Oct 28, 2011

Soundtracks: Primeval

Funny how timing can work out.

I finally got around to acquiring the fifth, possibly final, season of Primeval. Unlike the 1st and 4th seasons which entertained me, this latest season was a big disappointment overall. It is still way better than the terrible 3rd, but it just didn't deliver anything unique (apart from the amazing submarine adventure in the 2nd episode).

Of course I did the usual google and wikipedia searches for various things on the show in watching this, and discovered they "had" released the score for the series. The reason I say "had" as this score only came out a month ago!

I've never associated Primeval with particularly great music, but this being yet another year lacking in good score music (I will hopefully get around to posting some of my soundtrack musings soon) I'm desperate. So I decided to check this album out this week.

I'm very glad I did.

Primeval by Dominick Schirrer

In listening to the score removed from the show I'm realizing part of the appeal of the show for me may have been my subconscious picking up on the music. I always remember liking the music in the first season when the mystery of the time crisis was addressed, but beyond that I couldn't really say I'd noticed Primeval's music.

Often the most noticeable music in Primeval, like all modern shows, tended to be the popular song they'd try to shove down your throat. As someone who typically dislikes lyrics with music, this never appealed to me. I want my shows score to be a musical identity for the show (or movie) I'm watching. Pop music isn't that. It's just somebody mix taping over the program.

Yet in listening to the Primeval album I am amazed at how consistent the overall themes and music quality is. Primeval is one of the best TV series scores I've heard from a musical identity point of view. In listening to the majority of these tracks I can tell you it is from Primeval (even if I, still, don't know which episode). The music all works complimentary with each other, and actually builds a very enjoyable musical mythos (whether the actual episode deserved it or not later in the show is another question!).

The album collects music from the first 3 seasons (from what I can gather), and gathers the highlight moments from the show. While I didn't notice his efforts at the time (due to the disappointment in the scripts) composer Dominick Schirrer definitely tried to inject the wonder and awe back into episodes when the overall show left them out.

To convey the enigmatic qualities of the Primeval universe, Schirrer employs three components in all his effective themes and pieces. A combination of off key strings, synthesizers, and piano give Primeval its sound.

The main signature of the overall pieces is the string section always having a small but noticeable regiment of players playing out of key to accent the overall strings with an uneasy creepy edge. No matter the emotion a piece is, Schirrer will always apply these off key strings. So while not exactly being a discernible theme, the strings unify all of Primevals music. Every song has an off kilter dynamic that (removed from its episode) gives you a sense of tension. In some pieces such as "Cretaceous Sea" and "Mystery of the Anomolies" you will get chills down your spine from the application.

A echoed piano with synthesizer ambience is used for heavy emotions in the music. While not present in all tracks, any that deal with the human elements of the story will include a piano (for obvious reasons). In the most successful pieces the piano will be backed up by a synthetic ambience to give the convention some resonance. While it is a cheap trick it works. Not that most of the episodes deserve this treatment, but on album it is quite appreciable.

The Primeval theme makes the rounds in any of the pieces about the prehistoric beasts. While the title theme is incredible simple in some senses, it is comprised of about four musical "idea" layers. Throughout the music Schirrer will base tracks on one or more of these layers, and this is how he achieves a distinct recognizable "Primeval" sound in all the music. If you listen carefully to the title theme you'll hear the strings, percussion, and two different sets of synthesizer horns (long and harsh I shall call them) all stacked together. Yes I know in orchestral pieces technically all the music is made of "stacked" accumulations of players and instruments efforts. However if you listen carefully in Primeval title theme these elements are actually in a sense doing their own things, they just happen to work together in a cohesive piece.

Don't get me wrong I really like it. I just point it out as cleverly Schirrer gives himself a title theme
that is easy to integrate into any piece of music no matter its emotional tempo. All he has to do is use one or more of the four possible sets and you can hear something of the title in the music.

For threatening monster music we get the percussion most heavily, sometimes augmented by the strings or harsher synthetic horns. The heroes tend to get the long horn and strings. My favourite use of this element breakdown is in the track "Silurian Scorpions" where we see him transform a piece from horror, and its percussion and harsh horn, to a glorious heroic piece with the long horn subverting and taking charge of the other two elements. It is quite a satisfying technique. If I played snippets it would sound very simplist, but all together the whole piece's craftsmanship is very intelligent and effective.

Primeval the album is very diverse, and covers a multitude of scene types. The key ingredient sounds are supplemented with a nice range of supporting instrumentation to give it variety. Genre tracks are particularly clever at capturing their subject matter. The medieval episode's theme "Dracorex" has a lovely sampling of choral chatting spliced into the Primeval theme elements to convey the knight of the story.

If you're a fan of the show, or TV soundtracks this is definitely worth checking out.

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