Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of Tangerine Dream's "Sorcerer"

I posted the following review earlier this morning on the Sputnik Music website. And since the site has slowed to a crawl tonight, let me tell it wasn't easy.

Review Summary: Tangerine Dream does a masterful job here of creating a dark but vibrant piece of music that matches up perfectly with the film it's meant to represent.

According to Wikipedia, the German synthesizer band Tangerine Dream has created more than sixty film and television soundtracks over the course of their career. Their soundtrack for the William Friedkin film Sorcerer was their first. It was also one of their best. 

Sorcerer is a dark thriller based on the 1950 French novel Le Salaire de la peur by George Artaud. It's also considered a remake of the 1953 film The Wages of Fear. It's a story about four men from various parts of the world all of whom find themselves in a small hellhole of a town in South America where the only work normally available is a low-wage job for an American oil company. All four men are there because they're on the run from something or other, and none of them especially like each other. Nevertheless, they find themselves working together on a dangerous but high-paying assignment driving a pair of makeshift trucks filled with some very unstable explosives through some of the worst terrain you've ever seen. The title of the film, Sorcerer, comes from the name scrawled on one of the two trucks. 

Friedkin commissioned Tangerine Dream to score the film after attending one of their concerts. He encouraged the band to create the score solely based on their ideas after reading the script for the film without seeing any of the footage. When they were finished, he cut his film to fit their score rather than the other way around. Although Friedkin had some issues with various aspects of Sorcerer -- he wasn't able to cast his first choices for several of the roles, and the filming itself was difficult in many respects -- he has always considered Tangerine Dream's score to be one of the film's strengths. The soundtrack album sold pretty well, especially in the UK, where it reached #25 on the UK Albums Chart. 

It's sometimes difficult to describe an all-instrumental album such as this, but I'll give it a go. As you might expect, given the film's subject matter, the music throughout is mostly somber and ominous. In comparison to, say, Tangerine Dream's soundtrack for Firestarter, this is a gloomy, if often exciting, affair. Most of the tracks have some kind of low-end repetitive synth sounds that give the feeling of movement, as the trucks drive around treacherous mountainous roads, roll over bumpy rain forest terrain, and at one point slow to a crawl to traverse a rickety wooden rope bridge that could give you nightmares, all the while hauling cargo that could blow them sky high at any moment. While the Firestarter soundtrack had a few tracks that sounded frantic when the main characters were being chased, and some taut music meant to embody the villainous character of John Rainbird, it also had tracks of beauty and wonder meant to represent the mind-meld between Andy and Vickie McGee and the awe-inducing power of their daughter Charlie. The music was at times dangerous, but at other times profoundly lovely. There's nothing like that here. 

Sorcerer as a film presents us with a bleak and treacherous world, and Tangerine Dream composed a soundtrack to match it. A couple of the tracks barely even qualify as music. The first track on the album, for example, listed as the "Main Title", begins with low, rumbling sounds that are eventually joined by high-pitched organ notes. As the track continues, there are times when the sounds coalesce into short pieces of something melodic, only to drift apart again. It's kind of hypnotic, but not in a pleasant way. It tells you from the start that the story this album will tell is not a happy one. Later tracks lull you with the continual low-end traveling music, only to jar you with searing bursts of organ that make you jump. On track 8, "Rain Forest", as the driving bass notes continue, they're overridden by something that sounds like it might be an alien death ray from a '50s sci-fi flick. But as the sound becomes more repetitive, you realize it's meant to represent the constant droning of windshield wipers, as the truck rambles on through the torrential rain. 

As the description above probably makes clear, the three elements most prevalent in the music throughout this album are the feeling of constant movement, as the trucks work their way through the difficult topography; a feeling of dread, as the music makes it clear that catastrophe could happen at any moment; and a hopeless, heavy-hearted feeling -- the sense that this isn't going to end well. Because of this, I'd have to say that Tangerine Dream has done a masterful job in creating a dark but vibrant piece of music that matches up perfectly with the film it's meant to represent.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars