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Visit about Danish cinemas


"2001:A Space Odyssey" - Yet another soundtrack

This article first appeared in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter

Written by: Claus Berthelsen, Danish Broadcast Corporation, Copenhagen, Denmark Issue 48 - March 1997
EMI/Turner has recently released what must be the 3rd or 4th soundtrack album of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 state of the art sci-fi: "2001:A Space Odyssey".

And it is by far the most interesting. The music for "2001:A Space Odyssey" consists of Kubrick's handpicked samples from classical music by composers including Johan Strauss, Aram Khachaturian and György Ligeti. All of the music has long been available in its' original context but the previous "original" soundtracks for the film have been mere compilations that could hardly be of any interest to those who are classical music devoteés. There is also no actual film music, of especial value to people with a keen interest in that particular sub genre.

This new soundtrack album, however, is much more serious stuff. Its' 13 tracks contain all of the music in the forms they appear in the film, including a suite of three Ligeti pieces linked together for the last chapter of the film: "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite". Also included are full- length versions of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna and Adventures, and, this of course is the pièce de résistance, more than 9 minutes of the computer HAL 9000's monologue including his singing of "Daisy - A Bicycle made for two" 1). (The release of the CD can be said to be celebrating HALs birthday; in the film he is activated on January 12, 1992) 2).

Everything has been digitally remastered using the best available sources. Although there are minor drop-outs due to wear and tear of the analogue material, the overall condition of the sound is very good.

There is of course no original music composed for the film on the CD - although it could be fun to have the music Alex North wrote, which Kubrick rejected. That would make it possible to compare the two "soundtracks". An idea for "2001:A Space Odyssey" - soundtrack album number 5, perhaps).

The HAL monologue montage is a treat, the suite of Ligeti's Requiem, Atmospheres and Adventure is a painstaking musical journey. And the CD as a whole is yet another proof that Kubrick is by far the most daring director in American commercial film. His choice of music is by no means safety first, and it reflects his ability to read and understand the underlying philosophical concept of music, an ability that seems unique if you compare Kubrick's choice of music to the choices made by other American directors of his generation.

It is worthwhile noticing the effort put into the accompanying booklet. It offers a variety of great pictures from the film as well as from the set, plus three excellent articles on the story, the film and the music. A re-release of a soundtrack leaves great opportunity to put the film and its' music into perspective and supplying noteworthy anecdotes that posterity has supplied. And this CD doesn't fail to convey new and interesting information. Robert C. Cumbow's article on the music tells us how György Ligeti "took successful legal action for the unauthorized modification of his music", particularly concerning the electronically treated excerpts from Ligeti's Adventures.

As a matter of fact, Ligeti never got as far as to the court with his case. The story is this: Ligeti met a friend, who'd seen "2001:A Space Odyssey". The friend commented on the use of Ligeti's music in the film - much to Ligeti's surprise: he had not seen it himself. What is more, Kubrick had never asked permission to use Ligeti's compositions. His lawyer contacted MGM, claiming that the use of Ligeti's music was illegal - MGM replied that Ligeti had every right to complain, but since all of the legal business was taken care of by an English agency, a lawsuit should be addressed to the people in England. This was the beginning of a lengthy correspondence proving that Ligeti had a case, but that a judicial process would be long and costly. Finally Ligeti decided not to go to court. An agreement was made with Kubrick's management securing the composer a compensation - probably a lot less than what he was entitled to, yet still more than what was the first intention of Kubrick and MGM. The story might stain Kubrick's reputation as a gentleman - but gentleman ship doesn't necessarily apply when it comes to art. The choice of music for "2001:A Space Odyssey" is a work of art - and this, probably definitive, soundtrack goes a long way toward proving it.

The soundtrack was produced by Rick Victor and David McLees. It is available from Turner Classic Movies and Rhino Movie Music No. R2 72562.

Claus Berthelsen is working at the Danish Broadcast Corporation as editor of the monthly radio show "Biografen" ("The Cinema") where film music is played, discussed and explained.

1) Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.
I'm half crazy all for the love of you.
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage.
But you'll look sweet / upon the seat / of a bicycle built for two.

2) HAL became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois. The instructor was Mr. Langley.

Further in 70mm reading:

"2001" A Concert Article

Full credits for "2001:A Space Odyssey"

The Original Reserved Seat Engagements Of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

The 70mm Newsletter on the air

Internet link:

"2001" @ Rhino


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Updated 07-01-21