The light is diffused. The space is clouded with a phosphorescent amber. We are in a church. A Steadicam tracks down the central aisle in slow motion. We approach the altar. In anticipation of transcendence, our pulse quickens.
That’s how the opening title track on Giorgio Moroder and Raney Shockne’s score to the TV series Queen Of The South sounds. I haven’t seen the series (deliberately, for the experiment of this review), but those images are how it sounds. ‘How images sound’? Yes – because this is the realm of film scores. No matter what their original intention or reference, once film scores are appended to movies and the like, their musicological skin thickens – sometimes with beautiful tattoos, other times with ugly warts. Either way, the music will become ‘imaged’. It will trade in ‘sonicons’: a stream of sonic iconography that is meant to be listened to as well as comprehended for its narrative, psychological and cinematic value.
If there’s one composer who exemplifies this transition from sound to image and back again, it’s Giorgio Moroder. Who could have predicted in 1979 that a brand of pre-Italo Disco would become a standard in film music stylistics (following Moroder’s win of Best Original Score in the 1979 Academy Awards for Midnight Express)? More than mere Disco, Moroder’s sound is a complicated musicological merger. He spent the late ‘60s and early ‘70s crafting an amazing series of Bubblegum and Euro-Glam stompers with wonderfully gaudy studio trickery and inventive production. Synthesizers were the next logical step in this embrace of radiophonic artifice. His percolating analogue synth banks were Disco in disguise: the sound in reality was a pseudo-Germanic impressionistic versioning of night club soul by an Italian pop aesthete. Italian culture has long traded on import/export flagrancies, piling excessive sensorial ornamentation on solid classical forms. Moroder to Kraftwerk is like Rossini to Mozart.
But let’s critically savour the passata proffered here in the soundtrack of Queen Of The South. While the tracks pleasingly hit their signifying target each time, I am sometimes shocked into a parallel sonic universe. Might I be listening to a Bandcamp suite of demos by an aspiring composer who grew up as a teen listening to Cliff Martinez’s score to Drive (which references Tangerine Dream’s score to Michael Man’s Thief produced 30 years earlier)? Queen Of The South’s production sounds entirely digital, typical of the virtual vistas of soft-synths, plug-ins and file-processors. It’s a techno-topos which locks the ears into a lurid late-‘90s past, which dreamed of techno-empowerment in the new millennium – which is now, and whose actuality sounds smoothed and softened. Computer screen technology went through the same thing back then via Quartz graphic layering and anti-aliasing: everything eventually ‘looked screenic’. Now, everything produced in the soft studio sounds sonic: the desire to emulate analogue presence or simulate acoustic grain overides the nano-details of how sounds are formulated. The resulting music might sound plausible, verifiable and affective, but it sounds like the sound it is referencing rather than the sound it wishes it could be.