Saturday, July 31, 2010

Seriously good music...

Somewhat ironically, it's only in the past year or so, since I've really put an end to my violin-playing career (DipABRSM, LCTL distinction, FTCL, a winning or reaching the finals of numerous competitions) that I've started listening to much music at all. In particular, I've taken a liking to doing this while coding!

So, without further ado, here's a list of some of my favourite music (currently). As you'll find, most of these are orchestral sound tracks, which I should add sound best at full blast (though I usually only have them at somewhere between 10-40% loudness most of the time) ;)

Thomas Newman
Without a doubt, I'd have to say that he is my favourite composer these days, and for very good reasons. One of his trademark sounds, which I can only best describe as sound which seems to suspended in mid-air (or perhaps like a marimba with soft-sticks doing a tremolo), is very cool and relaxing. It's just a pity that he hasn't won an Oscar for his work yet, despite being nominated so many times.

1. Finding Nemo - Soundtrack
Newman's score for my favourite Pixar film (Ratatouille is my second favourite) is simply awesome. In particular, I really love the way it successfully creates a mood of being enveloped by something comfortable, which feels like you're deep underwater (esp. Track 1. Listen to it in a dark room with lights out for best effect). Also, the main theme is so beautiful, especially the last occurrence with the cadence at the end of the film (sortof like one of the final cadences in a movement of Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream").

Thinking back, I probably started pursuing 3D after watching this film, and probably due in no small part to the film's score. By a stroke of luck, I ran across the CD for this an an el cheapo store once a few years ago, which is now a prominent item on my CD rack :)

2. "Brooks was Here" from Shawshank Redemption
I came across this piece a few days ago, where it was used as the background music for some video someone had posted, where there was just the background music, some scenic stills, and a simple voice over. Pure brilliance. IMO, it's a really good choice of background music for making any sort of video/presentation where a sense of "profoundness" is needed. But, that does not mean that it is great for listening to on its own too.

Michael Giacchino
Giacchino seems to be a very popular composer in recent years, having won a lot of the awards he's been nominated for in recent years. His energetic style is really awesome when played at full blast, though you may want to consider doing that sparingly only for your own good...

3. Ratatouille - Soundtrack
Another Pixar film that I really liked, the soundtrack here is great too. In particular, it covers a wide emotional range (Track 6 - Wall Rat), with some really invigorating fast numbers (Track 5 - 100 Rat Dash), and some memorable tunes (Le Festin). It's a pity I couldn't source a CD locally for this *ahem*.

4. Up - Soundtrack
I haven't managed to see the film yet (or listen to the whole score for that matter). However, what I have listened to is a collection of some tracks from it that were available online during the Oscar voting season (?).

From what I've heard, some parts of it are like Ratatouille on steroids! While it's fun listening to how the theme from "Married Life" comes back in various incarnations, weighted with emotional beats of the film (it's truly beautiful what a simple tune played simply on a piano can do), what stands out for me here is the really addictive "Escape from Muntz Mountain" which is really best heard at full blast. Constantly repeated notes driving a piece forward FTW! (note, I've received criticism of my attempts at composition for such "Jaws-like" tendencies in the past, though I really dispute that this is "bad")...

Anyways, this would be tied with Ratatouille for 3) if I hadn't not heard most of the rest of it yet ;)

John Williams
Who doesn't know this iconic (and very prolific) American composer's work. Classified as a "neo-romanticist" by Wikipedia, his particular strength is in composing really memorable themes; music which has defined the film soundscape for many years.

Strictly listing what I current have (not including what I don't have yet, but would like to grab at some point):

Memoirs of a Geisha - Soundtrack
It's quite interesting hearing an American trying his hand at Japanese! Anyways, what I particularly like about this score is the haunting main theme (more specifically, "Sayuri's Theme"), which carries a deep sense of hidden-sorrow. Plus, it is notable that the main themes here usually involved two heavyweight performers - Yoyo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Oh yeah!

Schindler's List - Main Theme
Once again played by Perlman, this is quite a nice piece of music. However, in recent times, I'm starting to get a bit sick of it, as rather meh performers are frequently playing it at various gala/public concerts around the place these days.

Also worth noting (though I don't currently have copies of for listening) are:
- Theme of "Indiana Jones" films
- "ET" (who could forget "ET go home" ;))
- Main theme of earlier "Harry Potter" movies (I can't say about some of the later ones, as I think they started going downhill from part 3, which was quite a butchered attempt IMO)

Hans Zimmer
A lot of his work is quite decent, though really I think his strength is in those broadway-like songs for the 90's animated-fare.

Prince of Egypt - Soundtrack
Overall this was a great film, perhaps one of the few good films Dreamworks have produced ("Kung Fu Panda", "How to Train Your Dragon", and "Spirit" being the others, though I'm a bit tentative on the latter two). Once again, this was probably helped quite a bit by the music, in particular the "River Lullaby" song, which I still remembered for a few years after watching this film.

One thing that is a bit less impressive about this soundtrack though are some of the pop-renditions of the songs they've included. IMO, the original versions from the film were much better/stronger. That is kindof opposite to the case for songs from a few other films ("Somewhere out there" - original version is painfully out of tune, and "Beauty and the Beast" - the duet with Celine Dion just has more oomph! for example)

I consider this early 20th century composer to have only written one piece worth listening to. Every other piece I've listened to (or played) has been really quite dismal. Perhaps a sign of his living conditions...

Symphony No. 11 - "The Year 1905"
This programatic symphony really captures the mood of a cold icy square, and political clashes that probably occurred in Russia at the time. Listen to it, enjoy it, understand.

IMO, this is his only piece that doesn't suffer from either boring tendencies (too strictly abiding by "standard" musical patterns).


  1. Wow, I never thought I would have so much in common with someone on music! Thomas Newman is my favorite composer too, although I would put it like this:
    1. Thomas Newman

    1. WALL-E - By far my favorite soundtrack ever. You should see the movie first though (And of course you've done that?)
    2. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
    3. Finding Nemo
    4. American Beauty
    5. The Green Mile

    2. John Powell

    1. How to Train your Dragon
    2. Horton Hears a Who (Hard to find, it's on Spotify if you have access to that)
    3. The Bourne Ultimatum
    4. The Bourne Identity
    5. The Bourne Supremacy

    3. Mark Mothersbaugh
    1. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

    4. Nicholas Hooper

    1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    ...And that's all I've heard from him. :P

    5. Hans Zimmer

    1. The Simpsons Movie
    2. Kung fu Panda (Very cliché, but I like it anyway)

    6. John Ottman

    1. Astro Boy

    7. Joby Talbot

    1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Horrible rendition of the books, but the soundtrack if nice)

    8. Patrick Doyle

    1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (I only actually like a couple songs from this, can't remember exactly which)

    9. George Fenton

    1. Planet Earth soundtrack

    10. James Newton Howard

    1. I am Legend

    11. Don Davis

    1. The Matrix Revolutions
    2. The Matrix Reloaded
    Both are a bit over-hardcore for me, but they're nice for a change.

    Uhh... And that should be enough. Anyway, nice to see that I'm not alone in my taste in music. :D

  2. dsavi:
    I've seen Wall-E and listened to the soundtrack (film first). Unfortunately, both of them didn't really do it for me by and large.