Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at “Tron: Legacy”, a soundtrack created by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Cristo (better known as Daft Punk). This 2010 sci-fi action-adventure sports one of the most unique soundtracks of its time. And it marks a turning point for two artists who had previously been known for electronic dance music.
Tron: Legacy follows the story of Sam (Garrett Hedlund), the son of a famous video-game developer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), years after his father’s mysterious disappearance. When a strange signal draws him to Flynn’s Arcade, he becomes trapped inside the same game that his father has been trapped in for years.
With the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam reunites with his father. Together, they all try to find their way back out, while avoiding the ever-hunting Clu (also Jeff Bridges).
One of my all time favorite tracks whenever I listen to this soundtrack is “The Grid”. It’s one of the shorter tracks, not more than a minute and a half long, and plays over the opening credits of the movie. While the music builds over that minute and a half, Jeff Bridges’ speaks:
“The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see… And then, one day. I got in.”
Bridges’ words are given far more weight from the gradually-building music. And it’s in this intro that we get the key concept for Daft Punk’s approach to this album. During the first half of the song and Bridges’ speech, we hear echoing drums and a low-synth. As it builds, rhythmic strings join in. Finally, the end of Bridges’ speech is emphasized by a blast of synths that take over, then join in with the strings. This dance between electronics and acoustics is heard time and again throughout the album.
A Composing Collaborator
While Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Cristo deserve the bulk of the credit for delivering the Tron: Legacy Soundtrack, they did receive some help. As musicians who did most of their recording and writing on two synthesizers and a drum machine, writing the score for a film was a different beast. Luckily, they brought on Joseph Trapanese, an orchestral composer with a love for electronics.
Acoustic composers use electronics all the time, but what Daft Punk was planning for Tron: Legacy was very different. They intended to use the aesthetics of what makes electronic music unique, and combine that with the aesthetics of what makes orchestral music unique. To do that, they needed the help of someone who was well-versed in composing scores to orchestral accompaniment.
In an interview with Birth. Movies. Death., Trapanese recounts the experience of working with Daft Punk. “Sometimes I would begin working with them in the room, whether we’d be all alone or together. Other times, I’d go off and do something and bring it back to them. It was a consistent collaboration from front to end”.
Later in the same interview, Trapanese touches on the relationship between the orchestral parts and their electronic origins. “Everything that wound up in the orchestra had its gestation in original electronic ideas. The melodies you hear in the french horn were melodies in synthesizers before that. The orchestra is really kind of a variation on themes based on the original ideas that Daft Punk started with”.
Trapanese helped Daft Punk take their original ideas, and filter them into an orchestral ensemble, while managing to maintain an extraordinary balance between electronic and acoustic sources that perfectly captures the tone and energy of Tron: Legacy. A sign of a successful soundtrack is that you can’t imagine what the film would be like without it. And that’s exactly what Daft Punk and Joseph Trapanese accomplished.
From the club-inspired synth groove of “End of Line”, to the frenetically-charged “Derezzed”, there are too many standout tracks to cover thoroughly in one short article. So do yourself a favor, and pick up the album. It makes great background music whether you’re studying, working, or dancing in a room by yourself.
“The Son of Flynn.”
“The Game Has Changed.”
“Adagio for Tron.”
“End of Line.”
“Tron Legacy (End Titles).”
You can pick up the Tron: Legacy Soundtrack on vinyl by heading over to the LemonWire store here.