Do you have to know the film in order to like a soundtrack? This is a crucial question for film music enthusiasts and given the usual genesis of a soundtrack (first the pictures then the music) the logical answer would have to be yes. However, I find it quite enlightening to discover music without any knowledge of its context. It might even be argued that such a lack of prior background knowledge can increase the musical experience as you are not able to recall prefabricated images from the film and have to make up your own mind about what the music illustrates.
Only recently did I get the chance to make another experience like this, when I came across the fantastic soundtrack for the series Travelers by Adam Lastiwka. I was hooked by an unfamiliar tune while listening to the community-based internet radio station streamingsoundtracks.com and a look at the playlist told me it was “Stand down!” from the Travlers soundtrack. This Netflix series is a creation of Brad Wright, who’s also the creator of Stargate, and up to now I was totally unaware of it.
Lastiwka is a young Canadian composer and his music for Travelers from 2016 is his most successful work yet (in case you are wondering, he wants his last name pronounced like this [la•stoo•kah]; see www.adamlastiwka.com for more information). He has a way of merging and distorting natural sounds with electronics, so that even though traditional instruments are used in almost every track on this album, the final product is a very electronic soundtrack. If you want to find out more about how Lastiwka went about creating this music, there’s a short youtube video, which gives you an insight into the innovative ways he came up with to create distinctive sounds with familiar instruments.
This album begins with the track “Protocol”, which is a perfect introduction because it sets the tone without giving away too much. What you hear is an up-beat, futuristic song with beeps, piano notes and scratched strings. It draws your attention with a driving electronic beat, but at the same time, a thoughtful earnestness shimmers through from the background. When I first heard it, it left me curious about the music to come.
What follows is a varied mixture of tunes that range from very slow to quite fast-paced and cover a wide range of atmospheres and colours. For example, “Philucinating” sounds like floating in a cloud of warm and gentle sunlight, while the relaxed “Spectres and Vessels” is the acoustic equivalent of a lava lamp and in “Trevor does Transdifferentiation” you can hear how an idea or a scientific formula develops and grows (for me it literally is the sound of science). The tracks “Posthuman” and “Temporal Transmigration” are nice examples to illustrate Lastiwka’s ability to merge analogue and digital ways of making music: The former combines a dominant rolling beat pattern and acid electronics with a distinct piano melody while the latter is a very slow track based on string noises and solitary piano notes. Also within the field of electronic music, Lastiwka is quite versatile. Some tracks, like for example “Signatures of Time”, strongly remind me of electronic classics by Jean Michel Jarre, while others could almost be considered current chart trance (e.g. “Collider”).
The composition of this album is well thought through and this allows for the music to really tell a story. Consequently, the levels of tension and excitement rise towards the end of the track list. The fifteenth track, “Bound”, begins with plucked strings that sound somewhat like a musical box, it ascends in a rising string movement that dissolves into long bowed notes on a solitary string instrument and culminates in a huge electronic finale. Tension rises further with “Null and Void” to culminate with strong drums and a distorted base line – very exciting, but rather disturbing at the same time.
Next up is the light and emotional “Can’t let go”, which evokes the image of an electronic carillon and could be considered the denouement or the calm before the storm in this musical story line. The action continues with “Stand down!” – the track that led me to this album. It consists of an exciting three-minute build-up with tense, effective drums supported by strings and acid electronic sounds. The final “Chronocide” is a bombastic one minute track of rising strings, drums and electronics, and it provides a great, pompous finish to the album.
I really like how this album is structured. With the excitement and curiosity in “Protocol” and the great climax in “Chronocide”, the first and final tracks create a frame around the whole album, which strengthens its overarching cohesion. While it could be argued that not every track on the album is absolutely necessary and that some five tracks could easily have been cut from the mix, I think that in this particular case the music is very tightly connected to the story of Travelers and that by listening to the album you can re-experience the entire series. However, not knowing the series helped me a lot to keep my mind open and to form an honest opinion about each piece of music without any distraction by content or characters. Having listened to the album quite extensively has left me curious about the way the music is actually used in the episodes. Will any of the things I have seen in my mind’s eye appear on screen? There’s only one way to find out…
Anyway, I think that Lastiwka has created a wonderful, atmospheric soundtrack with dense acoustic landscapes. His way of writing makes the listening experience particularly rewarding and I am looking forward to hearing more from him in the future.
Thanks to Lakeshore Records for making this album available on streamingsoundtracks.com.
Thanks to streamingsoundtracks.com for providing pleasant surprises like this one.
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The highlights are in bold.
- The Director
- Temporal Transmigration
- On Spiritual Machines
- Signatures of Time
- Trevor does Transdifferentiation
- The Future ain’t what it used to be
- Spectres and Vessels
- Null and Void
- Can’t let go
- Stand down!
- Recursive Eden
Total length: 58 minutes
Lakeshore Records (2016)