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Symphonic Star-Trek
Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

Review By Karl Lozier
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Symphonic Star-Trek

Compact Disc Telarc CD-30383 Compact Disc

  This recording has been available for about five years. Obviously it has had great appeal to sci-fi fans and "Trekkies" in particular. There is a great deal of beautifully atmospheric music here written by various composers (more than I had realized) including two of my personal top ten composers of music for motion pictures. Those two are Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. For trivia lovers, the composer of the original Star-Trek TV theme was Alexander Courage ; he was the composer for the "forerunner/predecessor" to the later Star-Trek (The Menagerie) usually referred to as the Original TV Pilot.

But, the reason for this review at this time is that I recently had a fascinating hour-long conversation about this recording with its recording engineer, Michael Bishop. Audiophiles in particular and most Star-Trek fans should find some delectable tidbits of information. Members of fartus antiquus, audiophile division, will remember that 35 to 40 years ago every record label offered at least a couple or so called stereo demonstration/test records. One or two listening sessions per side (yeah this was before CD's) was usually the maximum time we ever spent with those records. They were showing off spectacular effects one after the other, sometimes referred to as Ping-Pong stereo, left or right but no middle, etceteras; very boring to say the least. Symphonic Star-Trek has some sound effects. Here they mate well with the plot or are very appropriately positioned (such as ending or introducing a section or excerpt) in this compilation. These Star-Trek episodes and movie excerpts are well woven together to create a "new whole". These sound effects are the Real Thing! Bishop was allowed to record most of these sounds at what is now known as NASA John Glenn Research Center! Most of the demo/test cuts are brief (as short as fifteen seconds) and are useful to determine left to right movement and depth of soundscape (no stage involved here )as well as frequency extension. Frequency extension fully into the octave of 5 to 10 Hertz is in abundance in cuts 3, 5, 20 and 22, guarantee by engineer Michael Bishop. Realize that 5 or even 10 Hertz is not audible Be careful, such extreme ultra deep extension can easily ruin a subwoofer system if played at a high level of gain. Actually many of the highest quality subwoofer systems, such as my Genesis model V's, are rolled off sharply below about 18 Hertz as self-protection. As stated by most companies, " there's no music down there, only potential problems such as turntable rumble, tonearm resonances, warp wow and so on". If you think your system is able to really reproduce the 5-Hertz frequencies on this CD, try taking off the grille and watch the woofer cone. Five cycles of in and out movement per second are visible and almost countable without aid. A piece of light colored tape (or a band-aid) gently applied near the center of the cone will help visualization. If it seems to be moving more rapidly, it simply can't do it and is reproducing harmonic distortion called doubling or the third or fourth harmonic which is 20 Hz or more and audible.

The music stands on its own, but Star-Trek plots and visual action combined with the music form an outstanding symbiotic relationship. I don't need to detail all the cuts on this fully loaded (72 minutes) CD. Chances are that for any of you Trekkies out there, your favorite excerpts are probably included.

The short introductory cut entitled "Into the Final Frontier" started off being narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Engineer Michael Bishop with producer Robert Woods had traveled to a Los Angeles hotel room to record this appropriate prologue for the album. Somehow it didn't sound quite right, so he played it back for Nimoy to hear. Nimoy then said, "let's try it again". Bishop says that Nimoy arched an eyebrow, his facial appearance changed and his voice noticeably deepened. All agreed this "take" used in the recording wound up being narrated by Mr. Spock. Star-Trek and sci-fi fans appreciate what happened.

Cut 3 - "Warp-One" (lasts for 15 seconds). This is the sound effect featured in many if not most of the Star-Trek film and TV episodes. It is meant to be the sound of a starship (usually the Enterprise) blasting beyond the speed of light at the speed called warp-one. The first of the effects that get into the octave of 5-10 Hz is this one which is simply a logical transition link between sections.

Cut 5 - A massive explosion on a Klingon moon, Praxis, with response down to 5 HZ and doing so a bit more obviously than the warp-one cut. There's a great deal of overtones and dynamic range here. Very impressive effect indeed! As with others, superbly recorded.

Cut 7 - "Starship Flyby" - Here a Federation starship creates a very dramatic flyby experience. It approaches from the near front left area, zooms across (even without a center channel speaker) to the right rear area. If that doesn't happen with your system you'll need to spend time adjusting or tweaking or???

Cut 10 - "Humpback Whale Song" - I'm under the impression this is an enhanced live recording of some Humpback whales recorded by Dr. Roger Payne about thirty years ago. If you think that mammals can't communicate or sing, listen carefully. I remember an old story that Dr. Payne took his original research recordings to conductor Andre Kostelanetz who was so impressed with the natural beauty and melody of the whale's sounds that he then took the live recordings to composer Alan Hovhannes. Hovhannes then composed, And God Created Great Whales, which featured the sounds of the whales as soloists with orchestral accompaniment. The music was a bit of a hit and helped make Dr. Payne's research well known. LP's and CD's of this composition are available.

Cut 11 - This cut contains some superbly reproduced bass drum strokes. They are cleanly clearly and unexaggeratedly reproduced, obviously with low distortion. In its own natural way another demo cut.

Cut 12 - Simply beautiful melodies that seem to start with 'ballet' and progressing to almost a "modern dance effect" - beautifully recorded - really naturally "hall-filling" sound. Your local symphony should sound half this good!

Cut 13 - "Tribble Trouble" - Trekkies will remember the cute lovable and cuddly critters; yeah, the fastest reproducing critters found anywhere in the galaxy. A little bit of their sound goes a long way and a little bit is what you get here.

Cut 19 - "Main Theme from Star-Trek: The Motion Picture" - I've never heard it nearly so good - beautiful all encompassing lateral soundscaping with natural, not exaggerated depth! The justly famous Jerry Goldsmith is the composer of this very familiar music. Something sounded so different to me; perhaps the trumpets and coronets were not balanced correctly or? Then it hit me. I'm used to hearing this music played by a studio orchestra within a recording studio environment and perhaps tweaked a bit to stand out in the theater and home theater setups. Here we are treated to a fine symphonic orchestra (Cincinnati Pops / Kunzel) in top form recorded and produced by the Telarc group in equally top form. The orchestra was in usual seating position. Main microphones were four Schoeps MKS omni-directionals positioned about ten feet above and seven out into the hall from the front row of players It just doesn't get much better for listeners. But, if Telarc hears of great demand, they would release it any new multi-channel format, as it was recorded that way.

Cut 20 - "Warp-Eight" - just over a minute long and similar to the Warp-One cut but with the added ambiance of being on the starship's bridge and hearing some of the crew - a real cool added touch. Watch out for your system's gain (volume control) it's high level 5-10 Hz time again and you can't hear all that your woofers are trying to do!

Cut 22 - "The Genesis Project: Creation and Evolution of TINSIS" - superb lateral and depth effects of soundscaping at the beginning. Another of the 5 Hz sound effects - can't hear it all- of course - and probably not feeling it all because of your woofers. Here we also have mountains erupting, earthquakes and winds rushing across the newly created planet. This planet exists only on this CD! It is an acronym very appropriately named by the sound engineer, Michael Bishop. Lawrence Krauss author of, The Physics of Star Trek, states in his excellent and fairly long remarks in the CD's booklet, "the promo for the movie Alien got it right-in space no one can hear you scream". Bishop's creation of TINSIS is related to this statement. If you think you can figure it out just move your mouse over the "A" below and the answer will become apparent.













































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