HEART AND SOUL
Music For 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Original Score By Alex North conducted & orchestrated by Henry Brant
Intrada Special Collections Vol. 38 39:02. www.intrada.com
Every real artist has a personal voice and keeping that voice personal is always a struggle, especially if you're a composer working in Hollywood where money calls the shots. Playwright Arthur Miller remembered the toll it took on his friend and two-time collaborator, Alex North. "I know that he kept saying, 'I am sick and tired of it out here. I just want to write music.'" Yet despite the horrendous deadlines - "writing scores in three weeks", as he lamented in a letter to his former teacher, Aaron Copland, he still managed to keep his own distinctive voice. But he didn't like being pushed around, even on a largely happy collaboration like Spartacus (1960), his first with Stanley Kubrick. "Since we spoke there have been additional cuts," he told its producer, Edward Lewis. "This complete disregard and disrespect for me and my contributions by persons not qualified in any artistic level are an insult to my abilities. The illogical picayune cuts force me to suggest you hire a butcher and remove my name from screen credits." He fortunately never took that action on Spartacus, but Kubrick did just that on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), without even telling him. Imagine being forced to write, orchestrate, and record forty minutes of music in two weeks after having had the luxury of being on Spartacus for a record thirteen months. "He (Kubrick) should have told Alex what he was doing, don't you think?", his widow, Anna North, told me in 1998. "But Mr. Kubrick is a very secretive person and deals strictly by his own rules."
The games Kubrick played are outlined in Burlingame's superb CD booklet notes, which shed much light on the frequently murky story of 2001's musical genesis / partition, with one telling detail after another falling into place. The director had also been stringing along Brit film composer Frank Cordell (Khartoum), who according to Quincy Jones "had written Mahler variations for a year and a half… and they threw it all out," as well as according to Anna North, -- though not noted here -- Brit film composer John Addison (Tom Jones). Kubrick was also using "the temp tracks he'd been wedded to" (Anna's words), which included bits and pieces by Mendelssohn, Ligeti, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss, and Khachaturian. Burlingame quotes extensively from North's well-known apologia (itals) for his work on the film, which appeared in the Jerome Agel-edited The Making of 2001 (1970). He also gives as precise as possible timings -- wrote to a rough cut, and Kubrick trimmed seventeen minutes from the initial release a few weeks after the New York premiere -- for the most famous rejected score in Hollywood film music history, and experiencing the music with the images is more than a revelation. This is a stunning, completely appropriate, thoroughly original, and very profound score. Music is almost always about something else - you don't listen to Mozart or Wagner without somehow imagining the people and stage pictures it's describing -- and while their music and North's stands firmly on its own two feet, seeing 2001 with North's makes all the difference in the world.
The world that North created was a far cry from the temp tracks Kubrick had been listening to for years. "Do you think the North score would have given the picture a different kind of dimension?" I asked Henry Brant in 1998. "Oh yes, because as Alex's sequences got recorded I could see that the picture gained a lot more force and intensity, and it was music of distinction. But without Alex's work all the borrowed music that Kubrick ended up using is a sort of hodgepodge noise going on while you look at the picture, which is the common formula in American film music."
That's clear from the very outset, where Ligeti stuff, which Kubrick used as his "overture, sounds like high class horror music but horror music nonetheless, followed of course by the opening C-G-C of the Main Title, Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (1896), which starts just before" Metro Goldwyn-Mayer Presents "appears on the screen. And though I have nothing against Richard Strauss, North's "version" of it, which also begins on a sustained low "C", gives The Main Title a sense of occasion, grandeur - the full orchestra enters gradually -- and brash we can do anything American optimism that Strauss' cold Germanic efficiency can't match. But then of course we're dealing with a director who escaped to Europe and never came back.
Thing get even more interesting in "The Dawn of Man" which Kubrick "scored" with silence and natural sounds. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth's images are undeniably beautiful, but North's music cue, "The Foraging", with its slowly uncoiling cello and double bass lines, divisi (itals) muted, with winds -- four bass clarinets, in Bb, Eb; four bassoons, in different keys - tells the inside story. His (itals) "The Dawn of Man" emphasizes both parts of this equation It's primordial - the ambiguous, tenuous harmonies - and mysterious in its timbres, and who but North could make this scene feel vulnerable, at risk? He "got" Willy Loman in Death of A Salesman (itals) (1949, 1952, 1985) with a single alto flute, and George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), with violin harmonics, harp and guitar, and he gets at the heart and soul of this scene here. It's a lament, a prequel if you will, for the apes in this forlorn four million years ago African landscape, who will one day become humans, with all that that means.
Kubrick's decision to "score" his next sequence, "The Bluff," without music amplifies its artificiality. It's carefully even academically studio - Kubrick did still photography for LIFE before getting into pictures - shot like a wannabe tony Tarzan cheapie or a Western, and his actors are obviously actors miming apes in a water hole face-off. But North's music adds wit, tension and menace. It's cast in the form of a fugue / scherzo, and its syncopated asymmetric figures for winds, brass, percussion, and strings heightens these affects. North had shown full mastery of learned counterpoint in Spartacus, most obviously in its fugal Main Title, but in many other places as well, and the all Church modes The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), and this, plus his schooling in modern dance scores, comes full forward here. His timbral / rhythmic explorations in his not written to film images or timings score for the 1967 four hour ABC documentary Africa are even more developed and refined here. Would that the 2001 DVD timings matched North's cue with its spectacularly conclusive brass fifths.
North's basic formal plan in 2001 is generally action / repose / action, and he frequently achieves these expressive ends by using dance or dance like gestures. The Agony and The Ecstasy has sarabande (itals) like segments, Cleopatra (1963), a wildly harmonized and very modernistic bacchanale (itals), and Spartacus, to quote North "an odd 5/8 meter, early Greek style, never written contemporarily". He uses dance-derived gestures here. "The Bluff" works as a danse generale (itals) allegro barbaro (itals), while the subsequent "Night Tremors", which Kubrick again elected to play without his musical contribution, is a kind of very inner adagio (itals), with sliding motifs and harmonies, which give this scene of uneasily sleeping apes, a depth he could never have imagined - namely, the bigness of night, and what we don't know.
The same holds true for "Eat Meat and Kill" which follows "Bones" - North's cue for the scene where Moon Watcher (Daniel Richter) smashes bones - where an ape gang is seen ravenously eating raw bloody meat. Kubrick certainly knows what this scene portends - these apes will become man the indiscriminate killer - but his pictures have no charge, much less depth. North, however, goes way beneath, with dramatic outbursts from three timpani, bass drum, snare drum hit by rim shots, mounted cymbals (piatti) making his trademark hard sharp sound, xylophones, chimes, muted high register horns, and equally dramatic silences. This murderous tragedy is what we're in for. North's use of dance elements - brusque unisons, partnerings rendered as sound, cements this as a logical extension of "The Bluff." A bone is flung into the air, and then, four million years in the future, a space station turns slowly in a limitless black.
Kubrick's much vaunted use of The Blue Danube here shot this Victorian chestnut and his other soundtrack choices to the top of the charts, and while it's an endlessly charming piece, his decision to thrust it center stage in the final cut, is a one trick pony - we get the joke in the first measure, and then it goes on and on. North's solution to the challenges posed in "Space Station Docking" is inspired, inventive, enormously varied, and a textbook example of how music can accompany and extend a film sequence's inherent meanings. His waltz has a vast beautiful but not of putting strangeness, and the dance "breaks", which happen when the space craft gets closer and enters the station, have another kind of music, tone clusters harmonized and colored differently with each reappearance, like the scene opening paintings in Cleopatra. The brass heavy sound of "The Dawn of Man" sequences has gone; flutes play hide and seek with other winds and strings in strikingly contrasted textures and tempos usually much faster than Kubrick's lumbering beautiful images, which adds space - the music doesn't Mickey Mouse - and emotional depth.
North extends his wonderful sound world into the last three sequences he was allowed to score - "Space Talk", "Trip to the Moon", and "Moon Rocket Bus. "Space Talk's" plangent string writing humanizes Kubrick's relentlessly cold scenario. Without it, the conversation between Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) and his daughter (Vivian Kubrick) has zero warmth, and "Trip to the Moon" has no more sense of adventure than a trip to the corner store. Or as Pauline Kael so trenchantly observed when 2001 came out. "It isn't accidental that we don't care if the characters live or die; if Kubrick has made his people so uninteresting, it is partly because characters and individual fates just aren't big enough for certain kinds of big movie directors. "This mind you, was way before the myth of this genius recluse director - am I the only person in the world who thinks The Shining's a comedy and Barry Lyndon a big snooze done up in fancy duds even with Schubert - began to spin its cocoon around him, and let's not forget that the mix and match score he s\glued together for 2001 set a precedent - none of his subsequent soundtracks used original material - became common industry practice. Kubrick was an ironist (Gertrude Stein's "remarks are not literature" comes to mind) and (itals) deconstructionist before others discovered these tricks. Yet North, who's frequently pigeonholed as a cerebral composer, always wrote from heart and soul, and that's why his music vibrates when Kubrick's images don't and why this marriage was doomed to be a misalliance. How could you win when one thought genius was control and another felt in freedom?
"Music is either good or it isn't", North told Leslie Zador and David Cloud in a 1970 LA Free Press interview. "It is there or it isn't. If it is played down to the level of Muzak, then I say take it out. It should make a comment or not be used at all." North made all the right comments in 2001, and did so with consummate artistry and consummate grace. And now, with the superbly responsive performances Henry Brant gets from his eighty five person original London studio sessions orchestra - they obviously got what North's music was about as the film played above them - we can hear and see how it was really meant to be.