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Big O Original Sound Score Review

The Big O Original Sound Score (Music from Season One)

Track List:

1) The Stoning, 1:42
2) Big-O! TV Edit, 1:11
3) Stand A Chance, 2:09
4) Name of God, 1:46
5) The Storm, 1:20
6) Spirit, 1:42
7) Servant, 1:20
8) Apologize, 2:03
9) Apparel, 1:13
10) The Great, 1:46
11) Apostle, 2:26
12) False, 1:26
13) Sleep My Dear, 2:15
14) Sure Promise, 1:58
15) Touch, 1:17
16) Weep For, 1:25
17) Nature, 1:41
18) The Words, 1:32
19) Run Down, 0:38
20) Tears, 1:15
21) The Process, 1:09
22) Sin, 1:32
23) A Vision, 1:17
24) Procrastination, 1:02
25) Freedom, 1:40
26) The Holy, 2:08
27) Evolution, 1:23
28) Eternal Life, 0:45
29) And Forever...TV Edit, 1:27

The soundtrack to The Big O breaks down into three types of music: orchestral, jazz ensemble and electronic/synthesized music, with the largest amount of music being in the first two genres. As you can probably tell from above, there's a reason that they fit twenty-nine tracks on this CD. Not a single one of them clocks above 3:00'.
This leads me to my biggest, and only, gripe about the soundtrack: The tracks are too darn short. Some of the more techno-based ones really get clipping along and then just wrap right up and end. It's rather frustrating as a solitary listener. In the show, even when the music is front and center, it's still serving as background to the visual images on screen, and well it should be in a visual medium. The music is supposed to compliment the screen action. Without the visual stimulation, you discover just how miniature these pieces really are.
In the context of The Big O, however--which is, in and of itself, a patchwork of homages, tributes and genres--scoring the music in this way actually makes a tremendous amount of sense. The music is there to further enhance the mood of the scene and add layers to the action. Viewers have probably noticed that the use of sound in The Big O is expertly done. There is no need for a constant soundtrack, when silence or sound effects will do the trick.
That being said, the music itself is absolutely excellent. The orchestra used is a full symphony orchestra, with all the colors and timbres of sound that such a force entails. The music in this series is full, rich and expansive. The composer uses all the resources at his fingertips to create ambience and mood, drawing on such diverse composers and styles as W. A. Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, George Gershwin, Phillip Glass and John Williams (who owes much to Gustav Holst, Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams); jazz, bebop, Classical symphony, rock, pop and minimalism. This is NYC, after all. Fusion is the name of the game.

In A Nutshell: If you like a strong, unifying melodic theme, flashy brass and firecracker-length tracks, buy the CD. Please make sure it is not a bootleg. The genuine article will cost you about $30, not including shipping. A-

Individual Track Reviews
1) The Stoning: The soundtrack kicks off by harking back to Classical roots. This track could easily be an excerpt from one of Mozart's overtures or symphonies and I'm still not entirely convinced that it isn't. Full string section in minor with slightly heavy brass and drums serving as accents. Winds join midway through on the syncopated string rhythm (hemiola) and everyone digs in their bows in the last few measures for a strong ending. This is featured in the first two episode title cards: "Cast in the name..." and Big O's duel with Big Mummy in Act XII.

2) Big-O TV Edit: This is the series' theme song, which runs over the opening credits. I'm starting to agree more and more with the idea that it sounds like Queen. Very catchy and as an added bonus, the bass sounds really full over headphones. Oh yeah, Big O! Big O! Big O! This gets stuck in your head like nobody's business. Watch out for the volume on the downbeat, it'll blow your ears out.

3) Stand A Chance: The first of the two "Battle Music" tracks, commonly used in longer mech fights. Driving techno beat under brass and drums, which moves to a gorgeous minor string melody, later reiterated by the full orchestra. Strong French horn rips throughout. One of my personal favorite tracks. This is one of the few pieces of music out there that makes the combination of orchestra and electronic music not sound totally ridiculous. For those of you keeping score at home, this is the first track in which "Paradigm City/Roger's Theme" appears. The main string melody will be expanded, contracted and inverted in several other tracks to unify the soundtrack as a musical whole. Props to the composer for paying attention in composition class.

4) Name of God: This track is probably more commonly recognized in its choral version--it's the hymn tune the congregation sings in "Winter Night Phantom" and I believe it also occurs when there is strong religious imagery. While the choral version does not unfortunately appear on this CD, the instrumental version is no slouch. Melody begins in the cellos, under accenting upper strings with a lovely oboe countermelody that leads into the violins and violas' restatement of the opening cello tune. The brass are a little too heavy-handed in my opinion here; they tend to overpower the lead strings. This track has a Beethovian or Verdian grandeur to it, which lends the tune a strong, operatic feel. You can almost hear the curtain crashing down on the final chord.

5) The Storm: The first of the purely electronic tracks. A pulsing bass figure is overlaid with accents on a skin drum, probably electronic bongos or some such. Synthesized strings shimmer in and out to give a sense of foreboding. I want to say that this track plays while Roger is sneaking about under the Old Man's house in "Electric City," but I'm not positive. This music is fairly common in the series when Roger is sticking his nose into places where it's likely to get snapped off.

6) Spirit: This track rules for the simple fact that the melody starts out all the way down in the string bass section. And those players dig in. You can almost hear the bowstrings breaking under the force. Harp figures lead into the main melody in the violins, which builds up to a slight climax. Horns and trombones then play an oscillating rhythm, leading into a restatement of the theme by the basses, which they give back to the violins. Winds, xylophone and trumpets build the tune up to an eardrum-blasting final chord. It's the musical equivalent of a giant cliffhanger. I remember hearing this in the series, I just can't think of where. It might be the confrontation with Schwarzwald in Act IV.

7) Servant: Time to lay some funk on this track. I can only assume that this is Norman's theme, given the title. And dang. Wha-wha guitar, synthesized organ, cup-muted trumpets and trombone melody make you wanna go pimpin' in yo' Cadillac. Play that funky music, white boy. This tracks sounds like it came off the Shaft soundtrack.

8) Apologize: The first of the variations on "Paradigm City/Roger's Theme" and the first of three piano solos. Subtle string bass adds some richness to the sound. Either the piano has been amplified or this was recorded in a very live acoustical space because the sound just bleeds together in a wonderful jazzy haze. This melody is often heard played by the saxophone at the very beginning of episodes, most obviously in the opening of Act I. The little "blue" notes from the pianist make it sound rather smooth and sexy. Rather like Roger himself.

9) Apparel: Lurching brass, xylophone and flutes, for the first clear time, make this track sound like it's stumbling around. Great big glissandos from the trombones add to the silliness. Another track that I honestly don't know where it appears. I rather like it. I think of it as a musical personification of Dorothy's opinion of Roger's fashion sense.

10) The Great: Here comes Dorothy 1! Ponderous heavy bass and drums, cymbals and open fifths in the strings give this an almost primitive sound. You can actually hear the mech's footsteps in this piece beating in the percussion section. This track is usually followed by either of the "Battle Themes."

11) Apostle: Another piano solo/string bass duet. The piano is much fuller sounding due to chords in the left hand accompanying the reflective right hand melody. Roger's thinking about something. This is the longest track on the CD and it still floats right by. Another personal favorite.

12) False: The "The-Plot-Thickens" track. French horn melody over pedantic strings and triplet figures. This usually plays when something bad is about to happen. And it usually does.

13) Sleep My Dear: The second variation of "Roger's Theme." Only the right hand of the piano plays the melody up an octave, over slowly moving synth chords. This gives the music a sense of stability and stasis that the piano hovers over like a lullaby.

14) Sure Promise: The second "Battle Theme" is a major, march-like affair that owes much to John Williams. Snare drums and fanfare brass, with strings coming in on the second half of the phrase. This track makes you want to shout "Showtime!" at random passersby. The absolute coolest thing on here happens twenty seconds from the end, when the conductor gets so excited, he shouts, "Go! Go!" to the orchestra to make them drive harder to the final cadence. This tickles musicians like myself pink.

15) Touch: Another purely electronic track that plays when Roger is first checking out the Old Man's house in Act III, before he takes a shotgun butt to the head. This starts out sounding like the theme from "Psycho" and then goes whole hog into 1950's B-movie silliness. It's actually grown on me, especially the snappy piano scales.

16) Weep For: The Big O does Phillip Glass. Eerie-sounding music box, overlaid with wind blowing and choral "ahs." I absolutely adore this track. It appears in the first Act when Roger and Dorothy check out Soldano's factory.

17) Nature: Dorothy plays the blues from Act III. Electronic honky-tonk piano. Mm-hm, play it, girl.

18) The Words: A "Chase Scene" track. The harpsichord plays a repeating rhythmic figure (ostinato) under punched brass chords. The best part of this track is when the trap set kicks in on a fast swing beat, complete with walking bass line and alto sax improvised solo. Overdrive guitar takes the solo to the end. Why can't these things be longer?!

19) Run Down: Roger's least favorite piece of music. This is Dorothy's official piano solo wake-up call. This sounds like the Rondo third movement of a piano sonata, maybe Mozart again. The pianist definitely sounds like he/she knows how to play. (Unfortunate side note: The piano solo that Dorothy and Instro work on is not on this CD. This only confirms my suspicions that said piece is a Chopin sonata or prelude.)

20) Tears: "Roger's Theme" gets inverted with a harmonica as the melody instrument. I believe this appears at the end of "Winter Night Phantom" and during the flashbacks in "Beck Comes Back." The most depressing track on the CD.

21) The Process: I swear this was stolen from the OST for Final Fantasy VIII. It sounds a lot like the music from Deling City. Pizzicato synth basses lead into a slow swing guitar melody. Hi-hat cymbal played with brushes adds a great feeling. This comes straight out of film noir. Cool, man.

22) Sin: Lifted in it's entirety from Holst's "The Planets," this is the second movement: Mars, The Bringer of War. Relentless snare drum ostinato under an anxious-sounding melody in the strings and brass. If you're going to steal, steal from the best. Imitation is the finest form of flattery, after all.

23) A Vision: The other funk track. This one moves a bit more and sounds a lot like the band Chicago in their jazz fusion days. The trumpets absolutely wail at the end.

24) Procrastination: This is playing in the background of Act II when Roger is explaining the dress code in the Smith household for Dorothy's benefit. Hilarious trombone glissandos and what I swear is an English horn, a very unusual choice, playing the sassy lead-in melody. This track makes me laugh without fail. The pizzicato string scales are an especially nice touch. The musical theme for "Dorothy makes Roger look like a total moron."

25) Freedom: Quite possibly my favorite track on here. This rock-infused brass fest demands to be played as loud as possible with the bass cranked up. Kicktastic overdrive guitar solo in the middle. Another track that I wish lasted longer, but it does end on a great full-ensemble "stinger" with everyone sliding off the last note in a unison glissando. I believe this is when the Big O is on its' way to Roger.

26) The Holy: The Holy-friggin-crap-this-rules track. "Stand A Chance" as a DANCE REMIX. One second shorter than the original with a lot more synth overlays. Shake that thing, baby.

27) Evolution: The last of the "Roger's Theme" piano solos and the shortest. Left hand arpeggios under the right hand melody, which is less decorated with jazz turns and slightly happier sounding. This track is sort of a combination of Variations 1 & II. (Tracks 8 and 13)

28) Eternal Life: This track is featured somewhere towards the end of my favorite episode, "A Legacy of Amadeus." It's only forty-five seconds long. Sigh. Soprano sax makes this track wander dangerously close to sounding like Kenny G, but the music manages to avoid it. The melody really sounds like it wants to be a vocal piece. Short and sweet.

29) And Forever: The same version that plays over the ending credits. If I fully analyzed the melody line, it may be another permutation of "Roger's Theme," now turned into a love theme for Dorothy and Roger. Awww...for cute.

If You Like This Music...
My recommendations if you like the music from The Big O:
Orchestral: Any of Mozart or Beethoven's symphonies. You can't go wrong with the masters. Gustav Holst's "The Planets" as mentioned above. Ralph Vaughan Williams "Tallis Fantasia", any of his orchestral works, really anything by Vaughan Williams. He's one of my favorite composers.

Jazz: George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Make sure it's the fully orchestrated version. Duke Ellington's "Black, Brown and Beige." Anything by Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie or Wynton Marsalis. If you want to pick things up from the swing craze from the late 90's, try Royal Crown Revue. They were the band featured in the movie The Mask with Jim Carrey. Their tune "Hey, Pachuco!" is from the huge dance number in the club. The soundtrack to the movie "Chicago" or the original musical itself are also good choices. I'd love to do a Big O music video to "All That Jazz."

Electronic: Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach. Watch out, it's a five hour-long opera. Those of you who think that FLCL is out there haven't heard anything until you've listened to the minimalist composers. Anything by Steve Reich is also good-- he's a genius. John Adams's opera Nixon in China is fabulous as is The Death of Klinghoffer.

Sarah Stankiewicz holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She will be starting her Master of Music in the fall at Indiana University. Her current favorite series are Trigun, followed by The Big O and Cowboy Bebop, which are dueling to the death for second place. She first discovered anime four years ago with Gundam Wing. Her taste has since improved. She can be found lurking about ToonZone's Adult Swim forum under the moniker Bladesong 26.
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