Sunday, January 18, 2015

Classic Albums: Lawrence of Arabia Original Soundtrack

You learn a lot about yourself when spending late evenings with an infant child, particularly when aided by Amazon's Instant Video service. When browsing this late one night while gently bouncing my youngest to sleep, I noticed "Lawrence of Arabia" in the freebie list. So I started watching it.

If you haven't watched this movie before, you might think your streaming service of choice has become broken, because the movie starts with an extended overture sequence; the screen is completely black as the soundtrack plays.

The soundtrack is the absolute standard of Western rendering of middle east music. The melodic content is sumptuous, romantic yet driving. It'll say locked in your head forever after the first hearing, and the classic film doesn't have to do any heavy lifting whatsoever- this music would be just as epic without Peter O'Toole. That Maurice Jarre also composed the music to Ghost is one of those bizarre aspects of a film scoring career, I suppose.

My recent watching of this movie reminded me not only of my love of the score, but how extremely influential it was on my own composing afterward. Much of my musical output afterward was just restatements of the main theme in various colors. I'm not ashamed to admit that- it's freaking terrific music.

And, of course, there were times I did this on purpose instead of accidentally. This was a tune called "A Lament for TE," which is obvious enough. It's a simple medium swinger (I have a lovely recorded version of it with Jason Gahler and Ben Wolkins) that was a staple of my non-jazz rock gigs in the early to mid 2000's, particularly when I played at Manhattan's in Toledo.

But the influence pops up in many other places. It's all over the place on Zeitgeber- The Big Hello and The Big Goodbye both have that moorish by way of Hollywood thing. It was and is a part of my improvisations as well.

That said, I got to lean on this inspiration in a big way when I was contracted to compose a video game score for an unreleased game called "The Broken Hourglass." The game took place in a fictionalized place but it was modeled after the middle east, so I basically got to compose my own "Lawrence of Arabia" score. It was great fun, though getting that music to you all is a little complicated in that it is technically Planewalker Games LLC's music, though I think if I pushed a bit I could convince the stake holders of that project to allow me to throw it up somewhere.

In closing, Jarre's score is perhaps the pinnacle of the operatic style of Hollywood film scoring, with big melodies you'd leave the cinema humming. Today underscoring and atmosphere is the rage, perhaps best personified with the "BLAHHHHHHHHHHHHHRGGG" of "Inception" - scores that are more kaleidoscopes of sound than stand alone musical compositions. I like some of that- it can be very effective, but I'm a creature of melodies, ultimately. Very occasionally, a series of films comes out the revives the Lawrence of Arabia style, most notably the Lord of the Rings movies with their fantastic scores by Howard Shore. But as great as Shore's Rings music is, it doesn't hold to the delicious depth and emotive content of Lawrence of Arabia.

*Note: if you are interesting in acquiring this music, here is a case where tracking down the original vinyl LP would be worth it. I did find a pretty cheap mp3 reissuing of the original, and it is OK, but ultimately this would sound best on a turntable with good speakers. Barring that, you should probably give one of the re-recordings a try. 

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