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The Snow Files - The Film Music of Mark Snow

During the first years of the series and prior to any well-known commercial release of Mark Snow's television scores, we began to search for a soundtrack that would accompany the highly successful The X-Files and, despite huge commercial success for the series and a devoted internet audience that demanded an album, nothing had been released. Rumours of an album circulated through the fan community for years. In 1996, the soundtrack to accompany the series was finally produced and the market was then flooded with what seemed to be a hurried series of releases, including Snow's own and other artists' remixes that were almost unlistenable. While DJ Dado's X-Files (remix) single enjoyed commercial success and substantial radio airplay (in the UK at least), the subsequent Snow release failed to inspire repeated listening to any significant degree outside the diehard internet X-Philes who viewed Snow's X-Files score Truth & The Light and individual themes as their mantra. Unfortunately, the movie soundtrack was equally uninspiring.

Initially drawn to the title by Mark Snow's name and the X-Files theme, we were delighted to learn about Sonic Images' compilation of his film music. Entitled, The Snow Files (SID-8902, 1999), the album contains 14 tracks spanning a significant cross-section of the composer's career and includes over 70 minutes of delightful music. The accompanying illustrated booklet includes comprehensive liner notes by Randall Larson (Soundtrack Magazine) incorporating Snow's own quotes that provide useful background on each of the tracks and their associated films.

Instrumentally very strong and deeply rooted in classical themes with a contemporary flair, ethereal female vocals drift in and out during several of the various tracks. Unlike the prior releases of his scores, the result is a highly listenable album with depth and range but without abrupt changes. Individual tracks flow from one to another as the overall theme is developed. The music is consistently intriguing, drawing the listener deeper into it from beginning to end.

The album is divided into four major segments following the highly contemporary and vocal-oriented opening track, "La Femme Nikita - Main Theme" (Club Mix). Moody in its own right, the vocals and instrumentals do an excellent job of building a main title into a highly accessible version drawing the listener into the album from the outset. Two short titles in the Bonus Track segment of the album share a similar, yet lighter style. "Dark Justice - Main Theme" is certainly the most upbeat, rocky and enjoyable tracks on the album that struck us immediately as one we'd want a lot more of. "Max Headroom - The Lost Theme" is another contemporary track and, although quite short, is worthy of further exploration.

The Darkness And Desire segment of the album like the one that follows contains four tracks from different sources. "Conundrum - Love Theme" (1996) with it's soft piano and synthesizer backing is carried by Cassandra Crossland's gentle yet erotic vocalise. The moods within "Seduced And Betrayed - The Dark Waltz" (1995) are created with spiraling strings and woodwinds and serve to heighten the soft loving side of Susan Lucci's character while further illustrating the danger of deception that lurks below. A similar, yet far darker, theme was written for Meredith Baxter's character in "A Woman Scorned - The Betty Broderick Story: The Murder" (1992). The segment concludes with "Caroline At Midnight - Main Title" (1994). Immediately Snow-like in its similarity to themes used within The X-Files, the bluesy muted trumpet, so evident in steamy 'film noir' detective films, sets the theme aside from the others on the album.

The Love And Hope segment contains mainly brighter and more hopeful themes. With harmonica underscoring the theme of the American frontier, woodwinds and strings illustrate the landscape in "The Substitute Wife - Main Title" (1994). Country or folk music style strings and woodwinds are supported by the sound of a full orchestra to develop the melody in "Oldest Living Confederate Widow - Having A Baby/All About Ned" (1994). An attractive track, the recording lacks typical Sonic Images quality in its 'scratchiness.' A big and bold orchestra and marching drums produces a magestic sound to introduce the parachutists in "Smoke Jumpers - The Rescue" (1996). The track is highly reminscent of the main titles in Basil Polodourus' Wind and Stanislas Syrewicz' True Blue. As in these other works, Snow develops a softer, human side within the track. In the most moving track of the segment, Snow uses a full orchestra and electronics to create the big 'at sea' sound of "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - Arctic Night Walk" (1997) with major mood swings and melodies delivered on the largest of scales in a style similar to Jerry Goldsmith and Basil Poledourus.

The Music Is Out There segment opens with "Disturbing Behavior - Main Title" (1998) which incorporates several styles including choral phasing and a bell tree to develop the drama to accompany the film. A 31-minute concert suite of music based on available recordings was developed by John Beal in "Suite From The X Files" which concludes this segment. From the liner notes Beal says, "I selected what I felt to be the best of Mark's techniques from the show, and created a suite which would simulate the experience of an episode from start to finish. I tried to be as true to Mark's incredible sense of soundscape and the wonderful way he introduces classic film scoring techniques into this totally new form of musical composition." Indeed the piece captures the essence of an entire episode yet it is highly listenable, never boring, always drawing the listener further into the work, by returning to the themes used within the television series.

The Bonus Tracks segment includes three short tracks. "Dark Justice - Main Theme" (1991) is characterised by a rock and roll rhythm with some heavy chorus samples. It develops into an ultra-modern, contemporary sounding track that we'd like to hear a lot more of. In "Max Headroom - The Lost Theme" (1987), listeners are exposed to the theme Snow wrote for the TV series that wasn't used. It melds "techno-pop, industrial rock and futuristic glitz for synths and percussion" into a highly listenable tune, and again one that we would like to hear a lot more of. The album closes with the zany "Pee-Wee's Playhouse - Bye Bye" track. A short 0:33 track demonstrates that Snow isn't all atmosphere and ambience—he used sped-up samples to create the miniature sound wthin this funny little closing clip.

With its vast range of sounds that span the composer's quarter century of film music, The Snow Files is an excellent production and perhaps the first highly listenable collection of Mark Snow's work. Sonic Images has done an excellent job with the packaging of the content. The brave inclusion of a 30-minute suite amidst shorter tracks from outside Snow's X-Files career has effectively illustrated the depth and breadth of his work in one recording. The thoughtfully produced booklet with notes by Randall Larson and recording quality, aside from one poorly recorded track ("Oldest Living Confederate Widow"), is outstanding and typical of Sonic Images' releases. Highly evocative and well thoughtout, with a good range of styles and memorable melodies, the album will suit a wide vareity of tastes and is therefore certainly worth a journey—give it a listen soon.

Source: Russell W. Elliot; Musical Discoveries [ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rwelliot/marksnow.htm], 1999.

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