Review: Coming Soon!: The John Beal Trailer Project
4.5 / 5 Stars
This album\'s content is partially responsible for the reason this site is even here today. Dan Goldwasser, a friend I met in college, was a ravenous trailer music fanatic, and I was an amateur librarian of film music. We both met and began to share some information, and one thing led to another, and we were discussing the use of music in movie trailers. We learned that besides using music from previous films within the 30 to 90 seconds reserved for a movie trailer, there were folks who\'s job it was to actually write 30-90 second pieces of music for these trailers. One of the best, and most widely known in the film industry, is represented on this amazing 2 CD release from Sonic Images Records, titled, fittingly enough, the John Beal Trailer Music Project.
Not withstanding that this album has been a long time coming for both composer and fan, it stands a testament to an amazing career in which musical fads and trends pass from "here one day and gone the next". John Beal rides those waves with effortless zeal and ability. Starting this career of writing for trailers over a decade ago, this collection, slightly heavy towards recent releases, spans the gauntlet thematically for the films in which it supports, but also musically diverse in the way those approaches are carried out.
In a conversation with John Beal, and I have to agree with his observation, that his best work has been with pieces of music that were not preceded by a dreaded temp track. For those not "in the know", the temp track is a piece of music that an editor (whether film or music) will lay down to a piece of film used for a trailer by incorporating pieces and snippets from previous film scores, pop songs, and the like, to accompany the rough cut. The composer, whether for the trailer or for the completed film, is usually shown this "preview" and asked by the director or producer (sometimes both) to have the score to sound like "this" or "that". This, according to many composers we\'ve interviewed, and from John himself, is the worst environment to work in. This environment of the temp track puts a boundary on what the composer is allowed to do musically and still be able to please the clients who gave them the project. This album is a prime example of the composers craft to stretch the limits of these "commercial boundaries" and extend the creative creation experience.
Many reviewers of this album have sought to try to understand much of the music in terms of what films it was to be used for, and compare it to the actual score for the film. This is inevitably unfair to both composers. As mentioned earlier, there are really two types of music contained on the albums, those with, and those without a temp track. Those with the temp track, inevitably sound like temped music, with pieces emulating the style of the original composer or acting as transitions from one pop song to the next. Many fans and reviewers see this as rote imitation, but I believe that in order to truly understand the style and inherent feel of a certain composer, such as a John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, and even a Danny Elfman, you must be able to separate the basic building blocks of composition into their atomic components. These building blocks are composed of various bits of creative orchestration, keys, chords, and, for some, even certain reuse of passages and rhythms.
What makes Danny Elfman Danny Elfman? Mainly, it\'s his use of non conventional orchestration and strange off beat keys and rhythms, which can be found here with an emulatory composition, "Three Blind Elfmen". Others are the simple use of orchestration, such as knowing that Mark Isham (also a renown jazz trumpeter) is usually writes "New Age" jazzy scores. It\'s reflected in a piece here, "Pseudo Cool World", which bares no direct resemblance to the actual score, but maintains a feel that would later show up in the film. However, this also shows the ability for trailer music composers, and in this case Mr. Beal\'s, ability to compose music that fits the mood of the picture without the annoyance of a director or producer\'s insistence to go somewhere musically.One of the most well known on this collection, and what also spurred me and many others to purchase this album is the exciting "Judge Dredd Trailer", and riving fifty-five second piece of music to a film that saw a rotating door of composers during it\'s production, thus not beholden to any particular wish of musical forebears (it was eventually scored by Alan Silvestri after Jerry Goldsmith bowed out for First Knight). Once again, originality and insistence on the composers part, allows a piece of music like that to rise above the fray, producing a piece that\'s able to stand on it\'s own. This lends that another need for trailer music is to simply re-orchestrate original pieces already written for a film (a rare occurrence given the typical Hollywood production schedule, but was available to John Williams in the case of Nixon, and David Newman and Hoffa). Yet another of the more famous pieces on this collection is just such a cue, the "Basic Instinct Theme", originally scored by Jerry Goldsmith. However, this re-orchestration has taken a life of it\'s own outside of the original trailer and film it was used for, and like "Judge Dredd", has shown up many times promoting other films in other trailers. This now makes the discussion of temp tracking versus original cues even more ridiculous.
The most fun I had listening to the album was Mr. Beal\'s take on Enya, the Gaelic goddess of New Age music, in a track titled "I\'ll Always Fall In Love With Love". I enjoyed it, I laughed at it the first time I listened to it because of how perfectly he got it, her style, her overdubbing, and might I say, even the sugary sweet lyrics (See Mr. Horner, this is how you do it without being called a plagiarist... you S-T-U-D-Y). Another enjoyable viewing on this album is the track titles, which have, in their own sense, revealed the films they were intended for without having to put all those annoying "©" symbols all over the place, as well as what some pieces were temp tracked with before Mr. Beal had a chance to really compose. The pleasantness of this album is somewhat offset by the switch from electronics (not exactly one of my favorite ways to generate music) to full orchestra, which to the uninitiated, can seem bizarre and annoying. Annoyance tempering is attainable through either the programming of all orchestral (or synth) pieces in your CD player, or just realizing that most pieces only last about a minute or so... patience is a virtue.
The albums are not perfect, not by any means, neither by it\'s wish to showcase a repertoire of work, or the diversity of the films for which the music was used. It was, as I\'m sure, a compromise between the composer and the record company as to which pieces should and shouldn\'t make it to a commercial release, and what would make it sell beyond the film music listening community. When cataloging the massive amounts of DAT source tapes, there was enough music to fill several CDs, but in the end it was boiled down to two CDs. Every composer, maybe with the exception of Jerry Goldsmith and some others, would like to see all their music released commercially. But for the consumer, it usually leads to trying to find out why "such and such wasn\'t released when this or that was" and who they can blame for it. I, as a consumer, am glad that this album was undertaken, but wished it was given a bit more production time and the chance to have proper liner notes and details about the whole background of this type of music.
The average music buyer will still wonder why these CDs are packed with thirty (plus) of one to one-and-a-half minute songs, and why is it sitting next to the hip hop album on the new release rack in the front of the store. I think this boils down to the same reason people love Macintosh computers but have to go to a store within a store to buy one. A limited audience breeds a need for the companies nice enough to tailor to the minority to release something that can be pushed to the populous and keeps money coming in for their next act of charity. However, I believe that this is a good start following recent output of 15 and 30 minute score CDs from other companies. The music is good, listen to it, love it, and be inspired to pay a bit more attention when you hear it on your TV or in a theater, but make sure you understand why you like it, or you\'ll become the same person mentioned in the top of this paragraph.
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