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Wizards (Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Review by Bruce Stringer

For the first time since the film’s release in 1977, Andrew Belling’s soundtrack to Ralph Bakshi’s groundbreaking animation Wizards has finally made it to CD. The sound is crisp, yet the analogue warmth has been retained, and there are many nuances revealed that were simply unheard in the original VHS and, later, DVD version of the movie.

Possibly the most important element of the soundtrack is its use of analog synthesizers – quite literally straight out of their boxes – from Japan. Composer Belling armed himself with an important tool to achieve the sounds, both musical and otherworldly, in Clark Spangler an ARP synthesizer programmer and Yamaha representative who did much of the patchwork on those awesome modular synths. Featured synthesis used on the score was provided thanks to the ARP 2500 and ARP 2600, among others, making this an important soundtrack in that it was one of the first to fuse elements of jazz, rock, gothic, psychedelic with proper synthesizer arrangements and not just sound effects.

Another interesting element of the film itself was the mixture of animation styles and these dramatic changes of styles were also reflected in the mix of the musical score. This soundtrack CD contains cross-fades of relevant grouped compositions and includes some unused previously unreleased pieces keeping in line with the integrity of Ralph Bakshi’s vision. Sadly, the opening title music (running 1:22) has been lost but the previously unreleased material more than makes up for any inconvenience. The booklet, penned by writer Randall D. Larson, contains a wealth of rigorously researched information on scene usage, equipment, Ralph Bakshi’s concepts, connecting dialogue and much more. 35 years has been a long wait but it has been worth it!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Time Will Tell (Full Version)
Originally composed with the intention of Judy Collins in the role of vocalist, model / actress/ singer Susan Anton provides the haunting vocals on this full-length – and previously unreleased – version of the cult soundtrack song. The sparse drum work moves back and forth in the mix, allowing the bass guitar to hold the timing, and the harp sits nicely behind Anton’s voice. The digital mastering manages to retain the analogue warmth. This gives room for the phased pad synthesizer to stretch its wings and the vocal reverb to work its eerie charm. This is the complete version (an edited one is heard over the closing credits), and features a smoother ending than the video cut as well as inclusion of celesta-type bell sounds in the mix at the beginning.
The Story Begins / Scortch 3000 Years Later / Fairy Hookers / Peace Goes Forth / Peace in the Valley of Montagar
The melancholy harp and flute tune starting this set is poignant yet manages to produce an uplifting feeling as the drums build momentum to its jazzy outro. With nylon string classical guitar and electric bass, the primary themes are introduced and the components of “Time Will Tell” are introduced. (Although “Time Will Tell” is first on this CD it was last on the film soundtrack). The haunting “Scortch 3000 Years Later” utilizes a spacey synth to underpin the delicate harp arpeggios while cat-crying guitar produces a haunted atmosphere. An organ-synth bass passage takes the piece towards an almost military feel before dropping back to the loose jazz of a fairy street hooker propositioning clients. The cool trumpet solo and backing music is broken up by warbling synth indicating the presence of the story’s assassins, before the fairy continues her work.  The deathly dirge of key assassin, Peace (aka Necron 99), finds the jazz trumpeter washed in reverb as his song for an unknown soldier picks up the pace and back into funky 70s jazz territory, complete with key changes, walking bass lines and piano solo dueling with brass. Next, there is a gospel organ which fades in under spooky tom-tom modulations, synth, and then xylophone before finally resolving with decelerating harp arpeggios.
War against Peace / Weehawk Disturbs the Peace / The Bubble Bursts
Though not used in the film, the first two pieces of this grouping focus on the jazzier elements of the score, complete with soaring wah-wah guitar solo over a rolling 12/8 pattern. In contrast, a slower chromatically ascending and descending bass groove leads a short trumpet interlude back into a faster pace before disappearing into an oscillating noise generated by one of the modular electronic keyboards.  “The Bubble Bursts” returns to the phased synthesizer and harp, and is reminiscent of the missing opening title theme. Anybody familiar with this scene in the movie will recall the bubble as it emerges from under the water to finally burst with a jovial musical passage indicating the appearance of main character, Avatar.  It is a pity that the first two tunes weren’t used but the mixture of musical styles in the finished version of Wizards would prove to have a lasting effect on Bakshi’s fans as he had already explored such musical devices on previous animated ventures Fritz the Cat and Coonskin.
Jukebox Junky Blues
One of the more humorous scenes in the film has the Wizard Avatar magically transforming a hungry caged rat-like creature into a jukebox. The accompanying music lasts only a mere 46 seconds so it is with great interest to hear this version which doubles the length and experiments with different cues and themes. The track is primarily a lounge style piano tune, something which might echo a 1950s vibe in a Las Vegas nightclub, and focuses on some nice electric bass work under some fluent ivory finger work.
Blackwolf Finds the Record / War & Frog / We Can’t Lose

Another short trio of pieces connected through percussion, what starts as a dark church organ piece transforms into a psychedelic fuzz guitar rant before cross-fading into a selection of odd passages designed to link the varying moods of the film (and includes a bugle call, with black humor attached). The resolve is with a return to the church organ making this grouping both scary and funny at the same time!

Moving Out
Reprising the organ theme, a military snare and timpani percussion round evolves with tight bass playing throughout. There are flashes of organ and synthesizer notes, highlighting the various characteristics of the individual combatants in Blackwolf’s mutant army. “Moving Out” is repetitious and designed as a fanfare for the war vehicle. This has been crafted to suit edits from the film, so many of the nuances are lost without a foreknowledge of the upcoming battle scenes.
Battle & Peewhittle’s Death
This is probably the funkiest music ever put to a scene of war and slaughter, a juxtaposition of concepts with killing underpinned by fuzz guitar solos and portamento ARP synth lines. There is a dark, minor-key emotion to the battle music with tight drums and stomping bass, the dueling solo instruments fighting for prominence in the mix. The murder gives way to a 3/4 reprise of the flute and harp, the emotional tug-of-war indicating “Peewhittle’s Death.” It is a sad piece, highlighted further in the film by the dropping of the dagger and blood spilling down a large boulder. This is the powerful mix of music and ideas that can be seen and heard again and again in Bakshi’s impressive catalogue of filmed work.
Now Begins Our Final Battle / Avatar Equestrian / On the Road to Scortch
One of the key themes in “Time Will Tell” is played on flute and here, on CD, sans the Susan Tyrell narration. It has the haunting emotional quality that has enveloped this soundtrack score. A sudden cut takes the listener to the fun “Avatar Equestrian,” where our hero struggles to work out how to “drive a horse.” The use of flange on the keyboard – used compositionally, not just as effect – is interesting in that it shows the piece is not merely a product of mid-1970s music fashions. Electric bass underscores the rhythm until it breaks down and the dissonant synth notes of the third segment take over. The resultant theme is a reprise of “Scortch 3000 Years Later” but much shorter in length.
Fairy Attack
Percussive sound effects and a carousel-like melody feature in this piece, much of which is scarcely noticeable during the scene in its visual medium. It is fun and filled with mirth, very childlike in sound texture with spooky keyboard bass notes occasioning an appearance before an abrupt end. This track is used to introduce the fairy characters of which actor Mark Hamill (from "Star Wars") plays one named “Sean.”
Fairy Drums / Jungle Drums / Gargoyle Once a Day
The introduction (“Fairy Drums”) is the type of high-pitched tom percussion piece that modern musicians might use a drum machine sequence or loop to achieve. At the 0:18 mark the pattern ends and is replaced with a much fatter sounding African tribal drum loop which continues for another minute. These percussion pieces are used through various scene edits building to an emotional peak. On CD the reverb adds a wider dimension than the original mono soundtrack version; much of the stereo-ising and broadening techniques used on this release of the score do add a greater stereoscopic image. The final composition employs eerie shimmering keyboard sound effects with slow attack, a la the old 1950s black and white horror movies. A thick multi-timbral bass note induces fear as fledgling fairy, Elinore, brings a stone gargoyle to life unleashing it on the fairy council only to have it turn back on her. “Gargoyle Once a Day” is the only segment from this track to use non-percussion instruments with its use of strange synths with long attacks and nasty, harsh saw-wave bass keyboard.
Snow Drift / Snow Time / Assassins in the Snow
With the main characters lost in the snow, the harp arpeggio and flute melody set a mood of despair. The oft-used theme from “Time Will Tell” emerges once more with some thematic changes and use of electronic keyboard notes and effects. The watery sound effect has a light touch which defies the sudden booming multi-timbre synth-bass that attacks from out of the blue. The joviality returns with “Snow Time” and some nice modal flute passages emerge. The synthetic brass, with warlike quality, forms an entrance for the assassins of the title. A very short interlude of harp, flute, keyboard and electric bass ends this threesome with an upbeat feeling until the rumbling timpani bring forth the clouds of darkness.
Tanks Again & Betrayal / Peace Isn’t, Elinore Doesn’t
Returning to a military theme, the emphasis this time is on ARP synthesizer effects and brooding brass notes. The mood turns evil as the military snare disappears, replaced by an otherworldly oscillated melody segueing back to the minor-key funk before resolving on the pondering sadness of flute and harp. This is a prime example of how various musical emotions are used to great effect by composer Belling who manages to change the mood numerous times over the 1:20 running time.
To All Our Ships / Larry Gets Weehawk
The distant war drums sound and, with much of the brass work on this soundtrack score leaning to a renaissance or medieval style of orchestration (focusing on non-modern intervals in a modal scale context like 4ths, for instance), the elements are retained with the entrance of a funk groove and beyond. The band ceases but the trumpet carries on in a flurry of hi-hat splashes, finally strangled through the descent of a drowned bass note as it falls through the depths of pitch.
The Elves Are Coming
Following with the renaissance themes and dissonant bass, the Elves ready for war. This is another short piece aimed at bridging the warlike themes and setting a somber and haunting pace before the actual battle begins. The lone trumpeter appears once again.
Gathering of the Heavies / The Charge of the Heavy Brigade / The Battle Picks Up Tempo / The Punchup / The Elves Lose
Electric piano and funky bass-drum groove are accented by distant timpani and wah guitar notes, with occasional breaks for medieval brass and bleeding synthesizer notes. The drums are front and centre in the mix, crisp and acute – again highlighting the impressive digital mastering as much of the top end is lost on the original analogue film version. Harp plays over the military-esque snare, tightly plucked bass smoothed over by sustained keyboard notes. The timpani build and the instrumentalists leap back into a funky piece. The synthesizer arrangements give the track a heavier feel and there is even a synth-brass melody similar to Vangelis’ Pulstar for the enquiring ear. The band breaks, then leaps into a faster tempo tune, again ceasing, further bringing the speed down. The ARP effects infer a monstrous presence, the use of flanger and wah-wah effects, thick reverbs and multi-instrumental parts serve to concentrate the various themes and passages. Though there is a descending progression used throughout this set of four compositions, there is very little in way of repetition as the instrumentation, speed, and arrangement is constantly changing. To end, the main flute theme is employed as a sad counterpoint to the aggression of the fighting scenes. As one of the longer pieces on this CD, there are a number of stops, starts and changes designed to inform of the scenic changes in the film and, once again, Belling and Bakshi prove to be a formidable team translating the moods and concepts to both film and sound.
Weehawk Finds Elinore / Elinore’s Ok / Blackwolf Bites It / Final History / Bye
To create a resolution to Wizards, Bakshi obviously realized that the doomier elements of the music and sound editing, and the darker storytelling would need to be replaced by a sense of hope. So, to define an arc in the final scenes, he started from the point of Gothic darkness with deep organ bass, emerging strings and brassy synthesizer in a slow, funk track. Sound effects take over with deep, forbidding ARP bass segueing to classic organ horror and then reprising the fairy tribal drummers. The church organ playing, reminiscent of Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes, is an archetype in the development of dramatics and is a nostalgic hark back to the days when silent films were scored live with an organist or piano player. The piece changes dramatically at 1:30 with a reprise of the “Time Will Tell” harp and flute. After a false start, this piece begins with an echo of sadness but manages to capture a brighter future through the major-key thematic device. This is only one of a number of short excursions used in the film based on the haunting song.  The final piece, “Bye,” is short and filled with mirth. It includes an up-tempo reggae feel, mock bass saxophone-synth and clean, staccato guitar stabs. However, Bakshi and Belling leave the listener with a 10 second reprise of the pondering harp mood as a reminder that, although the battle may be over, vigilance through the ages will be required to prevent another holocaust.
Time Will Tell (Film Version)
Fans of this cult animation have long known that the closing song, played over the film credits, is one of the better music compositions of 70s filmdom. Thankfully, the practice of associating a hit song to a film score had dwindled somewhat by 1977 (only to return later), ironically making “Time Will Tell” remarkable in that it had chart potential yet was unreleased and unheard beyond limited cinema audiences of the day. Regardless, Susan Anton’s career blossomed further in music, Belling went on to score other amazing works for film and stage and Bakshi undertook what would be one of the most under-appreciated works of animation history: “The Lord of the Rings.” This version of “Time Will Tell” is the original one that cinema-goers would have heard during the original screenings. The differences in the twelve seconds edited from the full version include: the removal of the celesta introduction, a hard fade-out and a slight difference in the mixes. Sonically, both versions are almost identical.

 

 

 

 
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