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More Babylon 5 CDs Than You Will Ever Need

by Jeff Bond

Babylon 5 soundtrack CDs, music composed by Christopher Franke Including:

Babylon 5 Volume 2: Messages From Earth *** 1/2 Sonic Images SI 8602-2
Babylon 5 - Severed Dreams ** 1/2 Sonic Images SI 0310-2. 22 tracks - 33:15
Babylon 5 - A Late Delivery From Avalon ** 1/2 Sonic Images SI 0312-2
Babylon 5 - Walkabout *** Sonic Images SI 0318-2
Babylon 5 - Shadow Dancing *** Sonic Images SI 0321-2
Babylon 5 - Z'ha'dum *** Sonic Images SI 0322-2

Television music is such a gigantic, untapped resource of great music that I can't help but get embittered as I listen to the beginning of an unprecedented series of CD releases from Christopher Franke's Sonic Images. Here's a television soundtrack fan's dream: a series of albums from individual episodes, beautifully packaged and indexed, with complete scores averaging out to around a half hour of music per disc. Meanwhile, we're lucky if we can get a Star Trek CD every three or four years.

I admire what Christopher Franke has done for Babylon 5. Here's a series that's produced on a veritable shoestring, that tries to tell stories that span space and time in a way that's never been attempted by a television series (or most movies) before. J. Michael Stryzinski's production would have never been possible had its armadas of arcane spacecraft been created by model builders (they'd still be trying to finish the ships for the first episode); nor would it have been able to afford a full-bore orchestral score every week. Franke's pulsating, textural scores for the series have always functioned perfectly with its slick CGI visuals, focusing on atmosphere and pacing in conjunction and conspiring to keep the viewer's attention off the show's simple fly-by-night sets and props and on the intricate interweavings of fate, interpersonal relationships and galactic politics that keep viewers (all 20 of them) tuning in week after week. There are no galactic fanfares and marches here, only misty synthetic chords that gather into charging, kodo-drumming action cues that race along with the show's bulleting CGI warships in battle sequences. Occasionally a piano note or a delicate, chime-like ping will hang in the background as an adjunct to character's discussions of the horrible Shadows or that annoying civil war sparked off by President Clarke.

While the scores function perfectly in conjunction with the series, I have doubts about their validity as individual albums, particularly in the individual episode format undertaken in the last batch of five CDs released. Franke's Babylon 5 Volume 2: Messages From Earth worked quite well at nearly an hour in length, compiling four episodes and takes on the series various title themes into a highly entertaining album. With the driving, almost dance-oriented "Messages From Earth" and the heroic "Voices of Authority" (one of the few episode scores to feature a memorable, well developed melodic theme), Volume 2 was a great overview of music from the series.

The individual episode scores, however, are almost indistinguishable, and too often the cues just wander along from synthetic crescendo to crescendo as they underscore each episode's dramatic brinksmanship and plot points. The battle cues are exciting, but I defy anyone but the most obsessed B5 junkie to describe the differences between them. And while Franke's handling of the electronic textures is adept, I think he could have made a little better use of the German orchestra that's credited in every episode. In particularly, the driving, fanfare-like title themes would gain a lot of distinction from the kind of guts that an acoustic sound would bring to them. While season 5's title music has yet to be put on CD, it features a nice new fanfare in conjunction with the "Voices of Authority" melody, and both would benefit greatly from a better use of the orchestra and a little less of that bleating Casio sound.

As far as the existing CDs go, there's also a little question of value for your money. B5 Volume 2 already contains lengthy suites (over ten minutes each) of the episodes "Z'ha'dum" and "Severed Dreams," both of which are now available as separate CDs. Volumes 1 & 2 contained around an hour of music; the individual episode CDs clock out at around a half an hour each, but cost as much as the hour-long albums. Nevertheless, despite my reservations, I hope the B5 CDs are successful, because there are other series out there (The X-Files, the Trek franchise, or how about the old Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau?) that deserve this kind of treatment.

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