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« Come to "Show Business: The Road to Broadway" this Sunday! | Main | The Revenge of April Showers »
Wednesday
Apr042018

Soundtracking: "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Stanley Kubrick's space saga is 50 this week! Here's Chris on its iconic music...

bwaamm bwaaammm bwaamMMM...
BAH BAHHHH
!!...

It’s as memorable a music cue as any in film history. Out of darkness, Stanley Kubrick opens his abract space opus 2001: A Space Odyssey to the stirrings of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (the “Sunrise” movement specifically) with the sonic weight of impending creation. Or is it destruction?

Strauss’s composition carries throughout the final, creating an a link that ties its ambitious, fractured narrative together. By repeating the track, Kubrick shows how innovation, exploration, and even violence come from the same lifeforce, like a spiritual Big Bang. The music is a key to understand how the film explores human instincts against the nature of the universe: can they be both at odds while also being the same? The sheer force of the sound, the kind of music you feel deeper than your bones, is its own impenetrable force. For a movie that creates iconography out of a literal monolith, its biggest monolith might be its omnipresent orchestral sound.

The “Sunrise” fanfare especially is an apt musical choice attuned to our own sense of otherworldly importance, becoming its own cultural touchstone and much borrowed/lampooned over the decades. Play it in the background as you perform even the most menial of tasks and suddenly you become a creator of worlds and fixer of calamities, an all powerful deity. It’s worth noting how Kubrick turned classical music into a pop cultural moment here at the height of of rock and roll. And it wouldn’t be the only time he found the artform useful or repopularized it, notably favoring it to the work of contemporary composers.

And it’s not all aurally massive either. With Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube”, he offers something vaguely whimsical to more placid and easier to reconcile imagery. It’s a waltz between humanity and science, with “Danube”’s musical sequences finding the two in harmony. Kubrick allows that our own creation and need to evolve, sometimes does produce something beautiful, as easily digestible as Johann Strauss II’s pleasantry. Our hubris can sometimes be amusing, if merely allowed by an indifferent universe.

With this distinct sound, Kubrick unleashes a vision that elicits both primal fear and moving awe for our cosmos and our existence. The director is often labelled as emotionally chilly, but here he captures something deeply human that’s tidal in its emotionality: our urge to understand, to conquer, to be equal to the gods. Turn the sound off and certainly the film is still astounding, but it misses that connective tissue that has made the film connect for decades.

Returning once again to “Sunrise”, the triumphant sound greets the film’s closing arrival of afterlife, extra-terrestrial life, or rebirth depending on your interpretive flavor of choice. While Kubrick has crafted this moment and others in the film to be argued and ruminated over for meaning, the music casts all points of view in the shadow of life itself, a greater purpose beyond what we can fathom in the moment. In this clash of cymbals and pounding percussion is the very awe of human existence.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (6)

Watching this film is a magnificent experience which never fails to overwhelm me, and much of it is due to its music choices.

Thank you for reminding me that it is about time I rewatch it.

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

The greatest 2001 homage is Enter the Void by Gaspar Noe. Noe has stated he worships this film and it shows. I think it even surpasses its model.

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s

I love 2001 so much. It was the first movie I ever saw that I didn't understand but it didn't matter. Every time I watch it I get something new out of it. A masterpiece.

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

This is one of those films that really should be experienced on the BIG screen-we need a special IMAX release

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I usually associate the opening music of the film to not just that movie but also to.... THE ROLEX-WEARIN', DIAMOND RING-WEARIN', KISS-STEALIN', WHEELIN'-DEALIN', LIMOUSINE-RIDIN', JET-FLYIN' SON-OF-A-GUN! Who has a hard time holding on to these alligator shoes on his feet. The 22-time heavyweight champion of the world. THE NATURE BOY!!!! RIC FLAIR!!!!! WOO!!!!!!!! Don't be dissin' the Nature Boy. His shoes cost more than yo' mothafuckin' house! Ladies still line-up to ride what's in his pants that is known as... SPACE MOUNTAIN! WOO!!!!!

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

This is my favorite movie of all time. What is interesting about the choice of music is the underlying meanings attached to it. Zarathustra is sometimes credited as the first philosopher. He was also the founder of ancient Persia’s religion. Look for his teachings and then watch the movie. You will be surprised.

April 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

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