Wednesday, 14 September 2011

THE BARBARIAN


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Barbarian (A Tribute To Basil Poledouris)
Format: Cassette release from Wulfrune Worxx (France) in 2010, cat ref WW170. The tape comes with black and white photocopied inlay. The tracks are copied on both sides of the tape.
Edition: Limited to 27 hand-numbered copies only

Track Listing:
01. Theology & Civilisation
02. Barbarians (first take mix without vox)
03. Conan Piano Suite
04. Anvil Of Crom

It's fair to say that Hugin is something of a fan of the Conan films. In his recent sojourn to the UK, Hugin and Nazgul took themselves off to view the new 3D Conan The Barbarian film which was entirely enjoyable if not quite in the same league as the original 1982 version. If you are familiar with that original film you may well have a strong and positive memory of the film score, written by one Vassilis Konstantinos "Basil" Poledouris and considered by many to be one of the finest examples of motion picture scoring ever written.

The work of Basil Poledouris was common in film and television shows between 1971 and 2003 before cancer led to him living the final years of his life on Vashon Island (Washington State, USA) before his death in November 2006. Many of the films are well known, including Red Dawn, Iron Eagle, RoboCop, The Hunt For Red October, Free Willy, Under Siege 2 et al, and let us not forget the Conan The Destroyer sequel too!

Poledouris composed enough musical pieces for approximately two hours of the film. This was his first large-scale orchestral score, and a characteristic of his work here was that he frequently slowed down the tempo of the last two bars (segments of beats) before switching to the next piece of music. Poledouris said the score uses a lot of fifths as its most primitive interval; thirds and sixths are introduced as the story progresses.

The composer visited the film sets several times during filming to see the imagery his music would accompany. After principal photography was completed, Milius sent him two copies of the edited film: one without music, and the other with its scenes set to works by Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev, to illustrate the emotional overtones he wanted.

Poledouris said he started working on the score by developing the melodic line—a pattern of musical ideas supported by rhythms. The first draft was a poem sung to the strumming of a guitar, composed as if Poledouris was a bard for the barbarian. This draft became the "Riddle of Steel", a composition played with "massive brass, strings, and percussion", which also serves as Conan's personal theme. The music is first played when Conan's father explains the riddle to him. The theme stirs up the appropriate emotions when it is repeated during Conan's vow to avenge his parents.

The film's main musical theme, the "Anvil of Crom", which opens the film with "the brassy sound of twenty-four French horns in a dramatic intonation of the melody, while pounding drums add an incessantly driven rhythmic propulsion" is played again in several later scenes. The film's music mostly conveys a sense of power, energy, and brutality, yet there are tender moments. The sounds of oboes and string instruments accompany Conan and Valeria's intimate scenes, imbuing them with a sense of lush romance and an emotional intensity.

Poledouris deviated from the practice of scoring love scenes with tunes reminiscent of Romantic period pieces; instead, Poledouris made Conan and Valeria's melancholic love theme unique through his use of "minor-key harmony". Page Cook, audio critic for Films in Review, describes Conan the Barbarian's score as "a large canvas daubed with a colourful yet highly sensitive brush.

There is innate intelligence behind Poledouris's scheme, and the pinnacles reached are often eloquent with haunting intensity." From late November 1981, Poledouris spent three weeks recording his score in Rome. He engaged a 90-instrument orchestra and a 24-member choir from Santa Cecilia, and conducted them personally. According to Poledouris, Rafaella De Laurentiis balked at the cost ($30,000) of a stereo soundtrack and was worried over the paucity of theatres equipped with stereo sound systems. The 24 tracks of sound effects, music, and dialogue were therefore downmixed into a single-channel, making Conan the Barbarian the last film released by a major studio with a mono soundtrack.

On his tape Hugin pays tribute to the man who penned the epic score to the 1982 classic film with four songs, which take samples of music and narrative from the original score and blend them with original instrumentation. Indeed, anyone familiar with Hugin's various projects over the years cannot fail to have heard samples from the Conan film appearing in the mix at some point or other, particularly the 'Riddle of Steel' passage where Conan's father tells him to learn the secret of steel and trust only it.

Opener 'Theology & Civilisation' and closing track 'Anvil Of Crom' draw heavily from the original 12 song score and are all the better for it, producing the sounds of great battle and sounding like ten thousand horsemen galloping forwards. 'Barbarians' in this non-vocal demo version is a pounding war-hammer of a track, bristling with spiky guitars and huge pounding drums. One imagines that a version with vocals will be forthcoming at some point and will most likely remove the heads of anyone within 50 paces. As a counterpoint to this ferocity comes the altogether more civilised 'Conan Piano Suite', which picks some delightful melodies and weaves them around the listeners ears like a fine gossamer blanket.

The cover artwork for this tape is quite different in style to the rest of the Uruk Hai discography, featuring as it does an image from the original film of Arnie (that arm surely couldn't possibly below to anyone else?!). The limitation on this tape is also interesting, being 27 in number: is it a number of arcane significance one wonders...?

Nazgul suspects that given the scarcity of this release and the suggestion of a second vocalised version of 'Barbarians' being in the offing then the music here will appear on a subsequent release in the fullness of time, thus allowing more Uruk Hai fans to enjoy the majestic sounds of a classic film score meeting the talented hands of Mr Wieser. For those of us in possession of this soon-to-be rare tape, however, rejoice: it's another great item worthy of any collection.

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