Written by 4:01 am Audiophile Music

Drac in Black: Glass/Kronos’ Dracula Vinyl Debut

Mark Smotroff finds a light on the dark-side…

I have to say, I was a wee bit disappointed a while back when I first bought the Blu-ray Disc of Tod Browning’s Dracula which included the alternate Philip Glass & Kronos Quartet soundtrack. Mind you, I wasn’t disappointed by the movie or its restoration or the presence of the Glass music as an alternate soundtrack underscoring the original film — to the contrary, I was thrilled as I think it all works very well.  Philip Glass’ soundtrack was in fact the reason I wanted to own the physical disc of Dracula. You can read my review from 2014 by clicking here

AR-PhilipGlassPhoto.jpgWhere I became a little disappointed was at the realization that the powers that be in Hollywood production-land didn’t go that extra step to include a option for people to listen to the Glass/Kronos score in its pure isolated glory, sans dialog.  Admittedly, this music was written to be a support for the film (which never really had a formal score) and as such it works very well. But as with most Philip Glass music, there is much more going on and it would have been nice if they let us hear the full work on its own.  

I guess I was expecting another experience like when Criterion issued the restored version of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast which includes the option to choose Mr. Glass’ stunning alternate soundtrack that turns the film into an mesmerizing opera which you can hear in its entirety in place of the original soundtrack and score. That opera was written to the film dialogue so for the most part it looks like the actors are actually singing the parts — it is a pretty amazing accomplishment, really! 

The Dracula film soundtrack was a different thing, however. 

From Philip Glass’ website, Glass himself said: “The film is considered a classic. I felt the score needed to evoke the feeling of the world of the 19th century — for that reason I decided a string quartet would be the most evocative and effective. I wanted to stay away from the obvious effects associated with horror films. With Kronos we were able to add depth to the emotional layers of the film.”

I could have gone out and bought the CD. I know.  But I didn’t get around to that…

However, when I saw it was recently released for the first time on vinyl via Philip Glass’ own Orange Mountain Records label imprint, I could not resist. And by and large I am not disappointed.  In fact, I’m pretty darn pleased. I find that Philip Glass music is at its best when performed on acoustic instruments (vs the electronic instrumentation of  many of works) so this release is a particular joy to hear.

The 180-gram vinyl is thick and dark and generally well pressed and for the most part quiet — there was a little surface noise at the start of side two on my copy, but that went away quickly (nothing tragic). The two LPs are housed in audiophile grade plastic lined inner-sleeves and the gatefold cover is of a high quality, thick oaktag type cardboard (it is a sturdy package). 

AR-KronosGlassPlaying225.jpgMost important for me is that the LPs are well centered — this is especially significant for an acoustic group such as The Kronos Quartet — Cellos, Violins and Violas. Playback of score of this nature — with its sweeping long held tones and repetitive phrases — can be negatively impacted by on an off-center vinyl LP, resulting in wavering sounds. To my ear, certain music played on an off-center LP is akin to scraping fingernails on a blackboard! It is probably the single most advantage that digital has over vinyl, I must say — especially when it comes to classical music.

The music here really sounds wonderful and — I am guessing here — probably benefits positively from the warmth which analog playback can afford. The original recordings were done at Skywalker Sound (a Lucasfilm company) up in Marin County, a hour or so North of San Francisco and I suspect they were done digitally — hey, it was the 1990s so most everyone was recording digitally back then.  So giving the music a chance to warm up via my Bellari Tube Pre-amp delivers The Kronos Quartet’s passionate performance as a lush listening experience.

AR-KronosGlassBluray225.jpgThe only thing I would have liked better than this release is if the Dracula score had been remixed into discrete 5.1 surround sound and been put out on a high resolution Blu-ray disc (with or without the film).  Heck, it’d be pretty cool if they put it out in Quadrophonic (4.0), placing one Kronos member in each speaker for a supremely immersive experience. For some reason, there is very little Philip Glass music available in surround sound out on the market; I own the DVD Audio Disc version of Koyannnisqatsi and the Blu-ray Discs of that film series — the Qatsi Trilogy — include a basic surround soundtrack.

Until that time when we get Dracula in surround sound, I am quite content listening to Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet’s performances on LP.   

Now you can hear Philip Glass and Kronos’ full score to Dracula in all its unplugged glory.  

Scary movie music never sounded so good.

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