Initially, Kubrick asked Alex North, who had written thescore for ‘Spartacus’, to compose the music for 2001. Although he commissioned an original score, Kubrickultimately opted to stick with the well-known classicalcompositions and cues he’d blocked in during production,making the soundtrack one of the most unconventional everproduced. The catalogue of film scores commissioned and thendumped in favor of someone else’s work is extensive. Thesituation has a fascination all of it’s own: what might havebeen? Hermanns score for Torn Curtain for instance, andhere, Alex Norths score for 2001 are both examples. It was only as North watched the first commercialscreening that he discovered that his own score had beendiscarded. It was replaced by existing classical scores.
The soundtrack features eight classical tracks includingGyorgi Ligeti’s “Atmospheres” and Requiem”, Johan Strauss’s“The Blue Danube” and Richard Strauss’s “Also SprachZarathustra” (or “Thus Spake Zarathustra”), which incidentallyElvis used to use to open his concert performances. The film combines eerie contemporary music withclassical waltzes and Ballet suites – grunts and snarls withpneumatic hisses and synthesized beeps. One character hasa rough, throaty voice but the computer, Hal 9000, talks witha soft mellifluous tone (the classic characterization of thesmooth talking villain). In 2001, space is accurately depictedas a truly silent vacuum, but technological Man fills this worldwith the sound of circulating air systems, hummingcomputers and hissing doors. This sonic menace was latertaken to extreme by Ridley Scott in Alien which sharescommon elements with 2001, not least of which is one of theclassical pieces which Kubrick uses (when the Jupiter missionis first underway). 2001 begins with a desert plain, and the sound of windbroken only by the sound of ape men digging in the dirt for amorsel of vegetation.
When a leopard snarls and attacks oneof the apemen it rocks the soundtrack. The film ends with Dave Bowman, breathing then steppinginto a fabricated room while the background noise windsdown to ever lower notes, which has the effect of slowingthe pace. We then see Bowman as an older man eating at atable (eating is a common theme in the film) and the soundof his cutlery clashing against the plate. Both of theseframing scenes are made suspenseful not just by their slowpacing, and their unfamiliar placement, but the eerie,subdued and anxious sound. The atmosphere in the room inwhich Bowman is eating is tense – the sound is only broken bythe smash of the glass on the tiled floor. The soundpunctuates the atmosphere and shakes the viewer.
Another famous scene that illustrates this contrast is thesequence in which Bowman is rescuing his murderedshipmate, Frank Poole. The silence of space, through whichPoole spins to his doom, is absolute. Where earlier the spacewalks were accompanied by the methodical breathing ofthe astronaut inside his helmet, here there is no sound, onlylifelesness, a pure void only broken by the anomaly of abright orange spacesuit tumbling away through space. Inside Bowmans craft, the Shipboard radar tracker beepsloudly, building in intensity.
The juxtaposition of the silence ofa dying man floating alone in space, with no sound but theradar is one of the most violent contrasts in the film. As thedead man drifts into view through the window, the audiencesenses how alone man is in space. Later when Bowman maneuvers to reenter the shipwithout his helmet, the subtle sounds and whirs of the thecraft become louder. They abruptly give way to loudwarning sirens as he prepares for the worst. Again the sounddesign, built of authentic ambient structures, determines thetone and the overriding texture of the scene.
By themselvesthe sounds are nuetral, but contextually they take on greateremphasis. The reason I am exploring the sound in such detail isbecause the musical and ambient parts of the soundtrackare very deliberate. Together they create an aural ensemblethat is greater than the sum of its parts. At many pointsthroughout the film, sound effects and music are usedentirely seperate from each other. On the mission to theClavius crater, we see images of Doctor Floyd talking withthe pilots of the shuttle, yet we cannot hear what they aresaying because all we hear is the music.
The musical tracks we hear are placed at very deliberatepoints in the story. The film starts with Richard Strauss’s ‘ThusSpake Zarathustra’. We are presented with a view fromspace and we see the moon the earth and the sun inalignment. Here, the music creates an atmosphere of awe. We are presented with the majesty of the planets. This same piece of music plays as the apemen touch themonolith.
Sustained low notes rising in pitch and volumetowards a crescendo. Here, it represents understanding. Later we hear the same piece of music representing yetanother theme, that of rebirth. It is plain to see that Kubrickintended to evoke different emotions and themes with thesame song. Johan Strauss’s piece ‘The Blue Danube’, is usedto similar effect.
It represents Humour – (The stewardess, as shetends Floyd, and the advice for the zero gravity toilet) – andit represents the eloquence of the machinery in thespacecraft. The sound design also contributes to the dialogue. Most ofthe dialogue is small talk between the characters. Bowmanand Poole rarely talk to each other. Nothing is even saidduring the space walks.
It seems Kubrick wanted to isolatethe characters from each other. Miller suggests that the future society in kubricks 2001resembles that of the apemen in the first section of the film. The music seems to enmphasise this : at the start of the filmwe are presented with grand, majestic music, yet as the shiftoccurs to the future, the music becomes more gentle, morerefined. This however does not represent the humans buttheir machinery. The modern day apemen seem just asclumsy as their ancestors, while they shuffle around theconfines of their spacecraft. In contrast, their machinesmove with precision.
As Miller puts it, “the ape and the manare one and the same”. Quote“Thus the hypnotic circularity of strauss’s waltz applies notto the euphoric roundabout of any dancing couple but tothe even wheeling of that big space station. Thus while thosetrancendent items sail through the void with the eternalgrace of seraphim, the stewardess attending doctor Floydstaggers down the aisle”. 2001: A space Odyssey is built up from cycles, and is itselfan encompassing cycle.
Eating, birthdays, water,returning. . . even the ships themselves, everywhere the imageof a circle appears. The music also performs the samefunction : we start with “thus spake zarathustra” and itbecomes our last image as the credits begin to roll.
Films and Cinema