Favourite movie soundtracks – the sounds of the apocalypse

Today’s two soundtracks have a common theme around the apocalypse and time travel, but are very different in terms of instrumentation and influence.

The Terminator released in 1984, made Hollywood sit up and take notice of director James Cameron, and launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movie career (he already had two Conan movies out by then). Brad Fiedel’s soundtrack is one of the several elements that works in this movie. The pounding nature of the main theme, with that metallic highlight, is grim and relentless, just like the Terminator. The electronica also makes it eerie and bleak, in keeping with the apocalyptic theme. Of course, all this was born out of reality – this was a low budget production and Brad Fiedel was not a big name composer. He was a keyboardist (having played for Hall and Oates at one time) and therefore he composed a simple and serviceable electronic score (I believe it wasn’t even recorded in stereo originally), which was par for the course for so many action thrillers of the time. But somehow, he captured the very essence of the film. The soundtrack he composed for the sequel Terminator 2, was an evolution of this one, but with a bigger budget, he was able to add some depth and sophistication to it. I thought he did a decent job with another James Cameron-Schwarzenegger film, True Lies, but ultimately the soundtrack for The Terminator will remain the defining work of his film career.

The Twelve Monkeys soundtrack by Paul Buckmaster is built upon existing compositions and songs, so it’s not really an OST, I feel. Buckmaster is an English cellist, who also worked as an arranger and sessions musician for David Bowie and Miles Davis. So, scoring for films is not really his primary vocation and the only work that he is known for is the soundtrack for Twelve Monkeys (1995). I have always liked the main title theme with its unusual use of strings and what sounds like an accordion; it very much echoes what Bruce Willis’ character is going through as he tries to navigate this pre-apocalyptic world he keeps getting sent to. It was only while writing this piece that I discovered that the credit for the theme goes to Argentine composer Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla, as it is a derivation of his Suite Punta del Este. The piece sounds like it was specifically written for the film, but actually it’s a Tango Nuevo composition written back in 1982. I learnt that the accordion sound comes from an instrument called the bandoneon, popular in South America as part of a Tango ensemble. Piazzolla’s music continues to appear in documentaries and short films, well after his death in 1992. Buckmaster on the other hand, hasn’t composed any music for films since 1997.

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