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Wendy Carlos

Tron: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Disney

The year is 1982. Yours truly is 11 years old. And though I don't know it then, the kind of music I will one day call my favorite is nearing a peak -- The Human League have already released Dare, ABC's The Lexicon of Love is out, The Thompson Twins' Into The Gap is a couple of years away. But I don't care about any of that then.

So I go to see the movie Tron, a new Disney film with groundbreaking visual effects -- the first feature film almost completely animated with computers. The film dazzles me and I see it many times in the theater (ah, the days before video and DVD) and become fairly proficient at the tie-in video game. I also buy (or rather, persuade my mother to buy) not just one but two albums relating to the film: The "storybook" record, with narration, dialogue, and sound effects retelling the film, and the original motion picture soundtrack by Wendy Carlos.

Over the next two decades, my Tron albums get scratched and eventually lost. But I never forget their sound and, once I gets a CD player, I often wonder idly why the soundtrack has never been reissued. Once I gets online, I discover I'm not the only adult to have a warm spot in my heart for the score and ask that question -- it recurs on movie music newsgroups and Carlos has a whole page devoted to answering it on her Web site.

But then, computers having all but taken over the special effects industry and with the rise of Pixar, Disney decides the time is ripe for a Tron 20th Anniversary DVD Edition. And to go along with it, they release the score on CD. With bonus tracks, yet, though not the same pieces included on the DVD (clever, clever Disney). And with, unfortunately, the two Journey songs included to try to pick up some of that "Up Where We Belong" chart action (it didn't work; these are inarguably the most dated tracks on the CD -- thank God for the skip function)

People like me who have been waiting for this record as though we were on hold with tech support don't need to be told what a gift it's release is. But for you electronica/trance fans: This score's influence on the kind of music you love is almost as great as that the film had on the movie industry -- which turned out to be a lot greater than anyone suspected back in 1982. As dazzling as the movie was to an 11 year-old child, to an adult's eye it suffers from stilted dialogue, cardboard characters, and a not-always compelling storyline. No such baggage, however, weighs down the score, and 20 years later, it is the single best element of the film; just as beautiful as I remembered.

Wendy Carlos is a key figure in the popularization of electronic, synthetic music and as such, an angel or a devil depending on where your head is. From my point of view (Human League, Human League, rah rah rah), she's significant not just on a large scale but on a more personal one as well.

The score is based, as Carlos writes in her notes, on two themes; one, the "Love Theme," was probably instrumental in making sure I never accepted the idea that technology and emotion were foreign to one another. Recurring in several different orchestrations, it is never less than sublime, a romantic lullaby for the last generation to remember when there weren't home computers.

A unique mixture of electronics, orchestra, and chorus, the score should have been nominated for an Academy Award, that kid thinks today. But then, the technology of it mattered little to him -- he just knew it sounded beautiful.

Wendy Carlos: http://www.wendycarlos.com