of Time (2:14)
10. Star Stuff (4:14)
11. Chance Nature of Existence (3:28)
12. New Years Eve (3:50)
13. “Our Journey Is Just Beginning” (3:04)

Availability

Digitally on iTunes (no digital booklet).

Related Reviews

Cosmos (Vol. 2)
Cosmos (Vol. 3)
Cosmos (Vol. 4)

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