Saturday, October 17, 2009

TZ Spotlight --- The Twilight Zone: A Sound Adventure in Space (Marty Manning and his Orchestra)

This spotlight represents a bit of a departure for me, namely because I don’t actually own the item I’m spotlighting. Ladies and gentlemen, your attention is directed to one of the strangest items to ever bear the Twilight Zone name….

Columbia Records released this album in 1961 in both mono (CL 1586) and stereo (CS 8386) versions, with the clear intent of capitalizing on the show’s growing fame. The casual observer, browsing the record store bins, might have assumed that the LP contained actual music from the show. Well, it didn’t. Not even close. In fact, only the title track is even remotely connected to the show, and even then it’s a barely-recognizable rendition of Marius Constant’s theme for seasons 2-5 (Bernard Herrmann’s superior season 1 theme is thankfully spared). Otherwise, the album contains short musical interpretations of film scores, classical pieces, and easy listening songs, arranged by Marty Manning and Ernie Altschuler, and performed by Mr. Manning and his Orchestra. Here’s the track listing:

01. The Twilight Zone

02. Forbidden Planet

03. The Lost Weekend theme

04. Invitation

05. You Stepped Out of a Dream

06. The Unknown
07. Far Away Places

08. Spellbound Concerto

09. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

10. The Moon is Low

11. Night on Bald Mountain

12. Shangri-La

The album has been out of print for years, and has never been reissued on CD or digitally via iTunes. It’s a highly-desired collectible, no doubt about it (I’ve seen copies sell on eBay for between $50-$100 over the last several years). Since I don’t own a copy of the album, I don’t have access to the liner notes. I did find the following excerpt online, however:

"To pluck such sounds out of The Twilight Zone and give them expression, an astounding group of musical instruments was brought together. The familar tones of woodwinds, trumpet, piano and guitar were expanded and given shapes through electronic sorcery. And to them were added exotic instruments that seem to have been invented for, and even in, The Twilight Zone; the Martinot, the Ondioline, the bongos and the whole spectrum of percussion instruments. A vast library of sound effects added further intriguing notes. All of these were employed by arranger Manning to produce sounds that are musical, witty and beyond question other worldly."

Um… okay, sounds interesting enough. However, if you aren’t into space-age lounge music, you will not, I repeat, NOT enjoy this record. How do I know, you ask? I, um, acquired it in digital form using, er, questionable tactics (okay, tough guy, since you’re pressing me, I downloaded it from one of those disreputable torrent sites. Sue me!). So I do have the complete album, albeit in mp3 form. And I’ve been listening to it pretty much nonstop all day. First, it appears that these mp3 tracks came from the stereo version of the album, as there are some really nice directional effects here and there. The sound is pretty clean, too, without any perceptible skips or vinyl noise (the person or persons behind these mp3s clearly had access to a nice clean specimen). So yeah, the quality is good. It’s definitely cool getting my hands (well, ears) on it.

But…. do I like it? Well, I dunno. I do appreciate exotic lounge music in general (for example, I’m a big fan of Capitol’s Ultra-Lounge compilations, particularly the Mondo Exotica, Rhapsodesia and Bossa Novaville volumes). I like unusual instrumentation and mysterious sounds, but I generally prefer the music itself to be low key, mellow… you know, atmospheric. And the fact is, the space-age variety of lounge music sometimes gets a bit bouncy and frenetic, kinda like a small child with ADHD, and employs some pretty obnoxious electronic sounds in the process. In short, it can get pretty wacky, and therefore I tend toward caution when it comes to this type of music.

Manning’s Twilight Zone LP definitely has its moments, I’ll give it that. Both the title track and “The Unknown” are highlights, both employing wordless female vocalizing (a la Alexander Courage’s Star Trek theme) and establishing an appropriately mysterious mood. “Invitation” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” effectively maintain the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the album also contains tracks that utterly shatter the mood. “Faraway Places” starts out like a xylophone factory on crack, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is relentlessly cutesy (and almost certainly not at all what Dukas intended), and “Night on Bald Mountain” is just plain repellent (who’s idea was it to sprinkle human screams throughout?). However, the album closer, “Shangri-La,” is moody, vaguely tropical, and utterly sublime. The album is schizophrenic in its arrangement, and ultimately an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, the digital age permits us to customize what we listen to with great precision, so roughly half of this album is going to be deleted from my iPod.

Bottom line? In the realm of Twilight Zone collecting, this album is a curiosity piece at best. If I ever find it cheap, I’ll probably snatch it up. Otherwise…. nah.

An interesting side note: while this album clearly isn’t an actual Twilight Zone soundtrack, it sure as hell looks like one, especially when compared to the five Varese Sarabande LPs released in the 80’s:

I will note that I'm a HUGE fan of Twilight Zone music, so this is a topic that will most definitely be explored in future entries. Consider these (gorgeous) LP covers a small taste of what's to come.

And hey, if you’re interested in outer space exotica, here’s a great online overview of this unique musical subgenre. Talk about gorgeous album covers!


Gerald Martin said...

The complete stereo album is now on YouTube.

Tony Angel said...

to gerald martin -

please send links for youtube.

i want to listen to these in a real bad way