Give Life Back To Music 12.30.13: Daft Punk - TRON: Legacy Original Soundtrack Posted by Sean Comer on 12.30.2013
411's Sean Comer continues his personal retrospective through the music of Daft Punk with a look at one of the duo's crowning moments in their soundtrack to TRON Legacy!
Hey, gang. Welcome back to Give Life Back To Music. Before we dig into the penultimate installment in DAFTCEMBER, indulge me while I get something important out of the way. I arrive this week bearing both good news and bad. We'd better deal with the bad first.
The column debuting two weeks from tonight will be my last regular one here at 411mania. While Jeremy Thomas and I have left the door open for me to possibly return one day full-time and to make occasional contributions when I can in the meantime, I've come upon a great opportunity to help build the entertainment and gaming sections over at TheCasualHeroes.com.
Younger Sean would've given in to bravado and stubbornly fought the good fight keeping up bylines with both sites. Unfortunately for that dingus, 31-Year-Old Sean clocked the kid on the knot with a slapjack and stuffed him into a closet before he said something dangerously stupid. Too often, the more masters I've tried to satisfy, the less I've satisfied them all – and in this case, that counts the clients I write for daily in order to keep my lights on and coffee in my pot. The management and my colleagues here have been good to me. They deserve me at my best.
The good news? This isn't the end of Give Life Back To Music. After my last column here, I'm taking a few weeks off just to have a little breather, and then it's coming to TCH pretty much as it is now. I may even end up trying a few new things that I just haven't gotten around to yet.
Bottom line, this came about gradually as I've gotten to know the crew over at TCH in the course of developing my twice-monthly movie review podcast, Long Road To Ruin, alongside 411's own Mark Radulich. Also, I'll always remain a 411 reader just as I've been pretty much continuously since 2006. After all, my new home was co-founded by my fellow 411 alum Gavin Napier. They're like extended family.
I genuinely hope that I'll see you all eventually over at TCH. If not, no hard feelings. Just know that I'll miss you.
Anyway, there'll be ample time for giving my thanks on the way out the door in a few weeks' time. For right now, let's get down to business.
Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy Original Soundtrack
While Homework and Discovery established themselves as Daft Punk's measuring sticks for warm receptions from audiences and critics alike, 2005's Human After All set a corresponding bar for disappointment.
It isn't a categorically "bad" album; in fact, it produced a few highly enjoyable moments, including the title track and "Robot Rock". It's just that the notoriously meticulous French pair's reach exceeded their grasp, and when their grips failed, they landed within awkward territory from which they never quite completely clawed themselves from the first track to the last. When they extended their hands past the invitingly infectious cool and sun-splashed electro-pop of their first two albums, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter went somewhat "concept" with a well-meaning but inconsistent rock-inspired set that sometimes devolves into several minutes at a clip of rhythmic imitation farts.
It was meant to be something of an interpretation through their "characters" of music made without a mind bound to humanity's stylistic conventions, sensibilities and structural norms. It ended up a case study demonstrating that those conventions exist at least in part because "funny noises set to a beat" does not equate to "music anyone really wants to hear." Sonic Youth can get away with it – usually. Daft Punk, it turns out, fell a bit short.
Five years would pass between Human After All and the next major work by Daft Punk. When 2010's TRON: Legacy arrived, their approach to the original soundtrack accompanying the long-awaited Disney sequel defied what plausible logic dictated as the reasonably expected outcome: whereas many heard what a departure Human After All embarked upon from everything that gathered rosebuds of praise about the pair's approach to electronic music and said, "You've gone too far," Daft Punk dared to accelerate even further from home and answer, "Au contraire – we didn't go far enough."
TRON: Legacy Original Soundtrack
RELEASED: December 3, 2010
Suppose that we existed within a vacuum of prior knowledge about this album's composers and personnel. I would place a big bet with substantial confidence that I could play the TRON: Legacy score for any of you without your ever suspecting that Daft Punk composed it.
I could scarcely make a more complimentary statement about what the two achieved with this work. Hear me out.
The most effective original score doesn't abide by the same slate of objectives as any other form of music. More specifically, scoring a film demands an antithetical approach to the way Daft Punk have always created their music. Thomas and Guy-Manuel have always been meticulous artists who uncompromisingly create strictly within their own terms, their music the vocabulary of visions that are dearly and exclusively their own. A theatrical score has to do the opposite: it has to deliver unto another's vision an incalculably valuable complementary dimension that fills visuals with emotional, moody impact that can't quite be delivered any other way.
It's not the same as the way that, say, George Strait's Pure Country soundtrack, which he entirely penned and performed, complemented the movie. That was more an instance of a movie serving as a visual companion to an original album – both of which happened to be brain-children of the same creator.
On paper, this is Daft Punk dropped into territory far outside what would seem to be their comfort zone, tasked with interpreting someone else's vision via their medium of expertise. Stunningly, through the collaboration with conductor Gavin Greenaway and the arrangement and orchestration of Joseph Trapanese, the finished product is arguably their finest, most impressive hour.
I would thrill to one day hear another effort by these two this grand in scope that makes such judicious use of space. A typical Daft Punk album is a cruise through the shadows of downtown neon and streetlights amid an electric night-life district. It's a distinctly-choreographed parade of vibrancy and nonstop aural stimulation. There's never a wasted motion, but there's never a cessation of motion, either.
TRON: Legacy gets there, but does so on markedly different terms, making "downtown" Daft Punk more of a destination on an itinerary than a hangout. The orchestration itself is a journey. The ever-present strings that fill out almost the entirety of the arrangement begin the score rising on a long, slow, shallow ascent. They tend to loom and linger, like something massive on the horizon that draws near – much like the movie's epic journey back into The Grid.
What's more, the expected Daft Punk digitized textures never overwhelm them. In fact, the rich orchestration holds court throughout most of the album with every piece including more and more prevalent electronic elements. It's a parallel to the movie's deeper and deeper immersion into The Grid as the story forges onward.
More importantly, it's all so sparse. It isn't a towering, overwhelming cityscape. It's an endless plain. Daft Punk's music typically vibrates without rest, filled with feeling and motion. Here, we're left to feel every space of silence. What's between the notes, what isn't filled with drawn-out adagios and tension-weaving staccato stings, gives the music as much substance as what's actually played.
Throughout the entire album, every piece circles back time and again to a theme reminiscent of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," an absolutely gorgeous, uniquely brash and American orchestral piece. It always has a very special intrepid feel about it, but the Daft Punk homage to it has a certain darker variant to it. That little change-up adds a degree of tension that suits the constant forging into the digital unknown.
With "End of Line," the mood shifts dramatically and the Daft Punk aesthetic we've been awaiting enters the fray. It's a cool, down-tempo entry that's complete bereft of the previous drawn-out orchestral strings – 100% deliciously Daft & digitized.
Ah, but then "Derezzed" – this is when it becomes a Daft Punk party. It kicks off with a persistent snare loop and just explodes into a wave of frantic, fuzzy and relentless synth. Here's where we witness something unexpectedly impressive, though.
The composition that immediately follows it on the album, "Fall," retains much of the dirty fuzz but blends it with dramatic, tense strings. It's a fascinating melding of the moody, rich orchestration with the futuristic electric explosion of Daft Punk. Immediately after it, "Solar Sailor" gives a fluttering melody center-stage over a minimalist synth pulse a long, lingering strings taking a slow flight.
Everything has moodiness about it, but with purpose. Every chord is fraught with the danger of the moments in the film that they're meant to accentuate, but colored beautifully with the electronic signatures that only Daft Punk could provide. This was the album that truly cemented Daft Punk as adept musical minds, not simply iconic DJs and studio masterminds.
Truly, it's unlike anything else that they'd generated before or that they have since. Yet, in a way, it's exactly what we should've expected. There's a precise sense of timing to every arpeggio, every phrasing and every repetition of and variant on the Copeland-esque theme. There's a very measured use of synth, tonal distortions and other elements. They don't battle the orchestra; they manage to work with it, not against it. It's the synthetic and futuristic sewn in harmony into the natural and traditional. The two bring out the best in one another. The result was an album that is tremendous, fascinatingly unique, shockingly intelligent and easily more compelling to revisit than the movie that spawned it.
It wasn't that Daft Punk had strayed too far from their friendly confines after all. They just needed to travel the same distance from them in a different direction.
Alas, it would be another three years until they again graced us with a new full-length album. This time, though, it was time to just bring everything back to where it all began. Suffice it to say, as singularly brilliant as TRON: Legacy was, we were glad to have them back on their familiar turf. Next week, it's time to perhaps beat a dead horse and sing the praises of one of 2013's best albums.