Daft Punk Daft PunkTron Legacy
Technically, Daft Punk already have a soundtrack on their CV, if you consider that the final destination of “Discovery” (2001) was to be put together with the images of Leiji Matsumoto in the animated medium-length film “Interstella 5555.” Also technically, Daft Punk had already been involved in the finishing of a film, if you are of the opinion that “Electroma”, that ‘Gerry with robots’, is a film and not a yawn. But in reality, the French couple had never been in such close contact with a high-budget film and the commission to write music for the occasion, like now. “Electroma” was their film, although it didn’t include their music, and “Discovery” was their album, although it was later grafted onto another “soul” for all audiences. “Tron Legacy,” is something else. It is the most anxiously-awaited blockbuster of this year’s Christmas season, and the sequel to a film that marked a period and the beginning of the close relationship that exists today between computer-generated images and real action. “Tron” (Steven Lisberger, 1982), in its day, was also seen as a bit of a failure; it didn’t break the box office, like “E.T.” had done, nor was it a massive science fiction adventure hit like “Star Wars”. But for many reasons it became a cult film for that generation that went through childhood in the early 80s and saw a vision of the future in works like this, as well as in the early videogames for Spectrum and Amiga, new domestic technology and VHS video.
For the Disney production company, which was already responsible for the original “Tron”, it wasn’t easy to choose a name for the soundtrack of the digital and 3D sequel directed by Joseph Kosinski. Jason Bentley, who was already the musical advisor of the first “Matrix”, suggested that Daft Punk was the ideal team to accept the commission, and even though they didn’t have experience in soundtracks (“Discovery”, wasn’t really one) or in films (“Electroma” was something else), Bentley’s hunch was right. First, because Daft Punk are sons of “Tron”: the pyramid of the “Human After All”tour and its neon, its robot helmets, and its neoprene armour are like those of the characters from the film who looked like a cross between the black-and-white Romans of “Ben-Hur” (Cecil B. DeMille’s silent version) and the hieratic effigies of Kraftwerk on the cover of “Die Mensch Maschine”). Secondly, because “Tron” was a film that bet on computers and electronics to the end, at the risk of seeming kitsch, and in the process of post-production it was decided that the music would be written by Wendy Carlos (née Walter), the virtuoso Moog synthesiser pioneer who had previously participated in the scores of “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange”. The original soundtrack of “Tron” was like romantic Wagnerian music played with high-end synthesisers, a dynamic, stony work, as well as being one of the most solid of “cultured” electronic music of the time. And Daft Punk, much more than any composer settled in Hollywood, is ready to take over from her.
When “Tron Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” starts to play, it’s surprising that it sounds “like a soundtrack.” It’s normal, because the name Daft Punk is always synonymous with gummy disco-house and club hits. But just because they’re masters of dance music doesn’t mean that they are rash, and of course “Tron Legacy” is a soundtrack designed for a film with a big budget, an orchestra with a hundred musicians, and following the writing that James Newton Howard would have scribbled. In fact, Daft Punk’s grammar book here is close to that of current (and long-time) master of Hollywood, the German Hans Zimmer: deep synthesisers, long notes, which envelop the auditory experience, and which in the songs from “Tron Legacy” sound much darker than those of the “Origin” soundtrack, and almost as hair-raising as those of “The Thin Red Line”. But Daft Punk’s confidence is much greater. They know the rules, but they don’t respect them to the letter, and if the script calls for it (just like it may call for nudity from an actor), they put in their trademark danceable interludes: “End of Line” and “Derezzed”.
Speaking of rules, the existence of an “Overture” and a “Finale”, like in the great soundtracks from the golden age of Hollywood –think of that written by Alex North for “Cleopatra”, for example, or Miklós Rózsa for “Quo Vadis” means that Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel from Homem-Christo know what they’re doing. These two references are no coincidence, either: without having seen “Tron Legacy”, one imagines it like a modern film of gladiators and battles ( “Disc Wars”), like the first “Tron” was, and it also has a great deal of Olympic fanfare, athletic epic, like the soundtrack of “Chariots of Fire” written by the Greek Vangelis.
The point of departure from Wendy Carlos’ first soundtrack also extends in a line leading towards the most visible representatives of the electronic soundtrack in the 70s and 80s, a discipline that Daft Punk also seems to know how to respect: there are echoes of Eduard Artemyev and the aforementioned Vangelis, but they don’t limit themselves to being retro, nor do they consider the war of varnishing science-fiction films with electronic music to be their battle. That battle is already lost, an opportunity was lost years ago, as Simon Reynolds explained very well in an article about this in the second issue of the magazine Loops. And the thing is that science-fiction soundtracks have never really sounded futuristic. Daft Punk don’t go that route either, but they manage to do something even better, which is to give the modern mainstream soundtrack another distinction in “Tron Legacy”. The strings, the synthesisers, and the songs get under your skin and tell you that the film is not only going to be good, but great and action-packed, just listening to the analogue zig-zags of “The Son of Flynn” and “Arena”, the galloping drums of “The Game Has Changed” or the funeral strings (pure Barber) of “Adagio for TRON”. It is majestic, unforgettable music, and you also have to keep in mind a couple of details: it belongs to the area of Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s neoclassical music –situating itself at the same level– and if that weren’t enough, in a year in which analogue and the retro synthesiser have been the focal point, thanks to the young neo- kosmische crowd, Daft Punk have come to add their grain of sand, which is in reality a diamond. This isn’t an exaggeration: this magnum opus looks to be historic. If it doesn’t win an Oscar, there’ll be trouble.