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You know, I recently discovered yet another weird thing about myself: I love atonal music!  I don't know why, but there's something about dissonant trumpet runs, shrieking strings, yelling chorus, and impressionistic woodwinds that's really exciting.  What's even more exciting is employing all these devices in a sci-fi score.  Maybe that's why I love this album so much.  It's full of all these facets of atonality and more - there are also stretches of bare-bones minimalism, as well as a short (VERY short, thankfully) entrance of some of the techno mess that pervaded the song compilation.  Here's something sad - if I were an average film score collector (instead of the gratuitously obssessed die-hard that I am now) this probably would have been the first time I'd ever heard of Don Davis.  This man, one of the most talented composers in the industry, regularly gets stuck scoring horrible cinematic bombs such as The Warriors of Virtue, but somehow keeps them afloat with epic orchestral scores.  The Matrix takes an abrupt left turn from that perspective, using stark atonality to personify the twisted plot of this special-effects-loaded flick.  It's an extremely complex view that only a seriously talented composer could come up with.  In fact, this is probably the most complex score I've heard all year, and it's sitting up there with the 13th Warrior as my favorite of 1999.  Another aspect that is so creative is that Davis manages to write a fullly atonal sci-fi score with barely a trace of electronics, aside from a shimmering instrument used in Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the aforementioned techno junk.  As far as influences, I think this most resembles Rosenman's Lord of the Rings score, but more hard-edged and malicious, with a dash of Star Trek (V'ger's minimalistic theme) thrown in.  Unfortunately, Varese Sarabande only had enough cash to buy 30 minutes worth of music for inclusion on the score album, but that's better than none at all, which is what we would have gotten without them.  The full score runs over 90 minutes, and includes much more minimalism and several other 20th century styles that aren't heard on here.  For those interested in more of the music, the new DVD release of the movie has the complete isolated score, complete with technical commentary from Don Davis in between each cue.  Thematic material is basically null, although there is a "Matrix" motif that holds it together, consisting of dissonant fading brass.  In short, fans of atonality should run out an buy this now, but others should probably preview it first.

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Main Title/Trinity Infinity (3:53)
Davis' score opens with futuristic rumblings under a quick statement of the main "Matrix" motif, which consists of fortissimo minor chords echoing between French horns and trumpets.  This may not sound like much, but the composer places them directly next to each other on the 12-tone scale, making them sound quite dissonant.  A short interjection of the ST:TMP electronic apparatus breaks into "Trinity Infinity," which takes ferocious string runs and places them under the main theme.  Later, more shades of dissonance enter with chromatic strings and horns, over an impressionistic bass piano motif.  This alternates with quieter, low bass chords.  This vivacious chase cue ends with a final statement of the main theme.

2. Unable to Speak (1:13)
Another highlight of the score (or its low point, depending on how you look at it), this extremely atonal piece bases all its orchestral chaos on a series of rapid triplets, building until the entire ensemble has reached a fever pitch of atonality.  To the untrained ear, this may sound like disturbing orchestral noise, but if you listen carefully, there's definitely a method to the madness.

3. The Power Plant (2:40)
Yet another fantastic composition!  There hasn't been a bad moment in this score yet (and there never will be).  Davis continues his atonal style heard in all the other cues, but now with an added screaming chorus.  Most of the cue is based on a Rosenman-like technique that involves piling up chromatic tones into a smorgasbord of dissonance.  The central section actually contains some melody, with huge minor chords and chanting chorus.  The only other time they appear in the cue is as a yelling, Ligeti-like blob. (Think 2001.)  Also present here are more of the frantic dissonant brass triplets from track 2, and Davis magnificently interpolates the Matrix motif into a 6/8 trumpet fanfare.  Finally, the cue ends with more of the fading brass.

4. Welcome to the Real World (2:25)
We finally get a respite from the onslaught of merciless atonality for a while in this minimalistic cue.  It begins with softer, far-off string dissonance, and segues into a section for solo violin and boy soprano.  The soprano continually alternates between two full tones, while the violin performs the V'ger arpeggios from ST:TMP, with an interesting twist.  To keep it from being entirely minimalistic, Davis has it start out in 6/8, play for a few measures, then play it twice as fast in regular 4/4.  Hints of the ST:TMP synth instrument end the track.

5. The Hotel Ambush (5:22)
This begins the last section of the album, a series of 6 atonal action tracks, giving a powerful lesson in orchestral abuse.  Although opening with an annoying synth techno beat, Davis soon buries it with dissonant brass chords and a viola ostinato.  More of the Rosenman-esque piling of notes forms the second section, and the third is another atonal chase cue with ferocious string ostinati and dissonant brass.  Intercut in this section is more cacophonous electronics, taking the ST:TMP fluttering instrument to extremes.  The final minute has more tone-piling, trumpet triplets, and a string effect that sounds like a hissing cat.  Finally, the brass enters with an offshoot of the Matrix motif, played with fast triplets.

6. Exit Mr. Hat (1:20)
This is another action cue, again taking atonality to the extremes, moreso than most other cues present.  The tone-piling technique is improved upon, and he uses a intriguing technique of utilizing simultaneous horn glissandi, each a semitone apart.

7. A Virus (1:32)
I think you notice the action trend emerging here.  This one opens with combination chromatic strings and fluttering electronics, and has reprises of some of the chase ostinati present in other tracks.

8. Bullet-time (1:09)
Yet another furious action piece.  Most of the ostinati and atonal techniques have been heard before, although there's a welcome section made up entirely of the Matrix theme.

9. Ontological Shock (3:31)
This action cue seems somewhat more tonal than the others, although it still has the piling semitones, cacophonous brass triplets, and that fantastic Matrix motif.  What's so great about this one is that it bases the entire thing on the Matrix theme, and although all the permutations aren't that easy to spot, it still shows compositional geniuss on Davis' part.

10. Anything is Possible (6:48)
The climactic track of the album is definitely one of the best, using the Matrix theme in ingenius ways.  I'm not going to go through and chart out every note and technique used in this cue, but some of the highlights are the usual lightning-fast atonality and a new, victorious theme that opens up in the last five minutes.  The chorus returns, too, adding epic splendor to the proceedings.  Also, Davis gives a fitting climax to his atonality with a sequence that rivals "Unable to Speak" in its sheer pagan ferocity.  Finally, the last few statements of the main theme are some of the most noteworthy thematic occurences I've ever heard, and its sudden atonality joined with the heroic theme is truly inspiring.

Overall, The Matrix is definitely at or near the top of my list for best scores of 1999, and fans of the movie or cacophony in general will definitely get a kick out of it.  For others, it may take a while to grow on, but there's no denying its sheer compositional genius.



 
The Matrix: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes N/A
Sound Quality 10/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Length 5/10


The Matrix is Copyright 1999 by Varese Sarabande.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.