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The Matrix
1999 Varèse

2008 Varèse

Composed, Orchestrated, Conducted, and Produced by:
Don Davis

Soprano Vocals Performed by:
Thed Lebow

Labels and Dates:
Varèse Sarabande
(May 4th, 1999)

Varèse Sarabande
(September 15th, 2008)

Also See:
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
Alien 3
The Thirteenth Floor

Audio Clips:
1999 Album:

1. Main Title/Trinity Infinity (0:32):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (250K)
Real Audio (155K)

3. The Power Plant (0:28):
WMA (188K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

9. Ontological Shock (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. Anything is Possible (0:24):
WMA (150K)  MP3 (181K)
Real Audio (113K)

The 1999 album is a regular U.S. release. A song album for the film had been released two months earlier. The 2008 "Deluxe Edition" is an entry in Varèse Sarabande's Club series, with 3,000 copies pressed and sold only through soundtrack specialty outlets at an initial price of $20.


The Matrix

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Buy it... on the 1999 commercial album only if you want a sneak peak at Don Davis' often difficult, postmodern score (and on the limited 2008 product only if you consider yourself an established fan of the franchise's music).

Avoid it... if you demand the greater role of thematic harmony that develops in the two sequel scores by Davis, both featuring a more interesting blend of challenging dissonance and quasi-religious harmony.

The Matrix: (Don Davis) Very rarely does a truly visionary concept come out of Hollywood, especially in science fiction and fantasy genres that include thousands of entries over many decades. The existential issues raised by Andy and Larry Wachowski in 1999's The Matrix proposed the idea that everything man knows in terms of "reality" is a computer simulation controlled by machines in a real world of the future, a world in which humans' bodies are harvested for energy while their brains are fed the illusion of a world contemporary to viewing audiences. Those who have escaped the machines and their endless levels of competing programming hide deep under the surface of the planet, plugging into the virtual world when necessary to cause trouble and save people who didn't know they needed salvation. The primary target for both humans and machines is the character of Neo (Keanu Reeves), who is the Jesus Christ figure of this disjointed world and who can both save humanity and bring balance to the machine world. The film's March release revealed relatively low initial expectations from Warner Brothers, though an explosive return at the box office eventually opened the door for two successful sequels, both released (awkwardly) in 2003. The production elements of The Matrix are stunning, especially in the art direction and Wachowski Brothers' unique techniques of shooting and editing fight sequences. The dimensions of time and space are distorted in the film's pivotal moments, yielding a marvelous spectacle of sight to coincide with the story's already unconventional propositions. The Wachowski Brothers realized immediately that the film would require an unusual combination of music, especially when pertaining to the score. While the trilogy adopted more of a romantic sense of fantasy in its sequels, The Matrix presented an odd blend of horror and coolness in between its frantic chase sequences. The real world veterans played by Carrie-Ann Moss and Laurence Fishburne exuded professional and cool personas that necessitated an equally rocking personality in the music, and for these concepts, the Wachowskis relied on hard rock songs. This is especially evident as Neo adopts the same persona in the last flying sequence of the film.

With the hip, mainstream elements of The Matrix addressed by Marilyn Manson and others, the Wachowski Brothers turned to their collaborator for the quirky Bound, Don Davis, to provide the unusual sounds necessary for the darker concepts. The directors specifically requested music that was different, and whether you label it postmodern or avant garde, Don Davis' result certainly succeeds. It was a project that Davis referred to as a dream assignment, for it allowed him, as he stated, to rely more heavily on the "postmodern works that are being done now on the concert stage." Davis has always enjoyed writing original concert pieces in his career, because it allows for a level of freedom and exploration that films don't often permit. He commented that The Matrix, despite being a good candidate for a different sound, would not have worked with a score heavily laden with synthesizers, and he justified this by claiming that electronic scores had become something of the norm by the late 1990's. Instead, when Davis arrived at a particular scene in the film, he tackled it by writing music in exactly the opposite mould of what initial reactions might dictate. Perhaps this is most evident in the cue "The Power Plant," in which Davis arrives at the score's most monumental crescendo of harmonic resonance for full ensemble and (ironically Mormon) choir, albeit briefly, for the moment when the lead character discovers the horrors of the real world for the first time. Another example exists in the cue "Welcome to the Real World," which is treated to a melancholy boy soprano solo despite the fact that man, Neo, is now surrounded by a group of real and genuinely caring people for the first time. Davis' work for the film is better recognized, however, for its harsh dissonance and startling brass tones in atonal bursts of energy that are indeed quite harrowing to hear. Even when the score isn't as truly unlistenable as the terrifying mangle of sound in "Unable to Speak," Davis inserts unease into every cue. As a horror experience, The Matrix is one of the more engaging on album, though this fact remains interesting in that such material really doesn't define the music as heard in the film. For this score, there is significant difference between the two.

While Davis has claimed that he looked back at no orchestral film score as his guide for The Matrix, there are actually distinct similarities between this work and that which resulted from the Alien sequels by James Horner and Elliot Goldenthal. Fans of the latter composer, specifically, will note that Davis' handling of layers of instrumentation in order to produce disharmony, highly organized despite being unpleasant, is remarkably reminiscent to Goldenthal's avant garde tendencies. The unusually large and diverse role for the brass section is mostly responsible for this style in The Matrix, along with ominous rumbling of the piano and other percussion. Many of these instruments are electronically manipulated to give them a foreign sound. There are no simple themes in The Matrix, despite the franchise's movement towards the romantic in the sequels. The superhero element for Neo does shine through in "Anything is Possible," with the major-key statement on brass over choir in the cue providing an obvious hint of both his powers and his savior status (this proves to be a theme in and of itself in the sequels). Late in that cue, at 4:50 (as well as late in "Ontological Shock"), audiences hear the opening bars of the love theme for Neo and Trinity that would flourish in the sequels. The finale cue ends with a raucous crescendo that could easily fit in Alien 3, Heat, or Sphere. The two most distinct ideas in The Matrix are also staples of the series. First, the pulsating, pitch-defying brass effect that wavers between trumpets on top and horns below is an extremely distinctive identity for the entire franchise. It's instantly recognizable and proves quite useful in the ease with which it can be integrated into nearly any cue. Davis' method of presenting the motif at the very start of the film, with rolling piano and tingling metallic percussion, would carry over to the sequels. Secondly, the evil machines are given a rhythmic effect of a deliberate, accelerating movement, both tapped out lightly on the cymbals several times (a definite Horner influence) or blasted by brass in the aforementioned moment of choral harmony in "The Power Plant." The sense of the inevitable in this motif cannot be missed. Also omnipresent are metallic sound effects through all of these ideas, sometimes making you wonder if one of your major household appliances is malfunctioning.

Overall, The Matrix is extremely original, but it's not easy listening on album. The songs play such a prominent role in the film that there is often confusion for mainstream viewers about where the boundary between the songs and score exists. Perhaps the most obvious blurring of lines comes with the use of Rob Dougan's "Clubbed to Death" piece for the scene when Neo is reintroduced to the matrix (and the lady in the red dress). So distinct was the adaptation of that piece into The Matrix that Dougan would himself expand the idea for The Matrix Reloaded. It's not surprising that most of the hype generated by the music of The Matrix came from the non-Davis material (which consists of songs that people often associate with the film when protesting and extending their belief that it inspires school shootings). The most interesting debate about music usage for the film ironically involved the use of "The Eyes of Truth" by Enigma, with a gothic new age style of heavy percussion and massive chorus that very obviously stirred anticipation in the film's trailers. The lack of an Enigma-like sound in the score was understandable when you look at the project from Davis' viewpoint, but it's interesting to observe that his two sequel scores would slowly move towards that kind of sound. It's unlikely that this choice was made based on so much positive hype from the usage, but those listeners unsatisfied with the lack of that kind of score would eventually hear something more to their liking. The Varèse Sarabande release of the score at the time of the film's debut only included 30 minutes of material, omitting a significant portion of the film's middle "explanation scenes" and final action music (upwards of ten minutes in the case of the latter alone). Among all of Varèse's 30-minute albums of the middle to late 1990's (which were short due to financial, re-use reasons and not by the choice of the label), The Matrix was among those that truly bothered film music collectors the most. But you can't fault Varèse in this case, taking into account the fact that the recording included a 90-piece Los Angeles (in other words: union) ensemble. To their credit, they assembled 30 minutes of material that included a competent selection to represent the various parts of Davis' work. For some casual listeners, this presentation may even suffice.

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The problems posed by the Varèse album were solved for some film score collectors when the (region 1) DVD was released with an isolated score track, and within a couple of years, 2-CD bootlegs of the music flooded the market. Surprising most in the community, Varèse chose to add The Matrix to its selection of "Deluxe Edition" entries within its series of limited Club titles in September of 2008, expanding the running time of the presentation to a whopping 78 minutes. Considering the large pressing (3000 copies) and the fact that many fans had already satisfied themselves with the DVD rip of the music, it should be no surprise that the album did not come close to selling out as quickly as some had anticipated, and copies remained on sale for less than $20 in 2009. As for the contents of the 2008 expanded product, nearly every major cue from the score is compiled into a well-rounded, if not perhaps overextended view of the score. Davis' material is obviously interesting enough in each of its minutes to retain attention from an intellectual standpoint, but there is some redundancy in the added music. Finally heard on a legitimate release is the plethora of rhythmic slapping, tingling, and wavering that accompanies Morpheus' crew as they maneuver or snap to action ("Switch Out" and "Whoa, Switch Brokers"). A better sense of propulsion is conveyed on this product, with rhythmic urgency translating to even the cues of minimalistic volume. Among the most important additions to the original album's material is the traumatic "Nascent Nauseous Neo," the Japanese-flavored "Domo Showdown," the rhythmically dense "Switch Out," and the pair of lengthy climax cues, "That's Gotta Hurt" and "Surprise." Enthusiasts of the sequel scores are treated to another hint of the Neo and Trinity love theme in the middle of "Switch Out." Still, if you tally all of these important additional cues, you end up with an optimized album running at far less than an hour in length, which would perhaps be the most comfortable compromise for an already difficult (and for some people, nearly intolerable) listening experience. Warner Bothers handled the commercial album situation a bit better with the sequels, addressing the finer balance between score and song especially in The Matrix Reloaded. On the whole, while The Matrix is a fine and original score for its film, it's by far the least enjoyable of the three entries on any of its albums. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for Film: ****
    Music as Heard on 1999 Album: **
    Music as Heard on 2008 Album: ***
    Overall: ***

Bias Check:For Don Davis reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.2 (in 10 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 2.98 (in 43,618 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.9 Stars
Smart Average: 2.8 Stars*
***** 5104 
**** 1683 
*** 4086 
** 5104 
* 4326 
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    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Re: Chopin's Prelude #4
  Quarrol -- 12/1/13 (6:53 a.m.)
   Re: Clubbed to death...piano solo
  AM7 -- 5/5/12 (8:10 p.m.)
   The Matrix Real Cue Names
  Pudgy1981 -- 10/19/11 (12:54 p.m.)
   Re: Clubbed to death...piano solo
  Sharon -- 4/24/10 (5:44 a.m.)
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 Track Listings (1999 Album): Total Time: 30:11

• 1. Main Title/Trinity Infinity (3:53)
• 2. Unable to Speak (1:13)
• 3. The Power Plant (2:40)
• 4. Welcome to the Real World (2:25)
• 5. The Hotel Ambush (5:22)
• 6. Exit Mr. Hat (1:20)
• 7. A Virus (1:32)
• 8. Bullet-time (1:09)
• 9. Ontological Shock (3:31)
• 10. Anything is Possible (6:48)

 Track Listings (2008 Album): Total Time: 77:54

• 1. Main Title/Trinity Infinity (3:49)
• 2. Neo on the Edge* (3:23)
• 3. Unable to Speak (1:13)
• 4. Bait and Switch* (3:15)
• 5. Switched for Life* (3:35)
• 6. Switched at Birth (2:40)
• 7. Switch's Brew (2:26)
• 8. Cold Hearted Switch* (1:38)
• 9. Nascent Nauseous Neo* (2:05)
• 10. A Morpheus Moment* (1:30)
• 11. Bow Whisk Orchestra* (1:03)
• 12. Domo Showdown* (1:14)
• 13. Switch or Break Show* (1:04)
• 14. Shake, Borrow, Switch* (0:33)
• 15. Freeze Face* (1:48)
• 16. Switch Woks Her Boa* (2:03)
• 17. Switch Out* (2:56)
• 18. Boon Spoy* (1:06)
• 19. Oracle Cookies* (1:26)
• 20. Threat Mix (5:24)
• 21. Exit Mr. Hat (1:16)
• 22. On Your Knees, Switch* (4:45)
• 23. Mix the Art (1:27)
• 24. Whoa, Switch Brokers* (4:01)
• 25. No More Spoons* (1:00)
• 26. Dodge This (1:06)
• 27. Ontological Shock (3:29)
• 28. That's Gotta Hurt* (5:16)
• 29. Surprise!* (4:04)
• 30. He's the One Alright (6:47)

* previously unreleased

 Notes and Quotes:  

The 1999 album was advertised by Varèse Sarabande as featuring 24-bit digital sound. The insert for that product, however, offers no extra information about the film or score. The 2008 Varèse Club album contains lengthy notation about both the film and score, though it concentrates heavily on Davis' career rather than the construction of the music. The packaging creatively uses a green spine accent rather than the maroon usually seen on Varèse's products, an obvious nod to the color of the code in the film.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Matrix are Copyright © 1999, Varèse Sarabande, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 6/17/99 and last updated 1/18/09. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1999-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.