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Living In The Age Of Airplanes by James Horner (Review)

posted Nov 8, 2016, 11:36 AM by Michael Hollands

Living In The Age Of Airplanes is one of the most recent documentaries which aired on the National Geographic Channel. This documentary brings us closer to the world of aviation from its origins to where it is now. Planes are meant to fly you from one place to another. The purpose is to connect continents and people with each other. They either take you on a business trip or on a vacation with familiy and friends. Of course a documentary of this kind also needs a proper score and James Horner, who was a passionate aviator himself, contributed music to the project. Judging from the running time, there seems to be music in pretty much every segment. Fifty minutes of music are featured on the album, which is now available digitally.

Since Horner was so passionate about flying, it only seems natural that he would come up with something special. I must admit that I have not seen the documentary yet. However, when I first saw the well-edited trailer, which featured music by M83, I thought this could be really interesting to say the least. When I found out that an album would see the light of day, it simply heightened my expectations. I would not be disappointed. The album starts with the uplifting “Opening Sequence” for which Horner used wordless male vocals. If you are familiar with James Horners' work, you are likely to hear a bit of the opening credits of Titanic. It is an interesting opening indeed and guitar and strings add extra energy and balance to the cue.

“The World Before the Airplane” is a very exhilarating piece of music, which actually, in terms of instrumentation and execution, has a big Thomas Newman sound. ”200,000-Year Timeline” is a very soft cue for which Horner used the piano at first. It becomes bolder after that as Horner introduces a dominant string and brass statement. “History of Transportation" contains more intriguing musical moments. The intelligent writing and instrumentation on the part of Mr. Horner continues and he delivers more emotion. The following cue “Nearly Perfected” stands as the most fascinating of the first pieces. All the ingredients that make a Horner score special are there: the bold brass, the gorgeous string writing and of course the emotional build up which he gave us in so many of his scores.

Earlier on I said that planes connect continents with each other and at times this music feels like a journey through the world. “Antarctica” as well as “Maldives” need to be pointed out here. At times this score feels different than many of James Horner's scores. The vocals for instance feel less operatic, despite being indeed bold and forceful. They simply deliver feel good moments and they sound life-embracing. Due to the great salsa rhythm of the piece “Flowers”, it feels a bit disconnected from the other cues in terms of style. “Exponential Progress” takes us back to the Horner past, as small bits of A Beautiful Mind can be spotted. It is a very lovely piece. Throughout the album, I often closed my eyes and forgot everything around me. It is music that makes you feel alive and you simply want to embrace life itself. „The Golden Age Is Now“ certainly stands as one of the album's big highlights. The vocals are inventive and just a joy to listen to. The percussion parts and the strings complement it nicely.

As I pointed out before, one of the purposes of flying is to connect people with each other. The same goes for music as it touches the listeners. As far as certain people are concerned, only a complex piece of music is a good one. In my book, music is not necessarily about complexity. It is about emotion and sometimes, a three note motif can be extremely emotional and it captures you right away. You instantly know it moves you. You instantly find an emotional connection. Sometimes just a few notes can evoke more feeling and emotion than any big symphony. It can make you feel better and more alive than a big piece. It depends on the circumstances as well. This is exactly what makes music both complicated and also simple at the same time. You never know which musical style you will fall in love with next. It can be an opera, a concert of classical music, a film score, a rock concert, or in this case music for a documentary. When you listen to it, you will know what I mean. James Horner was a master at emotional writing. His gift to find the right tone for each project was exemplary. This album is no exception. Of course not every film score will be praised, nor can it be a masterpiece. Yet, you can feel it when a brilliant composer is at work and brilliant Mr. Horner was indeed. He wrote music that is emotional and intelligent in terms of sound, composition and execution. If you seek another great album by one of the biggest composers ever, an album that delivers emotion and exhilaration, then you need not look any further.