Daft Punk's ‘Legacy' act
The duo is inspired by Wendy Carlos, who scored ‘Tron.'
Daft Punk's mission in creating the music score for “Tron: Legacy” is doubly imposing. First, the French electronic music duo is charged with creating soundscapes to help director Joseph Kosinski guide audiences convincingly into the inner dimensions of virtual reality. In doing so, Daft Punk members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo also face the challenge of delivering a worthy successor to the work of one of their key influences and one of the true pioneers of the entire field of electronic music: Wendy Carlos.
“Creatively, we all wanted the same thing,” Kosinski recently told KCRW-FM program director Jason Bentley, who also is the music supervisor for “Tron: Legacy.” “I knew we wanted to create a classic film score that blended electronic and orchestral music in a way that hadn't been done before.”
That's what Carlos did when she composed and performed the score for the original “Tron” film in 1982 for director Steven Lisberger, bringing to the project her technological and compositional innovations that in the late 1960s and '70s significantly helped transform electronically generated sounds into bona fide music.
The score for “Tron” featured a trailblazing integration of traditional orchestral music with the sweeping, atmospheric synthesized sounds Carlos had introduced to much of the world in 1968 with her groundbreaking “Switched-On Bach” album.
“It was a chance to work with a big orchestra and a fairly big electronic ensemble and wed the two together before synths had gotten to the stage where they could be used in the same room with the orchestra, being played along with, like the way … a lot of others do now,” she told Film Score Monthly magazine several years ago.
By trial and error — not merely pushing buttons on today's preprogrammed synthesizers, which didn't yet exist — she came up with a multihued rainbow of distinct sounds on the early, massive Moog synthesizers she used. “Switched-On Bach” breathed electronic life into several of Bach's grandest works, went on to receive the Grammy Award for classical album of the year and sold more than 1 million copies, a rarity in classical music at the time. She subsequently composed original scores in 1971 for Stanley Kubrick's bleak vision of the future “A Clockwork Orange” and, in 1980, music for the same director's film version of horror-meister Stephen King's “The Shining.”
Her work set the stage for the ambient music movement that developed in her wake in the 1970s and '80s, and created much of the sonic vocabulary of electronic rock, dance and house music. But when “Tron” surfaced, the idea of a movie set in the cyber world was a wild frontier.
“One of the things a lot of people don't realize in larger context,” Lisberger said Monday, “is that at that period of time, Disney was desperate to reconfigure its media image.... There was quite a bit of pressure from the studios to keep ‘Tron' edgy, and it's interesting because some people look at ‘Tron' and criticize it from the standpoint that perhaps it had too much edge, in terms of the electronic score, or in terms of computer lingo it used, or how avant-garde the visuals were....
“We were flying blind,” said Lisberger, who also is a producer and writer on “Tron: Legacy.”
If anyone could have been considered an authority on what sounds might be zipping around within the confines of microcircuits and memory chips, it was Carlos, who remembered her experience working on “Tron” much the same way.
“That was the most concentrated, tightly packed amount of work, both a technical and an artistic viewpoint, that I had ever done in my life,” she told an interviewer after the film was finished. “I had to run more by the seat of my pants and hope that I was really as professional as people were telling me I was. And yet I didn't feel I ever resorted to formulas or compromises.”
Daft Punk has long acknowledged their debt to Carlos' work, and since the Walt Disney Co. announced that the group had been tapped to do music for the sequel to “Tron,” debate has been flurrying over the choice.
“It's awesome, and so is Daft Punk,” a reader posted on the indie music blog Newdust.com after hearing a sample of the new score that had leaked. Another asked, “They make great house [music], but soundtracks??? Not a patch on the unique musical genius of Wendy.”
Lisberger noted that the working environment he and Carlos had contrasts dramatically with the one Kosinski and Daft Punk operated in for the new one.
“I was so consumed working on ‘Tron' that I handled the music pretty much at arm's length,” Lisberger said. “Wendy went off to London to work with the [London Philharmonic] orchestra, we discussed ideas in a couple of phone calls. We were under such extreme pressure to complete it, I didn't have that much time to work with her…. I got envious watching Joe work with Daft Punk in terms of how much intimacy he got to have with them being right here in town, and how involved they were with the whole production.”
-- Randy Lewis
Images: Daft Punk (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times); Wendy Carlos (Associated Press)