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  • Composed by Zacarias M. de la Riva
  • MovieScore Media / 2014 / 54m

Automata is set in a post-apocalyptic future where robots are programmed to obey two laws – not to harm the few remaining humans and not to modify themselves in any way.  Antonio Banderas plays an insurance investigator who discovers that somebody may have done something to allow some robots to circumvent these rules.  Needless to say, things don’t pan out particularly happily.  The Spanish/Bulgarian film has attracted decent reviews, inevitably attracting comparisons with Blade Runner and mentions of Isaac Asimov.

The music is provided by Zacarias M. de la Riva, who also scored director Gabe Ibáñez’s previous movie, Hierro.  And – just when I thought there weren’t many surprises to be had in film music, de la Riva has provided a big one.  His score opens as might be expected – a tense, dissonant passage opens up “The Earth” but rising above the barren landscape is a heavenly choir of light, a stark but beautiful violin solo – and in the next cue, “We Want to Live”, a choral theme of great optimism and spirit, the voices floating over some crystal clear orchestral ruminations which build into an outlandishly lyrical Morricone-style heartmelting melody.  This leads into a brief extract of a full choral requiem (which will be developed fully later on), with all the religious connotations that implies.  It’s outstanding, striking and memorable.

Zacarias M. de la Riva

Zacarias M. de la Riva

In the brief “Robot on Fire”, the first hint of the duality at the heart of the score is heard in the striking contrast between dark tension and light hope.  “Apology” does the same – an extended variation of the main theme leads into urgent action, frantic orchestra combined with the choir (used imaginatively) and subtle electronics.  While none of the elements in isolation is particularly innovative, the combination is striking.  I’ve always loved film music that does this kind of things – take two conflicting ideas and explore ways of playing them off against each other.

Despite its name, “Desperation” is strikingly beautiful, expansively sunny and joyous, at least at first, though it does go on to trawl through darker territory.  The choir rises again to introduce “Birth of a New Robot”, the lonely call of a trumpet particularly noteworthy as the cue develops, the dramatic arc of the music then taking it through some powerful moments of particular grandeur.  There is a dogged spirit running through “Good Luck Jacq” which is combined with traditional emotion-based orchestral scoring in fine style.

“The Precedent”, with shades of Alexandre Desplat, builds a great sense of mystery and intrigue, swirling figures becoming ever more persistent, eventually danger and fear coming to the fore.  The tone shifts a little in “A Night Out Dancing”, a keyboard ushering in a bleak soundscape eventually punctuated by the warming embrace of the orchestra, but a throbbing electronic pulse closes the cue in dark fashion.  The two-part “The Canyon” begins with a soaring performance of the theme but you can hear there’s something not quite in place and a growing feeling of unease punctuates some of the choral music that follows, sometimes more overt than others.  In “Meeting Cleo” the composer again builds from a base of darkness and to some extent sterility, emphasising here the clinical robot world but once more building onto that a moving choral passage providing the raw humanity.  This is followed by “Into the Desert”, which begins the score’s starkest sequence – along with “I’m Burnt Out” and “Locker”, we have three cues that don’t offer the usual contrasts until the latter does have the briefest glimmers of light.  “New Robot Appears” contrasts some harsh dissonance with the now-familiar human feelings; “Badly Wounded” then brings in some of the score’s most striking moments, piercing stabs of power.  The score then ends with the full performance of “Automata Requiem”, a brilliant way of bringing the music round full circle.

I think this is a very fine album, one of 2014’s strongest.  Compositionally it is very strong and at its core is a very clearly-told emotional dramatic story – fans of Ennio Morricone and John Williams will find much to enjoy, I would imagine.  I love the warmth of the human side contrasting with the clinical starkness of the robot.  The album is bolstered further by the crystal-clear recording and great performance by orchestra and choir.  I don’t really know why so many extremely talented Spanish film composers have emerged together but it’s great to hear such good music so consistently appearing from that nation and de la Riva is clearly a composer to watch very carefully.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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  1. mastadge (Reply) on Monday 27 October, 2014 at 22:09

    Can’t wait to hear this. It sounds comparable (in approach, not specifics) to Daybreakers, which played very cold music for the vampires against a warmer, bolder approach for the humans.

  2. tiago (Reply) on Friday 31 October, 2014 at 00:05

    It’s just me or the cello theme that appears on track 3 looks too much with the cue “A Dark Knight”, from the album of The Dark Knight?

  3. Jens (Reply) on Friday 31 October, 2014 at 18:03

    It’s a bit too temp-tracky for my taste, but not nearly to the degree that Tad, the Lost Explorer was.

  4. JB (Reply) on Saturday 1 November, 2014 at 04:40

    It was a nice listen but I heard a lot of temp-track love in there. Giacchino and Desplat, especially.

  5. dominique (Reply) on Saturday 1 November, 2014 at 11:15

    sorry, but this score sounds like a copy, a mix of all that could be heard in recent times, very obvious to my ears…the choir passages…simply pinched!

  6. Palavar (Reply) on Monday 3 November, 2014 at 03:37

    Choir passages are very, very reminiscent of Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna.” That being said, the composer uses them to wonderful effect in the score.

  7. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Monday 3 November, 2014 at 12:17

    I’ve only heard sample tracks – and immediately recalled JAMES HORNER’S boy-choirs! Back in the days when JAMIE was a fledgling composer, those choirs were signature components of many early scores in his filmography. DE LA RIVA appears to reference HORNER before developing his own choral style. Even revered Classical composers, centuries ago, would pay a homáge to their peers by musically acknowledging their works. Many contemporary composers actually plagiarise whole segments of scores from A-listed names such as ZIMMER, NEWTON HOWARD, TYLER & others– and, in spite of reviewers continually attacking this generic anathema, the practice continues. James when are you going to review ‘Exodus: Gods And Kings? Although IMDB only lists ALBERTO IGLESIAS as composer [what was the director thinking??] WIKEPEDIA includes JAMES NEWTON HOWARD [I’m now interested in the score] and a pop musician. Does anyone know who score what & why?

  8. Mikael Carlsson (Reply) on Monday 17 November, 2014 at 09:50

    The Automata score does not feature any boy choir and the style of de la Riva’s choral writing certainly has nothing to do with James Horner’s choral writing. It is inspired by neo-romantic modern choral music in the style of Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre. On the other hand there are choral passages in this score that I have never heard in a film score before.

  9. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Wednesday 19 November, 2014 at 10:41

    Mikael – because you’re unable to detect the HORNER choral influences [that I heard in the 0’55” THE EARTH sample track] just means that you have a limited awareness of HORNER’S musical diversity & output. I added that DE LA RIVA develops his own musical choral stylization — a style you attribute to “neo-romantic modernism”. Thanks for info about composers of this genré, WHITACRE & LAURIDSEN – I’ll investigate their music. On the subject of musical influences in the AUTOMATA Score [heard by other MOVIE-WAVE readers], did you also hear MORRICONE, JOHN WILLIAMS, DESPLAT, GIACCHINN & ZIMMER?? Incidentally, I have no idea of the gender of the choristers used in the brief THE EARTH sample track – and made NO reference to them. AUTOMATA was given such toxic reviews (early October) that our Multiplexes ignored the movie… I’ll wait for a DVD release to check out the score.

  10. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Wednesday 19 November, 2014 at 20:37

    Andre, did you seriously just tell the head of a score release label that he has limited awareness of James Horner’s output? :p

  11. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Wednesday 19 November, 2014 at 22:00

    Does Mikael’s executive title make him an authority on all the the scores of every composer who has worked for Cinema… hmm Edmund??

  12. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Wednesday 19 November, 2014 at 23:39

    Edmund failed to mention the label you represent Mikael! As CEO of the release company, I’m sure you’re always searching for new titles…and as I don’t know your mail address I’m using Movie-Wave’s site [if that’s OK with you James?] to suggest a few titles that HOPEFULLY will interest you: 1) Adio Fratello Crudele. AKA- ‘Tis a pity She’s a Whore. ENNIO MORRICONE. Forbidden incest within a period setting. An exquisite love theme contrasts with conflicting emotions & Inquisitorial themes. 2)Romeo and Juliet. JAMES HORNER’S unused score for the 2013 movie. The film was re-edited and HORNER was not available to restructure his music. Poland’s ABEL KORZENIOWSKI was contracted to score the re-edited movie. 3) Thebes of the Hundred Gates. GEORGES DELERUE. A Sound & Light extravaganza at Egypt’s Karnak Temples with sumptuous music evoking the glory and beauty of an ancient civilization. DELERUE’S music was commisioned by Egypt’s High Council for Culture, and a copy would exist with his widow. 4) I love you Alice B. Toklas. ELMER BERNSTEIN’S celebration of the hippie era complete with sitar-influenced music. Imagine the free-loving, pot-smoking hippie culture impacting on a conservative Jewish family? A fun score by BERNSTEIN. There are many more titles I like to suggest Mikael…but I’ll leave those for another time.

  13. Zacarías M. de la Riva (Reply) on Monday 1 December, 2014 at 11:30

    First of all, thanks to James Southall for such a wonderful review. I acknowledge some of the influences that you and your commenters have touched upon. Specially that of Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” from which I literally took two bars and then develop them into something different. That type of choral writing was a big influence for the choral writing in this soundtrack.
    Another reference that makes sense to me is Desplat’s “Ghost Writer”, listen to the second part of “Apology”. I took Desplat moto motive, and used it as my rhythm pattern for this second part of the cue (not exactly as Desplat, but similar)

    But regarding Horner’s choral writing or even Zimmer’s cello theme for A Dark Knight, at this moment the only Horner choral writing I can remember is Glory, and I don’t think it resembles anything I wrote for Automata. And about Zimmer, I am a big fan of his work and I know his first Batman, but haven’t really heard the second or third installments of the trilogy. So it is a shock to me to find people saying that the cello theme is similar to what I wrote. Now I am curious and want to listen to what Zimmer did!

    Ayway, I am always amazed to see that people really listen to stuff we write, so I wanted to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who listen to the things we do, even if you don’t like them.

    • Palavar (Reply) on Monday 1 December, 2014 at 13:29

      Glad to know I wasn’t hearing things. I love Lauridsen’s work and was really psyched to hear it used as a touchpoint in this score and developed into something great. I’ll have to listen to future scores to see if I can find other choral cornerstones. Please continue in this vein!

  14. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Monday 1 December, 2014 at 17:42

    Nice to hear your response, Zacarias (if it’s really you). It’s refreshing to hear a composer be so frank about his influences, and I’ve always found it unfortunate that people take such issue. If a composer takes a previous work as an influence and builds upon it effectively to make it his/her own, then I think that’s, if anything, commendable (and it’s pretty clear that Automata is not merely a temp-track rewrite).

    At any rate, I found the choral writing in Automata to be very striking, so I’ll be checking out that Lauridsen work. And I picked up on the Ghost Writer similarity too, so it’s cool to have that confirmed. 🙂

  15. Gunnar Liljas (Reply) on Monday 29 December, 2014 at 15:10

    A beautiful soundtrack indeed. I came here googling for “Automata Lauridsen”, so I was happy to see the composer aknowledging the influence. Nothing wrong with that kind of influences and spreading beautiful choral music to “the masses”.

    I’m a little bit annoyed by how the chorus pronounces “Aeterna”, which is just plain wrong, but well, well… it’s still a nice soundtrack.