By Charlie Brigden
While I sit here thinking about Craig Safan’s Warning Sign, I’m actually listening to The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Neither scores have a great amount in common – although both Safan and Reznor/Ross are masters in creating atmosphere – but the pair do have one singular trait in that they are both primarily or (in the case of Safan’s) completely created and performed electronically.
You may wonder why I started a review of Warning Sign, which has been remastered by Invada Records, with so much talk about The Social Network. There’s an importance to both scores, with one obviously having more public attention than the other, in terms of the electronic medium of film scoring and how electronic scores have been treated over the years. Safan’s work on electronics has widely been praised, and several of his works such as The Last Starfighter and Remo: The Adventure Begins have important synth elements, but amongst most film score enthusiasts The Social Network has been consistently reviled as if Reznor broke into their houses and destroyed all their copies of any soundtrack that ever used an orchestra.
But, I digress. Warning Sign is a fascinating score. The premise of the film is very simple – a dangerous virus is let loose in a research lab and the workers are turned into zombie-like creatures. A desperate mission is undertaken to rescue those who haven’t been affected before the infected overtake them, and eventually the world.
Safan’s score is quite unique, playing around with pitting both hopeful and foreboding melodies against each other. Opening with a curiously upbeat riff, it moves into John Carpenter-esque lines of atmospheric dread with odd time signatures, leaving the listener in a bit of an unsure state. There’s a dreamy factor about the score, with Safan using synth vocal effects as a kind of foreshadowing of the power of the virus. These effects, which come across as ghostly and haunting, are really effective and have an actual emotional impact, as well as fitting well in the larger body of the score.
There are some pretty creepy tonal effects in here, and while I mentioned John Carpenter earlier, there’s not much more of a base for further comparison – Safan isn’t interested in supplying a catchy theme for the score, and it’s much more based on atmosphere and mood. It’s jarring at times, intentionally so, and it captures the feeling of being trapped, using synth percussion and pulsing to create tension, with a motif for one of the trapped characters running against it in contrast. And there’s an elegance to the way Safan wraps it all up, reprising and expanding the hopeful motif while still reminding of the potential danger in this kind of work.
The score is also interesting for the machine Safan used to compose the score: the Synclavier synthesiser. Long held in regard as a behemoth of electronic music, it gives the score such an interesting sound and texture, perfectly suited for the kind of film it was composed for. Warning Sign is really a hidden gem, I’d never really heard of it past the name until this album, and given that the entirety of the score was written and performed using it, that’s a pretty big thing. As I said earlier, this score and The Social Network are two sides of the same coin, and I imagine Warning Sign probably had its detractors when it was released. But while the former has had plaudits stuffed into every orifice, Warning Sign has had to do with being a name in a back catalogue for decades. Hopefully that will change with this release.
Invada have certainly put together a stunning package for Warning Sign, with brilliant artwork by Marc Bessant and liner notes from the composer himself. A ton of bonus tracks are available, and the mastering by Bristol’s Optimum is amazing, especially on the vinyl edition – I was stunned when I played the record for the first time and heard how crisp it sounded. A worthy presentation of an excellent score.
Warning Sign is available for pre-order at Invada