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THE SNOWFILES

THE FILM MUSIC OF MARK SNOW

You know, Mark Snow isn't very well represented on CD.  In the TV series and movies he scores, the music works wonders to enhance the visuals on screen, but album releases typically sound boring, ambient, and somewhat one-dimensional.  However, this release rectifies the situation by providing samples from a wide spectrum of Snow's composition, the centerpiece being a 30-minute concert suite from his most renown work, The X-Files.  Throughout my first listen to this album, my opinion of it wavered from despising the first few tracks, to absolutely loving the middle section, and finally feeling indifferent to the last "Bonus Tracks."  At its very best, this is an impressive, diverse collection of an extremely talented composer's work, and at its worst, it's a collection of disturbing noise.  Some of the synth instruments sound very realistic, and sometimes I can't tell between them and the acoustic ones.  Finally, Sonic Images has given us attractive, colorful packaging, and a lavish, informative, 12-page liner booklet.  2 of the tracks were arranged by John Beal, Sonic Images' resident synthesizer expert and trailer composer.  While I can't stand the La Femme Nikita "Club Version," Beal gives us the ultimate presentation of X-Files music.


Track by Track Analysis:
1. La Femme Nikita - Main Theme (Club Version) (4:30)
Club Version?  What's that supposed to mean?  Anyway, this is a nearly unlistenable track, consisting of a mindless synth rock-rap beat coupled with 2 female vocals (one wailing incoherently and the other uttering the TV show's title) and various "big city" sound effects, such as police sirens, gunshots, etc.  A secondary accompaniment is carried on roaring electric guitars, which I absolutely loathe. Still, there's no real theme, just the vocal muttering incoherently.  I really wish they'd gotten something else to open the album, since by the time this was over, I was ready to take the CD out and never listen to it again.  However, your musical taste may be different from mine, and you may end up loving this track.

Darkness and Desire:
2. Conundrum - Love Theme (3:17)
Following that horrid opening track is an equally bad "love theme" (although I have no idea how it got that distinction.  Apparently it was the most tranquil moment in the score.)  The wailing vocal returns, this time somewhat more melodious and more coherent.  Instead of the heavy rock synths used previously, this has more of a soft rock sound, which I still can't stand.  Although somewhat more thematic, the theme never really breaks loose.  Again, you may end up loving this sound, but I find this totally unlistenable.

3. Seduced and Betrayed - The Dark Waltz (2:30)
Finally we move out of horrible rock territory into this elegant and yearning waltz.  The influence of Jerry Goldsmith's Basic Instinct main title sequence is quite evident in the opening smooth woodwind passage, except it's in 3/4 waltz time.  However, Snow builds upon what Goldsmith has done previously instead of just emulating it, taking the melody one step further after the opening.  The Goldsmithian melody is stated twice, then segues into a dark, passionate true waltz based on the material, going through several major and minor key variations.  There's two great solo performances of the theme, one by a low flute and one by an oboe.  In the second section the melody is accompanied by a synthesized piano, which doesn't detract as much as you expect, and the piece ends on a major cadence.  After the two horrid opening tracks, this is a welcome refreshment and redeems nearly the entire album.

4. A Woman Scorned - The Betty Broderick Story: The Murder (4:03)
Continuing with the darkly intriguing theme of the first sectionon the album, this is another extremely creative track.  For the main murder sequence of the movie, Snow fights the urge to launch into a fast action cue, instead focusing in on the motives of the killer.  This composition gives the killer a slight tragic edge.  There's a great theme, first stated on some kind of guitar (not electric) which is kind of like a dissonant pastoral melody.  It's later stated in various permutations, sometimes accompanied by fitting electronic strings that Snow uses in The X-Files.  The track is almost like a dark, Gothic dance, giving all kinds of awesome minor key string chords.

5. Caroline At Midnight - Main Title (3:18)
This could have come from the same movie as the previous track, as it continues the motif of synth strings over a plucked ostinato.  However, to make it more interesting, Snow uses a few synthesized "orchestral hit" runs.  About one minute in a new melody enters, orchestrated for solo jazz trumpet.  I'm not extremely fond of it, but it's not very irritating.

Love and Hope:
6. The Substitute Wife - Main Title (2:48)
This is one of the best tracks on the CD, and one of the most deeply moving compositions in Snow's body of work.  Evidently the movie was set in the west or something, since a harmonica becomes the central instrument about halfway through.  First, though, are two statements of an achingly yearning pastoral melody, almost like a hymn.  I can't tell if the string accompaniment is synth or not, but if it is, it's quite realistic.  The first solo is on a flute, and the second on a clarinet.  After these two solos, the strings continue the chord progressions, finally coming to a solo harmonica.  It begins as if about to do the solo a third time, but goes off on something completely different.

7. Oldest Living Confederate Widow - Having A Baby/All About Ned (3:13)
We continue in the frontier pastoral vein with this, which starts with another hymn-like chorale for violins, followed by a solo flute melody.  The second cue does yet another theme, this time for piano.  In the last minute, the full string orchestra carries the theme.

8. Smoke Jumpers - The Rescue (4:46)
This could be described as Mark Snow's answer to Horner's Apollo 13.  It's another one of the best tracks, based on a single major chord progression in the strings and woodwinds under a trumpet solo.  Later the flutes/oboes get it, and a bass ostinato enters.  Like Apollo 13's launch sequence, the ostinato leads into an orchestral chorale.  After it's stated a few times, an intimate solo piano melody enters and carries the rest of the track.  Again, this just goes to show how diverse a composer Mark Snow is.

9. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Arctic Night Walk (3:16)
This, along with the X-Files, are the only 2 things I've actually seen.  I've heard great things about the full album for this, and the track represented here makes me want to order it.  This track gives us all kinds of giant string chords, painting a tone poem of the Arctic.

The Music is Out There
10. Disturbing Behavior - Main Title (3:25)
Now we move into the material that Mark Snow is most known for.  The Disturbing Behavior main title sounds somewhat like some of his X-Files work, using droning electronics, echoing synth "orchestral hits", his trademark synth strings, and something that sounds like an electronic version of Elliot Goldenthal's trademark pitch bends.  The strings provide most of the relief in the form of a theme, and they're joined by a tinkling bell ostinato for a few minutes.

11. Suite from The X-Files (31:28)
First of all, let me say how ingenious it was to begin this with a musical "teaser," much like a real episode.  The suite opens with a metallic synth sound, segueing into an awesome, lone piano solo melody accompanied by all kinds of synth sounds as well as strings.  Next comes various disturbing noises, climaxing in the presentation of The X-Files theme.  This arrangement is impeccably produced, extending it for a few minutes.  My only qualm is that the trademark synth whistling is mixed much lower than the accompaniment.  The variations used in the extended version are quite excellent, like added piano flourishes, as well as new trademark Mark Snow chord progressions.  Unfortunately, the suite isn't separated into different tracks, so to get to most of the good parts, you'll have to search through an equal collection of disturbing synth noise.   Thus, instead of going to the trouble to get to the good parts, I usually end up not listening to the track at all, except for the first few minutes.  Still, it's great to listen to when you've got something else to do, like go on the Internet and you're not paying close attention to the music.  However, when the noises subside, it's very good.  One of the main things to listen for while playing this is all the ingenious ways Snow interpolates various snatches of the X-Files theme into the action.  Some of the highlights are a few chase sequences, a pastoral flute melody accompanied by synth effects, a plucked version of the opening piano theme much like the stuff in "Darkness and Desire" above, a pounding dissonant piano section, an Alien-esque section for pizzicato strings, a melody for ethnic flute, a chillingly dissonant section droning synth male chorus, a string chorale during the last few minutes, and finally the intensely moving piano/synth chorus theme near the very end.  He ends it fittingly with a major key version of the X-Files theme.  Wow, that was one long sentence.  One of the more grating sections is a macabre circus waltz, played on a synth circus organ.  Luckily, that doesn't last very long.  Overall, John Beal and Mark Snow should be lauded for giving us the most coherent presentation of X-Files music ever produced.  Mulder and Scully would be proud!

Bonus Tracks:
12. Dark Justice - Main Theme (1:54)
I don't know how "bonus" this was meant to be, but we now return to that scorned rock-synth stuff found in the first 2 tracks.  Why, why, why?  Anyway, this is another one of those I can't stand, using urban rock beats with electric guitar and gothic choir.  These last tracks, as well as the first 2 are the reason the album only gets a 7 instead of a 9.

13. Max Headroom - The Lost Theme (1:00)
More of the same urban rock/synth.

14. Pee-Wee's Playhouse - Bye, Bye! (:33)
Couldn't they have just ended the album with dignity after that X-Files suite?  Now we get an off-the wall kiddie song by a synthesized vocal.  By this time, I'm long gone.  As soon as I hear the X-Files theme for the last time, it's time to sprint to the CD player before these pointless conglomerations come on.

Mark Snow has deservedly been nominated for about 9 high-profile awards, and this compilation shows us just how talented and diverse a composer he is.  Like I said earlier, I'd be giving this a 9 music rating if it weren't for those 5 tracks I mentioned.  However, the other stuff more than makes up for it, so here's a 7:



 
The Snow Files: The Final Score
Music Rating 7/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Orchestral Performance N/A (it's mostly synthesized)
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 6/10

Sound Clips:
Available at  Sonic Images Records .



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The Snow Files is Copyright 1999 by Sonic Images Records.  Its appearance on this site is for nonprofit, informational use.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  Opinions stated here are not those of Tripod.
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