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Albums That Made Me - The Terminator OST

In this series of blogs, I will document a selection of albums that were pivotal in shaping my musical journey. I will focus on what made these albums special to me, as opposed to what makes them special in music, cultural or any other terms. Of course, every album I discuss can be considered as recommended listening, however, please keep in mind that whilst these albums are special to me, that doesn't mean they're particularly special and/or unique in their own right (although in most cases, I would argue that they are!).

 

Artist: Brad Fiedel

Album: The Terminator: Original Soundtrack

Release: 1984

Label: Enigma

Genre: Film-Score


Personnel:


Brad Fiedel - all instrumentation & production

Ross Levison - electric violin

Emile Robertson - Music Editing

Robert Randles - music post-production

Bill Wolford - digital editing - remixing


Personal Context


Long before I ever showed a meaningful interest in music, I was crazy about science-fiction action movies (as most six-year old boys were in 1990, right!). I was probably only seven or eight years old when I saw The Terminator. We taped it off of TV, ad-breaks and all. It had some of the more gruesome bits edited out for TV-friendliness, but I was none the wiser and loved the movie regardless.


A big part of what I loved about this film, was the music. The whole concept of film scores didn't yet register with me, but in hindsight, I know I was enthralled by this soundtrack. I would hum along with all the music cues as I watched and I could happily rewatch the opening title screen over and over again; I found the opening title theme so incredibly immersive. Also, not being a symphonic score, I was fascinated by the sounds and the way they made me feel, as well as complimented the themes and futuristic concepts of the story (although, again... this is adult me applying logic and rationale to my childhood love for the music of this film; I had no tangible understanding of why I liked it so much, I just did!).


What makes this soundtrack so significant for me however, is that the melody of the title theme is the first thing I ever felt compelled to figure out on the piano. I liked the title theme so much, that at the age of seven or eight, I sat down at the piano and figured out how to play it (I hadn't yet had any musical training at this age). Whilst I've no doubt something would have switched me onto playing piano at some point, it just so happens that it was The Terminator theme that did so. Fiedel's theme was the spark that ignited my musical journey.


My Takeaways


(As a small kid) I figured out the main melody in the right hand. With a little practice, I began accompanying with single notes in the left hand. As I did so, I was struck by the different moods and emotions I could create with what I later learned was harmony.


I also remember taking the same fingering shapes and applying them in different places. Initially I had (coincidentally) figured out the melody in the same key as the original, which is C (or A minor), all the white keys. If I played the first three notes of the melody starting on A, it sounded correct. But if I played the same shape (on just the white keys only) starting on C or F or G it sounded positive and uplifting as opposed to sad and melancholy. I soon realised that if I counted the black notes, I could recreate the sad, melancholic tone starting on C, F or G. I.e. I was unknowingly teaching myself about major and minor intervals and different key signatures.


I didn't know any theory and was so young, I had no comprehension of the world I was getting into, but in hindsight, The Terminator soundtrack sent me on a path of learning some core fundamentals about harmony and key-signatures (recreating the same melodic patterns in different places on the keyboard, utilising different numbers of black and white notes, and so on).


As an adult, with a lot of musical and music-production training (as well as a lot of nerdy knowledge and enthusiasm for the early years of electronic music), this soundtrack resonates with me just as strongly (if not stronger) than it did when I was a kid. Fiedel's textural and tonal work is superbly cohesive with the mood of this movie.


Movies are more often than not scored with heavy amounts of symphonic orchestration. This is no bad thing, but it wouldn't have been right for The Terminator, which is essentially a gritty, noir movie with an additional angle of science-fiction futurism. Fiedel's electronic one-man-band performance blends a fantastic use of melody, harmony and synthesis sound-design that fits seamlessly and perfectly with every respective scene in which it's utilised.


It's ominous and scary when it needs to be. It's also threatening and foreboding at times. Yet it also contains moments of reflectivity and light, blending atmospheres in a decisive and evocative way. There is also fantastic tenderness on show in the piano rendition of the main theme. You know the one! It plays during that scene; the scene that would always be on when your mum walked in and shrieked "Steven! What are you watching?!".


Conclusion


To this day, The Terminator, with it's dark, noir vibes remains one of my favourite movies (I prefer it over T2: Judgement Day - although I also love that movie too). Fiedel's soundtrack is a massive part of my immersion and enjoyment of this film. I regularly listen to this soundtrack whilst driving or doing chores and I know exactly what's happening in the film at any moment based on the music (yes! I've watched the movie that many times!).


As an electronic musician who often operates as a one-man-band (as Fiedel did on this soundtrack), this film-score continues to deliver inspiration after countless listens, with its rich and textured approach to tone generation and manipulation in support of varying moods, scenarios and contexts.


Lastly, film and TV soundtracks have been an enormous part of my musical appreciation, enjoyment and artistic development. Given that Fiedel's soundtrack had such an impact on me at such a young age, it likely turned me onto soundtracks (in general) at a much earlier age than I otherwise would have done without it. So thank you, Brad. Between inspiring me to pick out a tune on the piano for the first time and to pay very close attention to film-scores in my youth, you unknowingly set the trajectory of my life, career and all that I do.