Saturday, May 15, 2010

Re-Imagining the Journey

NEWS FLASH: Everything You’re Listening to Is Wrong!
Ok, well maybe not wrong but certainly incorrect. This was my thought process while dreaming up the Future World Soundtrack Series (FWSS). Whenever I would listen to the soundtrack of a certain attraction or a pavilion’s background music (BGM) I thought it was like I was listening to the actual soundtrack to a film; lots of “dead air”, starting and stopping abruptly, forensic editing, etc. (1.)
I thought that the best way to present the FWSS was to completely ignore the historical context of the subject matter, and speaking as a historian this was in and of itself a radical concept. (2.) I wanted to create a “Listening Experience”. SO WHAT if things were not exactly labeled the way things are in the WDI archives (3.), and who really cares if you play around with the order of things. It’s about the music!

Re-Writing History
Most of the things we acquire from the digital frontier have never been reviewed by a sound engineer. In many cases, they are taken directly from sound boards or WDI demos. These recordings are mixed and scored for very specific systems with highly specialized equalizing for a particular type of industrial speaker. Most of the music you’ll hear from the FWSS was never intended for personal use. In saying that, I’ve endeavored to create the best possible mixes of these beautiful recordings.

Production Notes (highlights only)

2. Pavilion Atmosphere
The BGM of any location is intentionally designed for the guest to come in or out of at any moment. Musically speaking there is no starting or stopping point. That being said, my favorite part of this loop is found at the very end. The last version of the Magic Journeys theme is, for me, the most visual piece of the score. It triggers my most early memories of EPCOT Center when I first visited in 1986. (Keep in mind I was 5-years-old at the time.)
In order to add more “atmosphere,” I enhanced the BGM with the slightest amount of reverb to give the small orchestra arrangements a little more scale.
10. Electronic Philharmonic
This selection of music contained serious volume leveling issues rendering certain sections frustrating to listen to. Fortunately, I was able to master a few audio smoothing techniques and return (most) of the track to its former glory.
11. Makin’ Memories
Most of the tracks on Disc One require highly specialized noise reduction, this process is delicate and open to interpretation. Too much reduction and you lose vital information, as well as, scope. Too little reduction and you might as well just leave it as is. In order to be truly effective my audio program needs some time that should be dead air luckily I was able to find some on this track.
12. Magic Eye Theater
This track has the most dramatic “before & after” of any other piece on the collection. To date, I consider this track my greatest and most professional re-mastering job. My personal love for this song (and this version of it) was the driving force behind many hours of work for 3 minutes of dreamlike bliss. It was so dramatic that it served as a preview for FWSS launch earlier this year…

13. Magic Journeys
In a perfect world, I would have probably had the music only track for the whole show and done a traditional soundtrack here. Magic Journeys is my favorite Sherman Brothers song, and certainly one of my top ten in Disney History. The version presented on the official albums is wonderful, but as compared to the original it lacks the psychedelic qualities of the post 1970s film. (4.) This track is basically a single mix containing both the beginning and ending title song.

1. FWSS – Main Theme
This was an immensely fun (and sometimes frustrating) piece to create. As is stated in the liner notes, it begins with the music of TRON (a film that one could consider THE trailer for EPCOT Center). Then it intermixes with the EXXON Logo Music, followed by New Horizons, the Epcot Entrance Fanfare, We’ve Just begun to Dream (Epcot’s Theme Song), and finally Omnisphere from Horizons with the Wormhole sound effects from TRON again. (I like bookends :)
My original plan was include a piece from every pavilion, but sometimes symbolism must be submissive to artistry. In this case, I wanted to convey the darker more serious nature of Epcot’s dynamic and innovative musical tone and you can’t express seriousness with Veggie Veggie, Fruit Fruits.
In the future, I hope to have this (and few other pieces of music like it;) set to video. So, if anyone wants to take a stab at creating the visions in my head let me know!
6. CAPTAIN EO –The JLH Mix (Or Captain EO and the Seven Sources)
This was the hardest mix I’ve ever done. Remember that the purpose of the FWSS is to create listening experiences. Captain EO soundtrack, as is, is extremely visual. The first half of the movie contains no songs. For this project, I knew that I wanted jump right into the music, but I definitely wanted the James Horner prologue (5.). This track took six sources to create. There are 3 in the first two minutes alone! It starts with the highly coveted preshow music, and contains the recently released Michael Jackson version of “We Are Here to Change the World” as well as the instrumental exit version of “Another Part of Me”.
I completed over 10 versions of this remix over a year period, and all to find the right version. What was the hardest part? Correcting Hooter’s mistake! That took months to work out. But wait, where’s the seventh source? Just recently (a few days ago) new recordings of the Preshow music have been made with substantially higher quality.
Oh well, back to the mixing board. Expect a new mix soon. Maybe around July 2nd? …

Formatting for the Future
One of the most challenging aspects of the FWSS was to define a style that would be both consistent and adaptable for subsequent volumes in the series. Many of the concepts initially conceived for one pavilion would not translate well to others. The FWSS is directly inspired by the Walt Disney Treasures and Platinum Edition DVDs. The final design draws from the original photography, architecture and color schemes for each pavilion, all of which will change for each future release.

Vision for Tomorrow
Each pavilion in the series is very different and as such will be treated differently. Containing roughly the same amount of material (90 minutes to 2 hours) for each release has been one of the goals from beginning. In order to accomplish this, the original material will either be edited or elongated depending on the attraction. Supplemental Features will be created to support shorter experiences while certain pavilions will be shortened to accommodate running length. I would say expect the unexpected.

What’s Next?
Even though its many months away
Here’s a clue…

Any guesses?
The first person to guess correctly and describes why get's a preview!


1. If you’ve ever listened to a “music only track” on a DVD you know the feeling. It’s a nice bonus feature, but not exactly entertaining to the ear.
2. “Logic is the beginning of understanding not the end.” –Spock, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
3. I for one have always hated the term BGM; you wouldn’t refer to the score of Star Wars as “background” for anything. I prefer to call it “Atmosphere” because that’s what it helps to create. For those of you who work in theme park or have had the experience of walk through one with the BGM turned off, you know how awkward that can be. (It’s kind of like being INSIDE a silent film.)
4. I’m sure this was intentional, for as much as Magic Journeys is a beautiful song, the movie itself is probably best left in the vault forever. More on this later on in E82.
5. The space music also acts a perfect transitional device with the rest of the disc. One of the things I obsess over is transitions from track to track. It’s sometimes the most important step in creating an album. During every step of the process, I’m constantly listening to the ends and beginnings of tracks to make sure it’s just right.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Surprise Me"


Late Imagineer Bruce Gordon once said of Theme Park music; “It’s like half of the experience.” A true and profound statement, one could also say that it’s the most portable element of any attraction.
At the very end of the last century, people began, not only sharing their thoughts and ideas, but also music across the digital frontier. This is where I came in. Even though I will always claim to be a child of the Awesome Eighties, I really grew up in the cultural wasteland of the 1990’s. With Grunge, Alternative Rock, and Hip-Hop Rap dominating the airwaves there wasn’t much to get excited over for such a heavily eccentric teenager like myself. During this time I was also being exposed to the rich and wonderful history of Hollywood and especially the Walt Disney Company. (To this day, I still believe the WDC is one of the most extraordinary and unusual anomalies the world has ever known.) (1.) For a brief time during in the early 1990’s I lived in Jacksonville, FL and my family would often (read that every other month) take my brother and I out of school early on Fridays to spend a long weekends at WDW. (2.) It was during this time, I went beyond the superficial and began to absorb the finer details of every attraction and developed public space of the parks. One of these was of course the beautiful and genre-less scores of EPCOT Center’s Future World. For years, I would long for that day that I could listen to these masterpieces as easily as others could listen to the soundtrack albums of the latest movies.

(or 17 or 18 or whatever)

My personal archive of Theme Parks music is now measured in the hundreds of hours, and thousands of personally catalogued and researched files. (3.) Not a week goes by that I don’t play something that very few people actually “own”. And yet in the listening, I can’t help but want more or at least think about possibilities for an official wide release. (4.) Walt Disney once said, “The Way to Get Started is to Quit Talking and Began Doing.” And with that I began think about how I believe we should be listening to these attractions.


2005 was a watershed year for theme park music. This was the year “A Musical History of Disneyland” was released to widespread acclaim. Almost immediately after its release the theme park music community began to discuss the possibilities for something similar for the East coast parks. (5.) This also got me thinking about the perfect seven to nine hour journey through the musical history of EPCOT Center. The thing I love more than anything about the Disneyland set was its non-linear presentation of the material. (6.) I felt that if we ever were to have an Epcot box set it would assume this form. The uplifting themes of Mission: Space must immediately follow the optimistic orchestrations of Horizons and with some effort a natural transition from the Living Seas to Nemo and Friends could be accomplished. Unfortunately, a full scale book and artistic design of a project this size was far too complex and impractical for any one person to tackle. But great concepts like this have a way of popping-up to become even greater things…

A Musical History of Epcot

One day while at work, I was discussing my archive and design abilities with one of my new leaders and I ask him if there was anything he would be interested in. He replied with just two words, “Surprise Me.” Little did I know that those two words would serve as the starting point for a project that would eventually lead to the creation of such a massive project. Originally I conceived the “Future World Classics Series” as individual 70 minute tributes to the original attractions, but that wasn’t enough. I also thought that this series was deserving or greater attention. It’s one thing to have music but what was going to make this project different would be its presentation. New arrangements, high-quality restorations of substandard source recordings, ruthlessly editing the material in service to the listening experience were in store for all tracks considered for release. And at this point I’m only talking about the music.


In the beginning, I envisioned these soundtracks to be CD + DVD sets the CD would contain all original material, and the DVD “Legacy Disc” would cover the time since the original attractions. In addition, would be 5 exclusive desktops, a graphic intensive full history of the attraction (7.), Liner Notes, and video of retired attractions. Unfortunately, these discs would be largely impractical to produce for a number of reasons: expense, manufacturing, limited circulation and legal implications all conspired to kill any chance of realization for the original concept for the FWSS.


Really early in 2009, the Company asked a mysterious question: Are you 23? This was later revealed as D23: The Official Community for Disney fans. It was at this time my mind exploded with a similar question: Are you 82?
This is what I was looking for! A place where Epcot fans (Classic and Current) could connect and celebrate bold visions of the past, the excitement of the present and hopefully inspire the future of Epcot. (8.) This also presented me with a new format where anyone who was really interested could download, for free, completely digital versions of the FWSS releases.


In subsequent posts, we’ll be going into the details of Imagination’s production and release. In addition, we’ll be discussing the many unexpected angles and developments I’ll be taking in the future of the series.

Foot Notes
1. Anyone with eye for demographics, socio-economic trends, or cultural decline will tell you that the counter-cultural values and accomplishments of Walt Disney Company would argue against them ever turning a profit or even existing in the first place. Why isn’t this the case? Keep reading E82…
2. During the Early 1990’s, there were only 3 parks. It was a time when the Disney Village Marketplace was for a RELAXING evening of shopping. The Disney-MGM Studios was actually a working studio. The Magic Kingdom still used ever sq-inch of its attractions and shops. And EPCOT was still very much “Centered” around its original purposes.
3. 20 years ago, I would have done anything to have the IllumiNations soundtrack. I now have five incarnations and (in some cases) multiple versions of the same show.
4. We now have the technology to allow for profitable micro-niche recordings. That being said, I now believe the question is not “IF” but “WHEN” the company will officially release Classic EPCOT material. I’m also extremely optimistic in the long term effects of the upcoming court case of the WDC vs. David O’Neal. (Anyone interested in my explanation?)
5. The debate went on for a long while with several concepts of how such a release should be covered, and what focus the collection should take. Should it contain all parks or should be individual releases. My way of thinking was: I would much rather have seven hours of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot than have roughly 2 hours each for a WDW set.
6. In the Disneyland History box set the “history” was secondary to the overall musical experience Randy Thornton created. Tarzan’s Treehouse is right after the Swisskapolka and Adventure Thru Inner Space naturally segways into Star Tours.
7. In upcoming posts well be exploring the History of Imagination which, at the point of this posting, is only half finished and over 3,000 words in length!
8. Yes, that’s right I have several ideas for new concepts and new solutions to problems facing Epcot that I’ll be going through in very visual ways. Just Keep Visiting E82.