If there is one word that can stand out from listening to Living in the Age of Airplanes, it's diversity! Indeed, there's a great variety of styles to each piece of music, from tribal to symphonic and even a salsa flavor! As the film encompasses everything aviation has blessed the world with, through eighteen countries and all seven continents – literally worldwide – the music had to touch on every facet of each location and time and does so with a fluidity and each disparate style fits into a cohesive whole….well, that salsa cue stands out a little, but it should.
Opening Sequence presents the main theme of the film, a fascinating journey punctuated by a male voice joined by others. Just as Sissel lent her vocal talents for a “Hymn to the Sea”, Graham Foote lends his vocal talents for a “Hymn to the Air”. A lovely mournful parallel exists between the graveyard of the Titanic on the ocean floor and an airplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert.
For what is essentially a celebration that all things flight has provided the world – instant connection between cultures and ideas – both the film and score for Living In The Age of Airplanes begin on a beautiful but melancholic note.
The World Before the Airplane accompanies images of the virgin nature, without human presence. In the first half of the cue, Humanity's origins from Africa is evoked through ethnic flutes repeating the main theme, then drums, guitar, piano and violin offer a powerful passage accompanying the various shots that illustrate the wildness of the Earth to its origins.
For a film about aviation's impact on the world, there is obviously going to be a lot of forward-moving propulsion which drives the imagery, where the album unveils an extended sequence of ten minutes divided into three pieces that follow the developing methods of transportation since the beginning of humanity. The mournful feeling of the introduction gives way to jubilation, as both the film and score begin their journey through time and evolution, from the invention of the wheel to motorized horsepower, riding rails, crossing oceans and finally, triumphantly, soaring through the skies.
200,000-year Timeline begins with a delicate piano melody accompanying crystalline sounds that perfectly illustrate superb vistas and starry skies. Then the orchestra makes its first appearance to follow the progress of the on-screen Timeline.
The industrial revolution is portrayed with History of Transportation and its pulsing electronic percussion. This is no RCP (Remote Control Productions)-styled, generic "propulsion score" Horner alluded to in his 2010 statements of film music, as the driving rhythms are found in everything from the strings and brass fanfares to even flutes found underneath the action.
Then Nearly Perfected ends with glory the first chapter of the album, an incredible piece of power offering three majestic soaring arrangements of the main theme. One of the most enthusiastic pieces composed by James Horner.
Portal to the Planet is a short and elegant transition to the second part of the album. Piano, strings, sweetened synthesizers, and ethereal voice is the gateway to the rest of the score.
Migration Vacation is the first step of the journey with its strong orchestral/ethnic combination reminiscent of both Jake's First Flight and Climbing up Ikinimaya (Avatar). Not a note-for-note reference of the two, but a very strong stylistic choice. The filmmakers purchased a collection of James Horner's music to temp the film with, so it's easy to hear where they used certain scores to get a sense of what they wanted to achieve in the final film.
Ancient Civilizations logically develops the piano heard in 200,000-Year Timeline for the scenes referring to the remnants of the past that we can admire worldwide. The track also ends with a reprise of the main theme on piano to celebrate the magic of contemporary travel where distance and language barriers disappear.
The change of scenery continues with Maldives. Bass lines, synthesizers, and rhythmic percussion both acoustic and electronic feature throughout. Style takes a sharp turn as Flowers stands out from the rest of the album. The composer's style is not easily identifiable here, unlike Antartica which takes us back to the colors characteristic of James Horner. After an orchestral momentum symbolizing a landing in the south pole, the second major theme of the score makes its first appearance at the piano before being picked up by the strings. It is a simple and melancholic theme that will ultimately rock the last part of the album.
Flowers is a piece of Mambo / Salsa showing the three-day trip of cut flowers from Kenya which ultimately color the living room of a house in Alaska. The music perfectly follows the rhythm of the actions of the film. For example, brass exults every time a package is pushed into a sorting facility. Musically we find the craftiness already present in the melodies and orchestrations jazz / swing that mark the work of James Horner, from Cocoon to Field of Dreams, and via I Love You to Death, Fish Police or Off Beat.
If the score has an anchor, that one piece that stands out as the signature, it's Exponential Progress, a grand series of variations on a theme that transitions from new age to orchestral, piano solos to flutes and vocals. It's so evocative of that sense of wonder and innocence only James Horner could capture so well.. The last 50 seconds combining woodwinds, strings, brass and vocals are sublime.
Perspective modestly develops the secondary theme on piano and finally very briefly with a children's choir.
The Golden Age is Now is a cue that is going to be talked about. It is a powerful and original piece. The vocal incantations are in line with those of Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (The Four Feathers, Apocalypto). The remix offers a softer version because the rock elements are absent.
The last two tracks, Home and End Credits, are focusing on the main theme. Home accompanies the emotional reunion of travelers. Home is yet another example that the composer's sensibility always speaks wonderfully to highlight human emotions. The Remix End Credits offer a soft and delicate extended version of the original track.
To conclude, there is such a warmth, depth and innocence to this music. Free from a dramatized narrative, James Horner was able to, like his brilliant music for The Horsemen, write his soul. There's no story full of twists and turns, no ventures into darkness or overt romance or suspense. This is music straight from Horner's heart, a love letter to his passion for all things flight, which as we know resulted in his death not long after this film's IMAX release worldwide.
It's actually very fitting that although Southpaw was the last completed film score, Collage the last completed concert work, and Magnificent Seven the last released film to feature some of his work, incomplete but finished with such a loving grace by his team of friends, Living In The Age of Airplanes is the final new film score album to be released by James Horner. This score is a loving testament to his love of all things flight. Flight may have taken his life prematurely, but with that passion he had for the skies he was able to share with all of us through his music that very same passion and love, and to be left with such a gift helps to ease the pain of his loss…at least a little.
Article by Nick Martin and Jean-Baptiste Martin.