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WIND – Basil Poledouris

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In the years immediately prior to his death in 2006, composer Basil Poledouris essentially retired from scoring and moved from the Los Angeles area to Vashon Island, off the coast of Seattle, Washington, where he indulged in his second greatest passion after music: sailing. Many composers are well known for their non-film music endeavors. Alan Silvestri owns a vineyard and makes his own wine, for example, and James Horner famously (and tragically) loved flying vintage planes. Once in a while the two passions are able to intersect, and for Poledouris that happened with the only score he wrote in 1992 – Wind. The film is a romantic adventure set in the world of America’s Cup yachting, which stars Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey, and was directed by Carroll Ballard. The film is mostly forgotten today, but film music fans would be remiss if they forgot Poledouris’s score for it, because it allowed him to fully embrace the emotional rush that sailing provided for him, and inspired him to write one of his most personal scores.

As a relatively low-budget film, Poledouris was not able to secure a full orchestra to record the entire score; as such, quite a lot of the score is performed by keyboards, accentuated by a real solo piano, and accompanied by synthesized pan flutes and percussion items, with the full orchestra reserved for only the most rousing moments of competitive glory. What this meant was that Poledouris had to get very creative in terms of how he approached the score, and his solution to the problem was to try to convey through music the feel of the movement of the sea. There is a sense of freedom to this music – the constant motion of the synthetic rhythms and undulating textures somehow illustrates the motion of the waves and the force of the wind perfectly; to wax poetic for a moment, it almost feels like Poledouris was composing with nature. But there’s intimacy too, reflecting the peace and solitude that life on board a boat affords, as well as some lovely romantic writing that captures the relationships at the heart of the story.

I have often written about my perceived differences in synth scores, between ones where the synths try to mimic an orchestra, and ones where the music is written for synths intended to be synths. The difference is subtle, to be sure, but you can sort of feel it – when a composer is actually exploring the different sounds a keyboard can make, and being creative within that sonic world, it feels much more alive, much more dynamic, and you’re less prone to cringe when the synths inevitably sound like bad woodwinds or bad brass. Wind is one of those scores, wherein Poledouris actually plays around successfully in the synth/keyboard world; some of the score has the same tonal quality as parts of scores like Cherry 2000, Robocop, and even The Hunt for Red October, which makes a lot of it feel comfortably familiar.

There is a recurring main theme, related to the Irolita, the boat with which the main characters attempt to win the America’s Cup. It is introduced first in the opening “Prologue,” which slowly emerges from a bed of soft, whispering keyboard textures, and employs an almost sacred reverence to the concept; the glittering and whooshing sound effects feel like the sun catching the top of a wind-driven wave. It’s just lovely, almost like a new age anthem.

The love theme for Will and Kate, Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey‘s characters, gets its best performance in the rather unfortunately named “Love in the Sewers,” which features a soothing piano melody again backed by dream-like synths; later performances of the love theme in “The Glider,” “Sail Locker,” “The Petroglyph,” “Windshadow,” and “The Bike Ride” are pretty and elegant with some lovely warm writing for strings, solo piano, woodwinds, and an unexpectedly delicate solo harp.

Then, in cues like “The Dinghy Race (Senta)” and “Contest,” Poledouris brings a rhythmic intensity to the electronic percussion lines, capturing the excitement and thrill of this type of sailing. The melody that underpins the former of these cues has a sort of Caribbean/calypso vibe that is especially upbeat and infectious. Later, “Defeat” is appropriately downbeat and a little more subdued, and makes excellent use of unusual synth choral effects and watery textures. “To Australia” is perhaps the darkest cue in the score, making excellent use of more robust tom-tom percussion beats, an imposing synth choir, Farewell to the King-style pan pipes, and some electronic textures which skirt around being pure dissonance.

There’s a risk that some of theese cues will sound dated and almost irredeemably cheesy to contemporary ears – I’m thinking of things like “The Break-Up,” especially, which have more in common with Harold Faltermeyer and Giorgio Moroder than anything heard in Conan the Barbarian or any of Poledouris’s more fulsome orchestral works. Anyone who is not attuned to that style and sound may have some problems, but I personally love it – the nostalgia that comes flooding from those retro tones speaks directly to the kid in me who grew up in the 1980s hearing that sound everywhere.

Of course, having said all that, the score absolutely shines in the few cues where Poledouris was able to write for a full symphony orchestra. The exciting pair comprising “Windward Work” and “Downwind” is an explosion of pure joy, dancing string figures and frolicking woodwinds and celebratory percussion patterns, backed by more of those glittery synth textures to maintain a sense of cohesive style with the rest of the score. Parts of “Downwind” do become more intense and serious, with a beefier brass section and a more insistent percussive drive adding to the drama, but it’s still all about the thrill of sailing, and the ups and downs that come as part and parcel of that life.

The final two cues, comprising “Dead Air” and “Winning,” are the cues where Poledouris really lets his orchestra roar, and as such are the most satisfying cues on the album. After a couple of minutes of gentle build up “Dead Air” eventually erupts into a majestic performance of the main theme for the full orchestra, with especially triumphant brass. “Winning” is similarly explosive in its expressions of sporting endeavor, the build-up and release of pressure and tension, and eventually resounding happiness and the glory of victory. The combination of the brass-led main theme and the ebullient synth percussion is irresistible, some of the most enjoyable music of its type Poledouris ever wrote. The conclusive “Irolita” is a calmer and more subdued final statement of the main theme, mirroring its performance in the first cue, and ends the score on an appropriately wistful note.

Despite its relative obscurity the score for Wind has actually been released three times. The first (and the one reviewed here ) was released in 1993 on the Japanese label ‘For Life,’ and it sold for ridiculously high prices as a rare import. The score was re-released with a slightly different running order in 2002 by the Citadel label, sans the original song “Born on the Wind” by The Amazons, but this album also quickly went out of print. The most recent version is the one that was produced in 2009 by BSX Records; it has the same program as the original For Life album, minus the song, but has re-mastered sound and is coupled with 25 minutes of music from another obscure Poledouris seafaring score, A Whale for the Killing, from 1981.

As a companion piece to the aforementioned A Whale for the Killing, as well as subsequent ocean-adjacent scores like Big Wednesday and Free Willy, Wind is one of the most satisfying ‘smaller’ scores of Basil Poledouris’s career. Of course, in terms of scope and complexity, it is dwarfed by the likes of Conan the Barbarian, Starship Troopers, Les Misérables, and whatever other orchestral epic you care to mention, but Wind is not – and was never intended to be – that type of score. It’s a very personal reflection on one of the great loves of Poledouris’s life, and on those terms it’s certainly worth exploring.

Buy the Wind soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (3:28)
  • Love in the Sewers (1:45)
  • The Dinghy Race (Senta) (3:12)
  • The Break-Up (3:17)
  • Windward Work (3:37)
  • Downwind (5:21)
  • Defeat (5:15)
  • The Glider (1:31)
  • Sail Locker (1:03)
  • The Petroglyph (1:21)
  • Contest (3:12)
  • Windshadow (1:12)
  • Whomper Trails (1:17)
  • The Bike Ride (2:29)
  • To Australia (2:26)
  • Dead Air (4:41)
  • Winning (3:01)
  • Irolita (1:34)
  • Irolita (1:34)
  • Born on the Wind (performed by The Amazons) (5:25)

Running Time: 49 minutes 34 seconds.

For Life FLCF-28209 (1992)

Music composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris. Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by Jeffery Stephens. Album produced by Basil Poledouris.

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