Good Stuff Saturday – All Music, No Libertarianism (very few words, really)

by John Holbo on July 7, 2012

Because not every post should be about libertarianism!

But good music is always good (especially if it’s cheap). Let’s talk about music with no words in it. The best film soundtrack of 2011 was obviously Cliff Martinez’ score for Drive (which was a pretty damn good film, I hope you agree.) Get it now for only $2.99. Such a bargain! It’s got a great Kraftwerky, Tangerine Dream, wind-chimey LA ambient sound. (The film got nominated for an Oscar for sound-editing, probably because of that skull-crushing scene. Very impressive. But telling people just that gives exactly the wrong idea about the film. “Skull Crushing”, the Martinez track, is not exactly soothing, no, but Vangelis-y, in a good way. Not at all like a recording of an old Gallagher melon-hammering act or anything like that.)

You can download a lot of Martinez film score material free from the composer’s site. The Solaris stuff is great but not free. I like the Kafka stuff. It’s like, I dunno, the Klezmatics meet Kraftwerk: Klezwerk? But that’s not quite right.

Martinez is an interesting guy. A drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, before that, on Captain Beefheart’s last album, Ice Cream For Crow [amazon]. You know what’s a great instrumental track on that album? That’s right! “Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian”. But the slide guitar, from Gary Lucas, is more impressive than Martinez’ drums. And – small world! – Gary Lucas has done some interesting soundtrack work as well.

For my film class I’m thinking about showing at least part of The Golem (1920). Gary Lucas has an absolutely crazy solo guitar soundtrack to go with: more ambient, electronic-y, guitar-y stuff. Sounds a bit like Adrian Belew singing those old ‘I’m down a very long aluminum tube with nothing but a violin and a bee blues’, or something. You can listen to and watch 5-minutes worth here. It’s included on Skeleton at the Feast.

Adding a soundtrack to an old silent movie is an interesting aesthetic issue. It doesn’t offend our purist sensibilities the way colorizing does, for example. Sound is integral to vision, but separable. I’m thinking of playing parts of the film to students with Lucas’soundtrack material (if I can match the titles of the tracks to film bits). Then other parts without. Then maybe we’ll talk about Schopenhauer.

UPDATE: Just to complete the “Golem” thought – something there is in the soul that loves to provide old, silent sf and monster movies with distinctly modern soundtracks. Moroder’s rock-disco Metropolis is the locus classicus of the genre. Another good example is Philip Glass’s Dracula [amazon], performed by the Kronos Quartet. I think it’s great music, but I’ve never tried to listen to the soundtrack while watching the film. Maybe I should. (Obviously it’s not just sf and monster silent stuff that gets fresh soundtracks, I know.)



David Kaib 07.07.12 at 11:47 am

Not everything has to be about libertarianism but what about a reference to using the bathroom?


John Holbo 07.07.12 at 1:00 pm

Hmmm, “Music To Go To The Bathroom By”? That sounds like a title of one of those vintage early 60’s LP’s one can sometimes still find in bargain bins. Probably soothing organ music.


P O'Neill 07.07.12 at 1:38 pm

Why not keep the libertarian-obsessed busy with a classic Rush recommendation?


Jim Henley 07.07.12 at 2:11 pm

Nosferatu got the updated soundtrack treatment too – at least the version available through Netflix. I liked it quite a bit.


chris y 07.07.12 at 2:26 pm

Probably soothing organ music.

More of a tinkling piano, I’d have thought.


JP Stormcrow 07.07.12 at 3:02 pm

The tinkling of the keys, and the thunder of the pipes.


Rob 07.07.12 at 3:47 pm

I’ve got a version of Nosferatu with songs by Type O Negative, except it doesn’t sound like anybody thought about which songs would best accompany which scenes. They just dumped an album worth of songs on the movie, as if it was Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz or something.


Matt Merlino 07.07.12 at 3:48 pm

The Alloy Orchestra have been doing contemporary instrumental soundtracks to silent film screenings for years, and they’re mostly excellent. ( Their soundtrack for *A Man with a Movie Camera* is outstanding.

I had a chance to see/hear Lucas perform his soundtrack over a screening of The Golem at a YMJA in Philadelphia awhile back. It was mind-blowing. Especially his use of “Ride of the Valkyries” when the Teutonic Knights attack the Jews.


Data Tutashkhia 07.07.12 at 5:08 pm

Eh, alright. Not exactly on topic, but still Caucasian was mentioned, what about some old country nostalgia?


hilzoy 07.07.12 at 10:36 pm


Special freedom-mentioning chorus, for libertarians. All this without mentioning any of the relevant bodily functions.


grackle 07.08.12 at 12:26 am

Glass’s score for Cocteau’s La belle et la bête(also Kronos) is very nice, it stands on its own but I could see the film in my mind even on first hearing.


Martin Bento 07.08.12 at 1:21 am

I think I’m still a fan (haven’t listened in a while) of the soundtracks the Club Foot Orchestra did in the 80’s. AFAIK, they kicked off the trend of rescoring old silent films. Here is some of their score of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

and Metropolis:

and Nosferatu:

The first two I’ve seen with the film, and they are composed to match it very closely.


novakant 07.08.12 at 1:56 am

I liked the “Drive” score but “Hanna” by the Chemical Brothers was in a different league.


Delicious Pundit 07.08.12 at 1:56 am

Maybe a DIY soundtrack to a silent film doesn’t bug us as much as colorization because silent film soundtracks were always DIY, especially out in the sticks. (For example, I think Ben Webster (who did a record for Verve called “King of the Tenors” which I like to put on and annoy my kids by always saying, “Truly this man was King of the Tenors”) got his start playing piano to silent films.) So it’s not an offense against what was intended.


Bill Jones 07.08.12 at 2:55 am

It’s a pleasantly circular notion : that The Golem begat Zionism begat Golem, but it’s hell on earth for the Palestinian People.


J. Otto Pohl 07.08.12 at 5:40 am

Allright, something other than libertarianism. But, I am still waiting for a token post on Pan-Africanism. Or really anything on Africa other than the stereotypical leftist stories about how Africa is so pitiful and nothing good ever happens there because of the colonial legacy. Maybe a story on how countries like Ghana are rebuilding their univeristy systems to compete with the US and Europe? Maybe you can do it in August when I get back to Ghana from Kyrgyzstan?

Is not Bill Jones’s post in blatant defiance of the CT policy of no criticism of Zionism are allowed what so ever in any comments ever? Have you just not gotten around to deleting it? We would not want people to think CT supported human rights for Palestinians. That would be an obviously anti-semitic and reactionary policy.


John Holbo 07.08.12 at 6:53 am

“Is not Bill Jones’s post in blatant defiance of the CT policy of no criticism of Zionism are allowed what so ever in any comments ever?”

I thought the rule was just: any discussion of Israel causes comments to go to hell. Which is not so much a policy as a sociological law.

Speaking of which: how about if we just talk about music?


Keir 07.08.12 at 12:55 pm

Surely it doesn’t offend because (a) silent films were always set to music, and so it doesn’t seem wrong to set them to music, (b) we don’t know the music very well, and so aren’t emotionally vested in it to the same extent (c) there’s a long history in the West of treating music as a changeable thing that you can mix and match with words/images in a way that’s unimaginable with colour.


Zb 07.08.12 at 5:25 pm

Discovering that I was not obligated to listen to tinkly piano music made a huge difference in my appreciation of silent film. PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me makes a great soundtrack for Les Vampires..


Dairy Queen 07.08.12 at 5:50 pm

Ahhhh movie sound tracks – – –

The score for The Big Country – fabulous, by Jerome Moross. And a movie about water rights! How can this not appeal!

Of course, must mention Nino Rota, yes yes yes. BUT highly recommend tracking down the Hal Wilner album, Amarcord Nino Rota. Fabulous-o. Bloody bits from Fellini movies, yum. Currently looks like it is only available on cd at extortionate prices, perhaps file for future reference when it is released again?

Eleni Karaindrou, Greek composer worked mainly for Theo Angelopoulos. Even if you cannot sit through the movies (admit freely), the soundtracks are gorgeous.

Love Me or Leave Me – Doris Day channels Ruth Etting.

Oh Lucky Man, Lindsey Anderson movie that is def worth seeing in its own right!, music by Alan Price.

Bullitt, but perhaps that is my San Franciscanism showing? ;)

Le French Can Can, don’t know if you can get the soundtrack separate but great songs plus 1 – entire plot of movie *revealed* in first waltz, 2 – the best “the show must go on” speech EVER delivered by Jean Gabin (be still my heart . . . ), and 3 – the universe’s best showstopping dance finale. Your pulse will race!!!

Tangentially: recently snagged an album of Eric Parkin playing piano pieces by Miklos Rozsa, who wrote for movies after emigrating to Hollywood, although these pieces were not for the movies. The Sonata is quite nice, and the album cover has a beautiful linocut by one Sally Long.


Platonist 07.08.12 at 11:32 pm

The soundtrack to Drive is ridiculously good.

Black Francis of the Pixies has done a soundtrack for The Golem, though I haven’t heard it. Yo La Tengo’s soundtracks for Jean Painleve’s (a surrealist Jacques Cousteau) short films are quite good. British Sea Power have also done a nice job with Man from Aran.


Kukai 07.09.12 at 1:30 am

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack to Alexei and the Spring.


John Holbo 07.09.12 at 1:52 am

Interesting. I wonder whether this soundtrack stuff tends to be known mostly to fans of the particular musician, so that Black Francis fans know that he has a Golem soundtrack, and Gary Lucas fans know he has one. The category ‘new soundtrack to old movie’ isn’t like a clearinghouse category where you go to the bin marked ‘Golem’ to see what’s there. Maybe Rifftrax ought to get in the business of not just selling jokey riffs, to go with a film, but guitar riffs as well.


John Holbo 07.09.12 at 2:05 am

Also, how could I have forgotten to mention the greatest new soundtrack ever set to an old film:

If you haven’t see and heard St. Sanders’ stuff, you really should browse the archives. The Queen video is great. But somehow best of all is Joe Satriani’s drummer, who only plays when the camera is on him:


Emily 07.09.12 at 3:57 am

A bit old, but the score of Bela Tarr’s The Werckmeister Harmonies by Mihaly Vig is really quite beautiful:

Mihály Vig – Old

The opening scene of the film is also well worth watching (although somewhat more moving in a darkened theatre) – a few blokes at their local are choreographed by the main character into moving together as the sun, the earth and the moon leading to a solar eclipse – the music starts around the five minute mark

Werckmeister Harmonies (Opening Scenes)


Matt McIrvin 07.09.12 at 4:04 am

That said, the actual premiere-night orchestral score for Metropolis was itself awesome, and I’m grateful to Kino for reuniting it with the movie.


Crude Updates 07.09.12 at 6:21 am

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Thanks for sharing Appreciate your efforts. All the Best.


Data Tutashkhia 07.09.12 at 8:09 am

Yes, Oh Lucky Man is a great film, one of the best. Why is it that no one in the west knows it? Not a single British I know, not to mention Americans.


JP Stormcrow 07.09.12 at 5:19 pm

Why is it that no one in the west knows it?

It is a film that seems to have slipped through the cracks somewhat. It was relatively late to come out in DVD (2007 it seems, I thought it was even later). And on-topic for much of the discussion here of late. From Price’s soundtrack:

Poor people are poor people –
And they don’t understand
A man’s got to make whatever he wants-
And take it with his own hands.


John Holbo 07.10.12 at 1:24 am

I saw “O Lucky Man” on TV – HBO, some cable channel, somewhere – when I was too young for it and it traumatized me. Possibly I am still too young for it. I haven’t watched it again.


JP Stormcrow 07.10.12 at 2:26 am

If knowledge hangs around your neck like
pearls instead of chains – You are a lucky man!


J. Otto Pohl 07.10.12 at 5:25 am

For once I agree with Data. O Lucky Man is a great film.


Sancho 07.12.12 at 1:33 am

I can’t tell if this is relevant to libertarianism or not, so maybe within the thread conditions:

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