Cloud Atlas: Original Motion
Picture Soundtrack (2012)
Music Composed by: Tom Tykwer,
Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil
Label: WatchTower Music
Confession: I still haven’t not seen Cloud Atlas. Then again, judging by its box office, neither have many of you. In order to ease the pain of not having seen it, I purchased both the David Mitchell novel, and the original motion picture soundtrack. Consisting of twenty-three tracks, the album is composed by Tom Tykwer (also a co-director of the film), Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil. While I’m not familiar with any of their other work, be it individually or collaboratively, this score puts them on my radar in a big way. The film’s log line is as follows: “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future.” And you know what? That’s exactly how I’d describe the soundtrack. Interconnecting. Intertwining. It’s absolutely masterful how the soundtrack perfectly reflects that precise theme of the film.
At the very outset, we’re introduced to the short and simple Prelude – The Atlas March. Remember it well, because it will return throughout the soundtrack. This soft touch of piano, just a little over a minute, is the thread that holds the entire album together: past, present, and future. There are moments where the piece will creep into another track’s narrative, and you’re reminded of how universal this theme truly is. Cloud Atlas Opening Title is a mysterious track that perhaps better sets the tone for the rest of the album, or at the very least, the tracks to come, by starting out quiet, and having a somewhat reflective quality to it, all the while building towards something much bigger in sound and scope. This trend is kept up with such tracks as Travel to Edinburgh, Sonmi-451 Meets Change, Won’t Let Go, and The Escape. At around the halfway mark, Temple of Sacrifice, no doubt true to its name, switches gears and offers the album a chance to sprint to the finish in a truly epic way. Every track, from here on out, is heart pounding, heart stopping, and heart wrenching, be it the return of the strings in Adieu, or the haunting piano in New Direction.
This brings me to the soundtrack’s finale, the final four tracks, starting with Death Is Only A Door, and including Cloud Atlas Finale, The Cloud Atlas Sextet For Orchestra, and Cloud Atlas End Title, which are honestly worth the price of the entire soundtrack alone. It begins with a serene quality to it, of being in a trance, listening to the different sounds, the combination of strings, begin to merge together. By the time it reaches the Sextext For Orchestra, I could listen to that particular track on repeat for hours. By the time it ends, I found myself in tears and I don’t know why. It’s as if I’ve discovered, or rediscovered a part of my past that is only now bursting out of my heart and mind just as the orchestra consumes the entire room. End Title literally brings the album together, from the Atlas March onwards, and is a tribute to the fine work that came before it.
When I sat down to listen to the soundtrack, I was anxious to see if it would still work, not being able to put a particular piece of music to a scene. After all, film is a visual medium, and the score generally aids in enhancing that experience. The job of a score is to elevate the film and its themes in ways that mere performance alone sometimes cannot. The score is another actor in the ensemble as far as I’m concerned. If a particular role, or scene, or line of dialogue stands out, then so can a singular musical cue, with its ability to transcend the screen and be carried home with us. However, while it should stir similar emotions in us akin to actually watching the film, a good score should also stand apart from the rest of the film. I realize that it’s somewhat difficult to separate the two, but years from now, when the film is no longer playing, or not nearly as fresh in our mind, the score should still live on, as an excellent piece of music.
My first score was James Horner’s Titanic in 1997. I was an eight year old, sprawled out on my carpet, my Walkman to my ear, mesmerized by the fusion of Irish pipes with classical strings and piano. I’m twenty-three now, and every so often, I still put on that score, and it moves me perhaps more than the film itself ever could. Other scores I still bump in my car (do people still say that, “bump?”): Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy and Alexander Desplat’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I hope Cloud Atlas truly lives up to not just the expectations of adapting the novel into a film, but also now, to a soundtrack that on its own, is nothing short of a masterpiece. North American audiences didn’t spend eleven dollars to watch this film, but I would urge them to spend ten dollars on iTunes, or dare I say, go down to your local record store, and pick this up. It won’t leave your mind for days, and if you’re truly lucky, it won’t leave your mind for lifetimes.