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Daft Punk: “End of Line”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/12-daft_punk-end_of_line.mp3|titles=Daft Punk: “End of Line”]
Daft Punk fans have been waiting five years for this. Tron fans have been waiting close to thirty years. As the Tron: Legacy soundtrack is Daft Punk’s first release of new material since 2005 album Human After All, there seems to be no other logical way that the French DJ duo could have staged its return.
In a perfect marriage of aesthetics that only the Master Control Program could have arranged, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have left their grand discothèque anthems and enlisted an 85-piece orchestra to build an ambitious sonic accompaniment to Tron: Legacy’s parallel digital universe.
Though Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack serves as the touchstone comparison when talking about cyber-noir electronica, Tron: Legacy veers clear from the deathly brooding synthesizers for a more technologically inclined octave layering. Daft Punk has aligned itself more with the style of Wendy Carlos (this is a sequel, after all), the composer and scorer of the original 1982 Tron film. Among Carlos’ groundbreaking work with the Moog and electronic music systems, she is best noted for writing and recording the score for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
The correlation between Daft Punk and Carlos lies within the healthy mixture of the analogue and the digital synthesizers, interspersed with orchestral and organic instrumental parts. The result is a glitched-out symphonic experience with a baroque underpinning, an envisioned futurism that transmits the conventions of classical music through musical mechanisms old and new.
Poppy synths are replaced with violins while brass sections and organs provide much of the album’s weight. But as the music reflects, this is not Carlos’ ENCOM cyber universe as it was in 1982: it has become smarter, more adaptive, and far more advanced than ever imagined.
But long-time Daft Punk fans might be disappointed if unaware what to expect. Inserting Daft Punk and Walt Disney Records in the same sentence could provide the first hint in the duo’s departure from its signature sound. Though highly danceable trailer title track “Derezzed” has taken the Internet by storm, the album doesn’t follow the same mantra at all.
But there are a lot of factors motivating the music: the movie franchise and its long-running cult following, the task of writing a score (not to be mistaken as a soundtrack), and the spectacle of the relatively new 3-D feature.
From the overture, Tron: Legacy slowly begins building its universe, or its “digital frontier” — as Kevin Flynn so epically announces, “the grid.” Moving forward, Daft Punk seems to be asking listeners to visualize the journey, from physical to cyber world, as walls of chunky synthesizers rise from the horizon. The album begins to take shape with “The Son of Flynn,” a breathtaking composition that translates into a stereoscopic experience, with oscillating synth modulations rendering the kind of depth reached with 3-D visualization.
By and large, this is a meticulously crafted film score with tracks averaging two to three minutes in length. Tron fans, who may not necessarily be Daft Punk fans, will take a liking to tracks obvious in moving the story along, such as “Recognizer,” “End of Line,” and “Disc Wars.” These tracks conjure up some of the film’s most famous images in both music and title.
There are, however, a few tracks here with that thumping Daft Punk backbone still intact, more subtle than others. The standout track in that sense, surprisingly enough, comes when the movie has ended with “Tron: Legacy (End Titles).”
Marking the directorial debut for John Kosinski, Tron: Legacy has all the right components to relive the 1980s sci-fi classic. Daft Punk is the universal connector, the bridge that has connected younger audiences with a franchise older than themselves. More importantly, the French duo not using the film as an opportunity to create another straight dance/house album (we have its whole discography for that) adds a whole new dimension to its artistry. In its bold move into original motion-picture scores, Daft Punk has expanded its repertoire, offering subdued yet stunning arrangements with great cinematic worth.