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The Great Human Odyssey (Darren Fung)

April 22, 2015

Cover_GreatHumanOdysseyTHE GREAT HUMAN ODYSSEY

Darren Fung, 2015, Varese Sarabande
25 tracks, 63:41

Documentaries have a great track record for great scores. Often they provide the composer with a large canvas and the freedom to be inspired. “The Great Human Odyssey” is no exception.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by anthropologist Dr. Niobe Thompson, “The Great Human Odyssey” is a three-part documentary series and interactive web documentary that explores the unlikely survival and the miraculous emergence of Homo sapiens as the world’s only global species. The original score is by Darren Fung,  a Canadian composer currently residing in Los Angeles. A graduate of McGill University, Fung recreated Canada’s second national anthem, the beloved Hockey Theme, for CTV and TSN. His work on Bell Canada’s Orchestra spot, run during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, was voted as Canada’s top commercial by readers of The Globe and Mail. His critically acclaimed work on the mini-series Lost Years garnered him a 2012 Canadian Screen Award nomination.

What does it sound like?

Composer Darren Fung: “This story, our story, of how humans as a species have miraculously adapted and persevered is fascinating. The drama, the wonderment, the adversity, and the triumph — these are the emotions I’ve tried to evoke in our score. It’s any composer’s dream to have not only the remarkable resources we had to realize the score, but to have the support, talent and friendship of a director and producer like Niobe.”

The album opens with “Something Remarkable”, a cue that covers a lot of ground in three minutes. A Elfmanish opening for horns leads to an anthemic melody for strings and brass (one of the score’s key themes), followed by a string-and-marimba ostinato, which leads to solemn piano and humming, then a slow but determined section for piano and strings, before ending with ethnic plucking which segues smoothly into the next cue.

The cues just fly by. In part because most of them are fairly short, but mostly because Fung does a great job at keeping things moving along with exciting rhythms and a plethora of melodies and motifs. Each cue is as good and pleasant as any other, and it’s hard (almost: unfair) to single any of them out. That said, I particularly like the Indian flute heard in “Reindeer Rodeo”, as well as the staccato chanting in “Humans Underwater” which reminds me Randy Edelman’s “Fire in a Brooklyn Theatre” (from “Come See The Paradise”) which served as trailer music for many years throughout the 90s. The cue is finished off with a lyrical rendition of one of the score’s main themes.

Great orchestral variations of the main themes can be found in cues like “The Wise, The Evolved” and “Evolution of Adaptability”. Fung often relies on staccato strings, which some may find a bit Zimmerish (though I believe it’s a little more classical orientated). Elsewhere, “Remarkable Adaptions” houses a lush melody for choir that owes a lot to James Horner; whilst “Dawn of Symbolic Thought” is an innocent sounding piece containing playful passages for piano and flute.

The album concludes with the magnificent and epic “Doorway to the Pacific”, which features racing strings under a lush melody for strings and choir; and “Homo Sapiens” which relies on piano (note that little motif of four rising notes that can be heard throughout the entire score), strings and choir.

Is it any good?

Darren Fung’s “The Great Human Odyssey” offers lush, colourful score for an orchestra, small choir, piano, percussion and a few ethnic instruments. It’s not so much a large ensemble as it is a varied one, with the composer relying on intelligent writing and orchestrating rather than sheer power. And in doing so, he has created a surprisingly powerful score. Whilst the score is saturated with familiar harmonic and rhythmic ideas, it is executed perfectly and with great conviction. It’s clearly a labour of love that, even after many repeated listens, never fails to put a smile on my face. Steadfast rhythms, colourful orchestrations and wonderful (often catchy) melodies make this a ridiculously addictive album.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

01. Something Remarkable (3:14)
02. Birth of Humanity (1:19)
03. Modern Humans (2:27)
04. Reindeer Rodeo (1:41)
05. Into Europe (2:59)
06. Hunters and Gatherers (1:50)
07. Incredible Feats, Incredible Patience (1:33)
08. The Kelp Forest (3:16)
09. Humans Underwater (6:09)
10. On The Move (1:18)
11. The Wise, The Evolved (4:59)
12. Tawi Tawi (3:31)
13. Parched Waste (1:33)
14. Evolution of Adaptability (3:21)
15. Before Columbus (1:49)
16. The Road Less Travelled (2:15)
17. Remarkable Adaptations (1:34)
18. Dawn of Symbolic Thought (3:32)
19. The Hokule’a Sets Sail (1:54)
20. Jebel Faya (1:47)
21. Boys Become Men (2:58)
22. The Art of Sailing (1:48)
23. Last Days of June (1:03)
24. Doorway to the Pacific (3:05)
25. Homo Sapiens (2:46)

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3 Comments
  1. Great orchestral variations of the main themes can be found in cues like “The Wise, The Evolved” and “Evolution of Adaptability”. Fung often relies on staccato strings, which some may find a bit Zimmerish (though I believe it’s a little more classical orientated).

    I have to laugh when people actually think that this is a Zimmer thing. I like your review and would like to know where to listen to it.

    • Yeah, I know what you mean, sdtom. Personally I don’t really think it’s “Zimmerish” at all, but I know other people will think so (other people have said so). Unfortunately, this is the frame of reference people have these days.

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