One of our most requested soundtracks makes its CD debut at last!
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Doug's Tech Talk
One of our most requested soundtracks makes its CD debut at last! Universal Pictures released Silent Running to sci-fi audiences in 1972. What viewers saw was a brilliant story of environmental concern before it was part of our vernacular, robotic drones long before they were popular and high-tech visuals by the very artist behind the ground-breaking look of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Douglas Trumbull directs, Bruce Dern stars, and Peter Schickele provides the stunning score. Using a full orchestra, Schickele creates a soundscape of beauty and intimacy unlike any other sci-fi score before - or since. Standing out is his use of very exposed “high-end” instruments: harp, flute, glockenspiel, crotales (tiny antique cymbals), left-hand piano, pizzicato violins, orchestra bells, triangle, high electric piano and other delicate colors. Haunting cello solos, chordal brass passages, trio passages for flutes all add to the very sensitive, intimate palette of sound. Deserving special spotlight: Three incredibly beautiful songs by Schickele, voiced by the incomparable Joan Baez. In fact, the theme song “Rejoice In The Sun” remains one of the most memorable and moving ballads in all of film history. In contrast, Schickele also creates moments of suspense and even probing dissonance for the film’s more dramatic moments. Yet it remains the quiet, introspective moments of the score that linger. Intrada presents the original 1972 Decca stereo album program intact, a very-well produced album that covered all of the highpoints of the economical score. Sadly, no master tapes have surfaced from any previous source, including the Decca vaults, Varese Sarabande (who reissued an LP back in their early days), the composer… not even the director himself. As such, Intrada mastered the CD from a virgin copy of the vinyl release, courtesy both UMG and Universal. While we addressed the noises inherent in the LP-to-digital process using state-of-the-art Sonic Solutions “NoNoise”, because of the plethora of afore-mentioned high-end colors, soft pings and gentle tinkles from the orchestra, we applied only the amount of noise reduction processing necessary to remove the most egregious noises without interfering with the incredible array of delicate overtones and other nuances heard way up “above-the-staff”. For listeners largely familiar with Peter Schickele’s musical genius only through P.D.Q. Bach, this soundtrack will be a welcome discovery! Kay Marshall designs the flipper-style booklet art, Jeff Bond writes the informative notes. Peter Schickele composes, conducts. Intrada Special Collection CD available while supplies and interest remain!
Peter Schickele created one of the most striking science-fiction scores of all time with his work for Silent Running. He also fashioned one of filmdom’s most haunting themes, vocalized by the great Joan Baez
Because Schickele's score is relatively brief, the original 1971 Decca album was able to feature almost all of his music, as well as three of Ms. Baez's vocals, all sequenced in stunning manner. In record-producing parlance, Decca had released what could be called “a perfect album.”
In what amounts to a crime against humanity, virtually every master element to that classic record has vanished. An exhaustive multi-year search included not only the resources of the Universal vaults where the film was produced but also the massive archives of the current license holder, UMG. Even a search for elements used to create the LP reissue made by Varèse Sarabande in their early days proved to be a dead end.
Material that did recently show up included a pair of 2” 16-track rolls and several ¼” full-track (mono) rolls of production tape buried deep in the Universal vaults. The ¼” elements ended up containing nothing but production narration and dialog. The 2” tapes initially seemed promising as they were, in fact, multi-track original scoring session tapes from the August 1971 recording sessions held at the famed A&M Recording Studios. Even the engineering paperwork logging every take and assigning instruments to each of the 16 channels survived. Upon eagerly auditioning both rolls, however, more disappointment settled in. While the orchestra was indeed present, with all slates intact, the music turned out to represent just the instrumental backups to the Joan Baez selections and not the scoring sessions themselves. Compounding the disappointment, not only were none of her vocal takes present but absent as well were numerous overdubbed elements from the vast array of acoustic and early electronic instruments used by Schickele in these particular cues. While the audio quality was, to say the least, extraordinary, the incomplete takes and missing vocals meant we couldn’t even satisfactorily reconstruct the affected cues for use as bonus material.
With the album continuing to receive numerous requests for release on CD, and given Intrada’s strong friendship with UMG, we ultimately agreed to prepare a CD using a new copy of the original vinyl release. While transferring discs and using noise reduction programs to reduce the surface noise and crackle inherent in the vinyl format are relatively commonplace today, the album for Silent Running did present a special problem we had to address. Schickele’s music involved a unique and masterful use of very exposed “high end” instruments such as extreme upperregister left-hand piano, high electric piano, orchestra bells, crotales (tiny tuned cymbals), triangle, marimba and glockenspiel, as well as solo cello, solo guitar, three solo flutes and a multitude of very quiet passages for strings. It is extremely transparent and, at times, almost like pure music. While Schickele scored with great ingenuity, he obviously did not take into consideration that one day his beautiful score would survive on noisy vinyl surfaces only and would need transferring to the unforgiving and ultra-quiet digital realm.
Reducing most of the unwanted noise was relatively simple, especially since we used the state-of-the-art No Noise system originally developed by Sonic Solutions. But the harder part involved eliminating noises surrounding extremely delicate sounds within the upper “tinkling” registers—especially when almost nothing is playing beyond glockenspiel and crotales and whatnot—without surrendering the all-important harmonics and overtones that those particular instruments produce. Liberally squashing those passages would adversely affect what Schickele wrote.
So ultimately we opted to reduce as much noise as was practical from each track without pushing too hard and altering the music itself. While the clicks and pops of the vinyl surfaces have largely been eliminated, we elected to leave in just enough “air” around the delicate passages in order to retain what in actuality is part of Schickele’s intimate musical soundscape. Please make allowances for this imperfect solution and enjoy not only the aforementioned nuances of Peter Schickele’s highly original score but also one of the loveliest theme songs one could ever hope to hear.