Home > Reviews > RENAISSANCE – Nicholas Dodd

RENAISSANCE – Nicholas Dodd

September 22, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

To the outsider, the relationship between the composer and the orchestrator is a strange, symbiotic, largely misunderstood affair. Composers, who are ultimately responsible for the majority of the sound of their own work, pass off their musical outlines to others for “fleshing out” for a variety of reasons, time pressure being the most frequently cited. A seasoned composer like John Williams, whose recent scores have been orchestrated by John Neufeld and Eddie Karam, will hand over manuscripts which are 99% complete in detail, leaving the orchestrators with little to do other than write it out neatly and prepare it for copying. Others, on the other hand, will have little more than a melodic line written out, and it will be up to the orchestrator to convert this simple tune into something which can be played by a large symphony orchestra. It is in these circumstances that the influence of the orchestrator becomes apparent: he or she will add a great deal of their own musical personality to scores which are not yet fully realised, and depending on how successful the composer is, the familiar touch of a particular orchestrator can be heard, sometimes above that of the actual composer. Over the years, a great number of orchestrators have left their mark, from early pioneers like Hugo Friedhofer, through Alexander Courage and Arthur Morton and Grieg McRitchie, to today’s top talents like Mark McKenzie, Robert Elhai, Brad Dechter and Conrad Pope. Arguably the most identifiable of the current crop, however, is Nicholas Dodd.

Until this score, Dodd has spent his entire film music career supporting the work of others. Joel Goldsmith, Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna and Clint Mansell have all received the ‘Dodd Treatment’ over the years, but no other composer has been linked with Dodd as often as David Arnold: they have worked together on every one of Arnold’s scores to date, beginning in 1993 with The Young Americans. Throughout Arnold’s career, there have been persistent rumours that the bulk of the Arnold sound that many people love today is in fact the Dodd sound, and that the largest creative input into massively successful scores like Independence Day and Stargate is in fact Nick Dodd. With the exception of the two men directly involved, no-one knows the truth of who writes what, and whose contribution is whose, as no-one has ever heard anything credited as being written by Dodd himself – until now.

Dodd’s debut score is Renaissance, a French animated sci-fi film noir directed by Christian Volckman, with a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Romola Garai, Catherine McCormack, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm and Kevork Malikyan. Set in dystopian Paris 50 years in the future, it follows the investigations of police captain Karas (Craig), who has been tasked by billionaire cosmetics mogul Paul Dellenbach (Pryce) with locating scientist Ilona (Garai), who seems to have been kidnapped. To solve the mystery Karas delves deep into the Parisian underworld, encountering gangland figures and femme fatales, all of whom seem to be pointing him towards a terrifying and dangerous revelation concerning the city’s most powerful men. The gimmick of Renaissance is that the animation is rotoscoped – meaning that the action was filmed initially with live actors, with the animation subsequently drawn based on the filmed footage. The combination of the impressive technical aspects, noir atmosphere, and intriguing political overtones has made Renaissance an art-house success.

Almost inevitably, the first thing you notice about Dodd’s score is how much like a David Arnold score it sounds. I don’t mean this as a disparaging remark, but there really is no way you can avoid it. The way the music is constructed, the way particular instruments are layered, certain chord progressions, the synth programming, even some thematic development; it sounds like David Arnold.

The score, as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, is a rich, powerful, kinetic affair, full of eloquent darkness, pulsating action cues, and several moments of softly romantic jazz. There’s no up-front traditional main theme to speak of, which may cause some listeners to tune out, but the consistency of tone and construction of the individual cues more than make up for the lack of a central motif. The “Opening Title” guides the listener in with ghostly, glassy vocals and deceivingly soft orchestrations which cleverly conceal the score’s true, darker nature. As “Paris 2054” begins, the first hints of familiarity creep in: the striking chords from the darker parts of Independence Day and Stargate reveal themselves with a vengeance in the dramatic “Passion’s Kiss”, and are developed further in the excellent “Farfella’s World”, which begins with Arabic vocals and exotically swooning string writing overlaid with funky electronic beats, and gradually develops into a large, dramatic conclusion.

The three central set pieces, “Fairground Schemes”, “Muller’s Sacrifice” and “We’ve Found Him”, sound like prototypical Arnold cues, and could very happily sit in with any of his Bond scores, or one of his contemporary thrillers. The pulsating, echoing, percussion-driven electronic element keeps the action moving at a decent pace, while the bass-driven parts of the orchestra add depth and a definite sense of impending danger. The opening of “Fairground Schemes” features a quite sumptuous blast of lush orchestral music, the brass writing and near-operatic conclusion of “Muller’s Sacrifice” is especially good, and the relentless tempo of “We’ve Found Him” makes for compulsive, breathless listening.

The softer cues, like “Introspection”, “Karas Uncovers the Mystery of Klaus” and “Karas and Bislane”, are anchored by gently swooning string lines and delicate, vaguely jazzy piano chords which have a real sensual elegance about them. In many ways – and, again, perhaps not unsurprisingly – they have a faint hint of classic John Barry, and his bluesy, rhythmic, perpetual-motion style of scoring passion. Towards the end the ghostly female vocalist re-appears, giving the finale of the score an other-worldly aspect, and providing a fitting, symmetrical close.

Padding out the album are a series of techno, dance and trance tracks by artists Chris Clark, Plaid, Louis Warbeck and Mark Bell. They are all hideous. I feel no further comment about them is required.

I said earlier in the review that Renaissance sounds like David Arnold. In fact, that’s not quite true, but it does leads me to ask this question: does Nicholas Dodd sound like David Arnold, or does David Arnold sound like Nicholas Dodd? The problem with this question is that there’s no definitive answer. There are unmistakable similarities between the two men’s music, but even having now heard the ‘voice’ of Nicholas Dodd in Renaissance, it still remains unclear who is the bigger influence on the other. My personal – and probably somewhat controversial – opinion is that Dodd is the driving force behind the success of David Arnold, and that it is his mastery of the orchestra which has made Stargate, Independence Day, and the four James Bond scores as successful as they are.

I’m not suggesting that Arnold is in any way a bad composer, or that he is taking credit for something he did not write. It’s just that, on the evidence of Renaissance and other scores (not least Clint Mansell’s Sahara), it seems, to me at least, that Dodd’s flamboyant touch and powerful orchestrations have clearly had a more significant impact on the “Arnold sound” than may be first apparent, and that it is actually his contribution to Arnold’s scores which gives it that special ‘something’, which has captured the hearts and minds of so many film music fans since the early 1990s. As far as Renaissance is concerned, it’s a wonderful debut score from Dodd, and comes highly recommended from me, if you can find it, and if you program out the techno tracks and just listen to Dodd’s score as a 26-minute suite. One thing I know for certain: David Arnold fans will love it!

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Opening Title (2:32)
  • Ted (written and performed by Chris Clark) (2:45)
  • Paris 2054 (1:21)
  • Passion’s Kiss (1:49)
  • Chasend (written by Handley/Turner, performed by Plaid) (4:58)
  • Farfella’s World (3:04)
  • Introspection (0:49)
  • Fairground Schemes (2:27)
  • Nostalgia (written and performed by Louis Warbeck) (2:33)
  • Muller’s Sacrifice (2:49)
  • We’ve Found Him (3:04)
  • Melrose Bar (written and performed by Louis Warbeck) (2:31)
  • Karas Uncovers the Mystery of Klaus (2:28)
  • Club 71 (written and performed by Louis Warbeck) (3:35)
  • Karas and Bislane (2:26)
  • Memories Forgotten (3:21)
  • Si On Partait [LFO] (written and performed by Mark Bell) (4:08)
  • Renaissance Ending (written and performed by Louis Warbeck) (5:06)

Running Time: 51 minutes 39 seconds

Naïve NV-808871 (2006)

Music composed and conducted by Nicholas Dodd. Performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra. Orchestrations by Nicholas Dodd. Additional music by Charles Olins. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Album produced by Nicholas Dodd and Emmanuel Deletang.

  1. penny croker
    September 29, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Trying to find soundtrack ‘waves’ by Nicholas Dodd in cd is there any albums of his with this track for purchase. Thank you for your help.

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