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by James Horner


If only Horner still knew how to write like this...
Fresh off the success of Star Trek II, Horner was hired by director Douglas Trumbull to score the big-budget sci-fi/horror movie Brainstorm.  Obviously, this was before he hit his "maturation" point (that time when the scores started to sound bland and boring i.e. Willow, Braveheart, etc.), so the score is a masterpiece.  Horner combines the suspenseful action of Star Trek II with cascading dissonance and a vibrant classical-era love theme.  I'm not sure how many horror elements the actual movie had, but it sounds as if it had a lot.  These sections are the most compositionally impressive - shrieking strings, yelling choir, and atonal brass runs.  Surprisingly, there aren't that many actual rip-offs in this score, just a faint reprise of one of the ST2 action motives.  However, you can find many elements that he reused for his later scores like Aliens and Apollo 13.  The CD itself was one of the earliest to appear, recorded in 1983 by a fledgling Varese Sarabande.  The album is a concert suite of the best parts of the score and, while it only runs 30 minutes, it ends up being one of the most satisfying listening experiences of Horner's career.  Performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Ambrosian Singers, and the Boys Choir of New College, Oxford is above reproach - they sound much better than in the later Krull.  This kind of movie was the most dramatic Horner did in his early career, and it would be great if he could adapt this glorious style to his more mundane scores of the '90s.  Overall, Brainstorm ends up as one of the best Horner scores of all time and a worthy addition to anyone's collection.  Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure it's now out of print, although copies sometimes show up at CDNOW or at Varese's website.  In any case, if you have a chance, grab it.


Track by Track Analysis:

1. Main Title (2:14)
Horner begins his opus with an absolutely captivating arching choral section that was used as an inspiration for Silvestri's The Abyss.  The orchestra continues to build in a trademark Horner string progression, but it soon becomes a huge dissonant section with shrieking woodwind runs.  This subsides, and the final section is a return to the high choral theme with sudden outbursts of atonality in the bass.

2. Lillian's Heart Attack (3:18)
What's it like to have a heart attack?  The composer answers that through music that perfectly conveys the pain and hopelessness of the experience.  It begins with a crashing bass-heavy section, but soon introduces a hopeless meandering cello motif.  This desperate situation continues through a few more iterations, and later brings in Bravmorda's theme from Willow (actually Wotan's motif from Wagner's Ring cycle).  The strings continue to grow more frenzied, and a crashing brass chorale joins it.  A minimalist repeating of that motif rounds out the track, along with more of the choral theme.

3. Gaining Access to the Tapes (2:48)
A trademark Horner spy/action cue forms the next track, with a subdued, mystical rendition of one of the action themes from Aliens over the Genesis Countdown ostinato from Trek 2.  This was the composer's first dive into this form of cue, and he pulls it off marvelously, forming yet another highlight of the score.

4. Michael's Gift to Karen (6:53)
This lengthy movement of the suite is divided into about 3 different sections, forming my favorite track.  The first is another suspense-building part which is built upon lots of material later used in Apollo 13.  A constantly-repeating single-note bass ostinato is the foundation, with Horner's favorite chord progressions over it in the strings and harp.  Eventually the choir joins it in another complex multi-part vocal section.  A bridge between the sections comes in the form of a transparent sequence for harp, bells, celeste, and piano.  My favorite section comes next - the ostinato and progression eventually joins it, and it soon builds into a full rendition of the love theme, one of James Horner's crowning achievements that simply has to be heard to be believed.  Another bridge of harp and celeste performing a variation on the preceding section again cascades into more of the love theme, now played on solo piano with typical Baroque-era embellishments.  The composer then adds a string quartet on top of it while the piano continues with swirling variations.

5. First Playback (3:20)
Horror scoring returns to the forefront with a harrowing section for woodwinds and strings.  The composer intercuts these atonal moments with more of the suspense ostinato and one of the themes from "Gaining Access," complete with a pipe organ.  One of the absolute highlights comes completely unexpectedly in the middle of the track with a literally screaming chorus and unyielding low brass.  The orchestra then goes berserk once again, adding a seemingly impossible trumpet part.

6. Race for Time (4:52)
The penultimate action cue of the score comes next, with a return of the ST2 ostinato and Aliens material.  Of course, Horner inserts more of the oppressive dissonance with yelling choir, etc.  Actually, this material rivals Goldsmith's music for Alien in sheer ferocity.  The ostinato comes back to finish out the track with more of the Aliens theme, but now fortissimo with snare drum and towering brass chorales.  The chorus theme ends out the track.

7. Final Playback/End Titles (6:50)
More cascading dissonance opens the climactic track of Brainstorm.  After a brief respite, the brass comes back in full force, playing grating half-step intervals.  Our final brush with atonality comes in the form of a reprise of some of the material from "Race for Time," finally climaxing in a huge cymbal crash.  An angelic chorus enters as the protagonist gets a glimpse into Heaven, and the strings peacefully bring him back down.  The end credits feature a resolution of both the arching vocal theme and the love theme.  A bridge of the Apollo 13 material leads into the latter, which houses one of the most ingenious paradoxes I've ever heard.  While the piano continues the love theme, Horner inserts dissonant outbursts of choir and brass.  After another ominous bridge, the love theme continues in its final rendition, finally letting the choir take over and fade into eternity.

Like I said, this has quickly become one of my favorite Horner scores, up there with Krull and Star Trek II.  If you EVER get the chance to buy this, grab it quickly.



 
Brainstorm: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 5/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 9/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10


Brainstorm is Copyright 1983 by Varese Sarabande.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.