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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
  • Composed by Alan Silvestri
  • Cosmos Studios Music / 2014 / 43m

Carl Sagan inspired a whole generation of young stargazers back in the early 1980s with his documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, one of whom was Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has now teamed up with producer Seth MacFarlane and Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan for a follow-up, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. With its easily-accessible presentation and apparently big budget (and even an introduction from President Obama) the series seems destined to become another success and, who knows, maybe inspire a few more people to look to the stars.

Producer MacFarlane is a big fan of film music – proper film music – and one imagines it was his influence that led to the hiring of Alan Silvestri to provide an extra layer of class to proceedings with an original score.  This album features music only from the first episode and is apparently the first in a planned series of releases; given how good it is, let’s hope they come to fruition.  Almost two decades ago Silvestri worked on a film based on a book by Sagan (Contact) and in the main title it quickly becomes apparent that the two scores have some things in common – this is the “twinkly wonder” kind of space music, delicate and touching.  The main theme is there but not yet fully developed – that will come later. “Come With Me” is more up-front, more dramatic; then comes arguably the highlight of the album, the lengthy “The Cosmos Is Yours”, in which a great sense of adventure is the dominant feeling. Here the sound is more expansive, at times bold and brassy, simply vintage Silvestri (there is a hint of The Abyss at times).

Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri

In “Virgo Supercluster” the composer uses electronics, fairly subtly, and while as ever this doesn’t come across as a strong point for him, it’s quite successful in giving a kind of science-and-exploration feel. It builds to a brassier section which again is vintage Silvestri, the extremely distinctive sound quite a joy for fans of his older material. “Multiverse” is a brief darker piece before one of the great highlights, the gorgeous “Giordano Bruno”, noble and subtly heroic and extremely beautiful, with a distant choir added to the mix for the first time.  “Revelations of Immensity” sees the main theme really soar, racing strings accompanied by heavenly choir, frantically fluttering flutes, majestic horns – it’s unsubtle, unrestrained, fantastic, about as grandiose as its title suggests.  After a slightly jarring synth opening, “The Inquisition” turns into a pretty decent suspense track, complete with the composer’s trademark brass and percussion hits.  Another piece with a portentous title, “The Staggering Immensity of Time”, also lives up to its promise, with the orchestra this time genuinely swelling to Abyss-like proportions before settling down to a calmer version of another of the main themes.

In “Star Stuff” things slow right down and electronics come far more to the fore, at times resembling an 80s/Casio keyboard version of James Horner’s Pandora synths from Avatar.  It actually works well enough in its earlier moments, but when the drum loops are added one is reminded why this fine composer would generally be better-advised at finding orchestral solutions to problems.  The electronics continue into “Chance Nature of Existence”, but this time there’s a little more orchestra there with them and it’s more satisfying as a result.

“New Year’s Eve” sees the electronics briefly transform the mood into something creepier, and seems far more accomplished; but it’s not long before things are back to their best in the concluding “Our Journey is Just Beginning”, a warm and yet exciting track combining many of the melodic highlights which have gone before into a particularly satisfying piece.  Granted there are a few moments with electronics that don’t come off, but otherwise this is a score with a spirit and warmth and sense of adventure that is galactic in proportions.  Cosmos is undoubtedly Alan Silvestri’s finest work in many years and ought to appeal to anyone who has previously liked his music, even those who haven’t been so keen on the action scores that have dominated his recent career.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Craig Richard Lysy (Reply) on Tuesday 18 March, 2014 at 00:10

    Thank you for this. Nicely done James!

  2. ghostof82 (Reply) on Tuesday 18 March, 2014 at 07:05

    I enjoyed the show but I really, really missed the originals Vangelis title music. I wonder if they approached Vangelis to score the series? I’m sure he would have leaped at the chance if they had. As it is, the new Cosmos sounds like any other current documentary series (Planet Earth etc) whereas the old show had a unique and haunting sound (even though, ironically, it was all source music). Nice review.

  3. Ad de Nijs (Reply) on Friday 4 April, 2014 at 15:33

    James, yet another great review. I can fully second this as I had bought the album myself and came to the same conclusion.