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Synth soundtracks – the OFFICIAL SampleNerd  lowdown

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Welcome to PART ONE of the official SampleNerd lowdown on the synthesizer soundtracks! These are listed as being among the best in the genre.  At the close of each part in this SIX PART series there’s a personal pick that was not included on the lists of the following websites: and

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Image shows the film cover for the 2010 motion picture Monsters.  From the article: Synth soundtracks - the OFFICIAL SampleNerd lowdown

Year: 2010

Score: John Hopkins

Verdict: A cross between District 9 and Cloverfield. Monsters sees our two young protagonists travail unrefined parts of Mexico, quietly acquiescing to their ever worsening predicament with aplomb. Between “the creatures”  and the endless procession of officialdom it’s hard to know which of the two poses the greatest threat.

The score, like many on this list surprises with its fairly low-key palette.  Only heightening at particular points across the narrative.  This in contrast to the genres earlier counterparts of the late 70s and early 80s where ‘heavier’ use of soundtrack artillery was more common.

There is nothing to dislike about this soundtrack, and conversely nothing in particular to like.  There are no great motifs or hooks that’ll have you humming it the next day.  Ultimately, the soundtrack does its job: providing sonic support to the film. The track comes and goes like a tide – and to be fair, is perfectly timed at that.

Don’t misunderstand however, not every monster film has to have a soundtrack lacquered to the gills with creamy pads and bombastic melody soaked hooks.  But those are pretty great aren’t they?

Having said all that, the string and electronica interchange leaving the solitary pad during the giant squid scene, was my favorite bit of the film!

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Image shows the film cover for the 1977 motion picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  From the article: Synth soundtracks - the OFFICIAL SampleNerd lowdown

Year: 1977

Score: John Williams

Verdict: As if the ARP2600 wasn’t already famous enough, it’s predecessor the ARP2500 is very nearly as famous, by being the voice of extra terrestrials in this cult sci-fi movie.   Still, it was good timing…

The Massachusetts outfit had had the good fortune to have released two professional synthesizers at a time when space fantasy movies had arrived at mass market appeal and sophistication.   Having departed – all but wholly, from the kitsch and ‘silliness’ of 1950’s sci-fi Americana. 

Unique on this list for being a character itself in a major blockbuster. The score is much more than furnishing for what became a cornerstone of the genre.

John Williams said of the soundtrack:

I wanted to create a sense of awe and wonder, but also of mystery and suspense.  The music had to reflect the emotions of the characters, who are both fascinated and terrified by the encounters.

The score is very influenced by the music of the twentieth century, especially composers like Bartók, Ligeti, and Stravinsky.  I used a lot of dissonance, polytonality, and unusual orchestration to create a sound world that is alien and unfamiliar, but also beautiful and expressive.

The Listeners’

Image credit: themoviedatabase com

Tron Legacy

Image shows the film cover for the 2010 motion picture Tron Legacy.  From the article: Synth soundtracks - the OFFICIAL SampleNerd lowdown

Year: 2010

Score: Daft Punk

Verdict: Intelligent and although certainly not adjunctive, this score doesn’t – in my opinion,  ‘stand out.’ But rather was worked to be an apt companion to this new era of Tron.

Seeing a double vinyl release on the 11 year anniversary of its making. Daft Punk recorded the OST with an 85 piece orchestra at AIR studios in London in collaboration with Joseph Trapanese.

Cited influences are Wendy Carlos, Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, John Carpenter, Vangelis, Philip Glass, and Maurice Jarre.

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Requiem for a Dream

Year: 2010

Score: Clint Mansell

Verdict: An ungodly use of cinema. With the glimmer of a popular melody recurring throughout (Lux Aeterna) which kept me to the 3/4 quarter mark where the film had to go off!

Clint Mansell may be known to you as the lead vocalist for the now defunct group Pop Will Eat Itself. After the group’s dissolution he moved to the States. Now a respected film and television composer, he’s scored some seriously heavyweight movies. Such as Black Swan, The Fountain, Murder by Numbers and the cult film Pi.

In collaboration with the now California based Kronos Quartet, Mansell said he sought to create a musical representation of hopelessness, addiction and obsession. Citing Giorgio Moroder, Philip Glass and John Cage as influences.

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Black Rain

Image shows the film cover for the 1989 motion picture Black Rain.  From the article: Synth soundtracks - the OFFICIAL SampleNerd lowdown

Year: 1989

Score: Hans Zimmer

Verdict: With the Synclavier making its appearance only 10 minutes into the film. Hans Zimmer introduces to the world his drum-heavy electronic-symphonic style.  Not as grandiose as many soundtracks he would eventually become famous for. Nonetheless it provides a different cultural flavour served up in a sauce of 80’s American swagger.

With an unexpected precursor to the Now We Are Free melody made famous by The Gladiator halfway through. Zimmer closes the show with a co-written power ballad sung by Gregg Allman.

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The Long Good Friday

Year: 1980

Score: Francis Monkman

Verdict: The first of the SampleNerd picks. This mature and pathos-soaked main theme is not only a credit to composition, but also to the ‘power-use’ of synthesizers.  With a thick driven sax over the top.  It is over the top, but it’s great!

Francis Monkman (1948-2023) originally a prize winning Harpsichordist, went in a similar vein to Stephen Howell, leaving the confines of his formal musical training to branch out into rock music and live performance. 

Utilizing orchestra and electronica to create a contrast between the traditional and modern aspects of the story, Monkman devised a unique approach to come up with the catchy theme:

The main theme of the film is based on a five-note motif, which I derived from the name of the film. I used the letters L, G, F, and R, which correspond to the musical notes La, Sol, Fa, and Re in the solfège system. I then added a fifth note, Mi, to complete the pentatonic scale. I thought this was a clever way to create a memorable and catchy theme that also had a symbolic meaning.

Considering how good Monkman’s debut film score was, it’s a shame that more wasn’t to follow.

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