A thing I have been pondering a little bit lately is how truly, truly awful many 1980s movie synth scores were. Leave aside Tangerine Dream, Brad Fiedel, and Vangelis, and you get into some very mixed results. Synthesizers were so badly used and abused at the time that bands would release albums with “no synthesizers used” stickers (often a blatant lie) because people hated them so much.
I don’t have the musical or audio background to give any kind of definitive reason, but two scores in particular went through my head when I was thinking this over most recently: The Princess Bride and Ladyhawke.
(I’ll bring this around to today’s album and artist, just bear with me.)
The score for The Princess Bride is objectively pretty awful, sounding very much like it was done by one man on a cheap synthesizer trying to pretend to sound like an entire orchestra, and failing. And yet, somehow it works for the film. My theory is that, whether composer Mark Knopfler intended it or not, it works for the viewer because it’s the kind of thing the grandson being told the story would be able to do with the stuff in his room. (That makes the opening shot of the 1980s Nintendo game and music a stroke of genius, setting the audience up for the rest of the score of the film.)
Andrew Powell’s score for Ladyhawke, on the other hand, is in itself a mixed bag. Focusing only on the parts that use synth, the dreamier, magic-related portions of it work amazingly well even today. But when it shifts into a jaunty “theme”, it grates on the ears completely. For one thing, given the rather somber story told, it’s way too happy-sounding. But, for another, it sounds like it’s trying to do things other instruments would do better, or more smoothly.
As any fan of 1980s Hong Kong cinema can tell you, using synth just because it’s cheaper lead to lots of very cheap-sounding film scores. But those composers who embraced the new technology and tried to do new things with it, things only possible with synth, the invented new and amazing things never possible to human musicians before. Again, see the works of Fiedel, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream for prime examples.
And that brings me back to Adam Bownik. I’m not going to claim he’s a genius on the level of those three, but he uses synth to try things only possible to synth. He’s not trying to sound like anything else — except, possibly, to sound like he created these wonderful tracks in the 1980s himself. But they’re original to him, even as he manages not to sound of his own time.
Which is quite a trick, if you think about it.
He says of this album:
One of the most dynamic albums in my discography. Inspired by natural forces of our planet Earth.