By Karol Krok
Producing a science documentary might be one of the oddest things Seth MacFarlane ever did in his career. Having been largely known for his satirical animated series (FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD!), he surely seems a very unlikely person to shepherd such a project. The original program included Carl Sagan himself as a host and proved to be a significant success – both with critics and audiences alike. Now, 34 years later, we are treated to this sequel and early word of mouth has been largely positive. Previously, Vangelis shared the airtime with several classical composers, however this time, the scoring duties were handled over to Alan Silvestri, who tackled the series on his own.
This album is supposed to be one of four volumes presenting the music of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY. The series and album open with an almost Williams-esque horn solo (‘Cosmos Main Title’), before seguing into more gentle and domestic music, almost recalling another work of his – CONTACT. Fitting, for that score was accompanying a cinematic adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel.
One might be surprised is that there is very little grand music, in a style of old SF classics. While the composer largely chooses the orchestra to convey the emotions, he never really allows it to engage in a Gustav Holst-like grandeur. That might be a wise decision or a slight detriment, depending of how we look at it. Only occasionally does he allow it open up – as in, the aptly called, ‘Revelation of Immensity’ – and enchant the listener with a more sprawling, if somewhat conventional, choral and orchestral romance.
Having said that, the middle section of ‘The Cosmos Is Yours’ introduces a more forceful sound, slightly recalling Silvestri’s numerous action movies. But, even then, it still remains more gentle and serene, certainly not the type of sound you get to hear from this musician very often. And it is most refreshing, especially after two Marvel movies and THE A-TEAM – projects generally associated with his signature masculine sound. Gentle and noble, abandoning the grand sound in favour for a more introspective, and thematically more elusive
The music very much resembles George Fenton style of scoring for many BBC documentaries. It has the same kind of elegant simplicity and creates this generally pleasant aural soundscape. Just as in the case of PLANET EARTH (or other nature series), Silvestri employs numerous light electronics every now and then (‘Virgo Supercluster’). They seem to add a modern texture to a rather traditional orchestra, but one could wonder whether that is really needed. After all, the acoustic writing is very strong on its own and surely capable of painting an epic portrait of universe. In fact, it might be even better that way. Having said that, the appliances in COSMOS are generally very subtle and well integrated with live musicians. Some sections, like ‘Star Stuff’ or ‘Chance Nature of Existence’, make a slightly heavier use of synthetic palette.
The final track brings many of the elements together in one short piece. After a slightly military opening, we are treated to a lovely solo piano, creating again a very homely atmosphere. After that, the music segues into the more exciting Silvestri fanfares that bring the album to a close with a promise of further exploration. ‘Our Journey Is Just Beginning”, indeed.
The 48-minute presentation is very pleasant – just about the right length. The series so far seems to lack a very strong connective tissue element, something that would bind it together. However, it is not unlikely for that to happen with subsequent episodes. Silvestri, while largely abandoning a theme-driven scoring for this project, does sound more energised and fresher than usual. Ironically, the small screen offers him more interesting canvas than that big one. In any case, I am intrigued enough to anticipate next three volumes of his music. One hopes they will eventually get a physical release.
COSMOS; A SPACETIME ODYSSEY, Vol. 1 is out now from Cosmos Studios Music