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Shelf Digging: Wendy Carlos, TRON

[Wendy Carlos - TRON]

I usual like to credit Art of Noise for starting me on the path to wannabe modern composer. Music magazines liked to describe the band as rock music’s answer to musique concrète, and of course, I had to look up what musique concrète meant in my dad’s music appreciation textbook.

In reality, the seeds were planted far earlier, unbeknownst to me.

In 1982, TRON hit theaters, but Disney built hype around the movie months before its release. By the time my family went to the theater to see the movie, I had already played The Story of TRON to death, essentially spoiling the plot. In addition to the narrated story, I twisted the arms of my parents to get the soundtrack by Wendy Carlos, which I also played day in and day out on the turntable.

The music of the movie was also tied closely to the arcade game. To this day, I can’t hear the “TRON Scherzo” without visualizing the completion of a game within a level.

In essence, the Disney marketing machine had me in its grip.

I was too young to appreciate the mechanics behind Carlos’ score. To my 10-year-old ears, it was futuristic music played on tomorrow instruments. It wasn’t John Williams or Star Wars, and I didn’t care.

Three decades later, listening to the soundtrack reveals how much of Carlos’ advanced score sank into my consciousness. The whole tone scales, the limited modes of transposition, the polyrhythms — the shadow of Olivier Messaien’s arm looms long over the score.

My parents bore it with some grace, but the angular music must have sounded absolutely noisy to them. I’ll admit to some impatience with the portions of the soundtrack that weren’t in the video game, but I internalized it nonetheless, not realizing I was preparing myself for a lifetime of listening to atonal music.

Film scores these days amount to little more than wallpaper, so it’s rare when a soundtrack such as TRON, AKIRA or The Piano can be decoupled from its source.

I’m mystified TRON hasn’t yet entered the orchestral pops repertoire. If Seattle Symphony ever performed the score live, I’d cut a bitch to get tickets. The orchestra musicians might appreciate the challenge.

 

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