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Soundtrack review: Black mirror – USS Callister (Daniel Pemberton – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Black mirror – USS Callister (Daniel Pemberton – 2017)

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“Black Mirror” is a British science fiction anthology television series created by Charlie Brooker, with Brooker and Annabel Jones serving as the programme’s showrunners. It centres on dark and satirical themes that examine modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. Episodes are standalone works, usually set in an alternative present or the near future. The plot of the “USS Callister” episode is that a woman wakes up on a Star Trek-esque ship where the crew praise their all knowing and fearless captain. Daniel Pemberton wrote the score and he has become one of the most fascinating and chameleonic composers in today’s film music. I’m always up for his shenanigans as most of his scores are full of personality and experiments.

Naturally the opening of this score should have a bit of a Star Trek vibe so we get “Space fleet” which shows that Pemberton could easily write on a new show in the franchise. He gets the exploration sound, the urgency of the battle sound with the horns and the stabbing strings that are usually Giacchino’s bread and butter and an overall dark tone that I associated with the Star Trek explorations of unfriendly territories. I haven’t seen this episode so my review is based solely on the music. I am fascinated by how different this score sounds compared to, say, “All the money in the world” which I just heard; Pemberton is a true chameleon and his range allows him to write something different every time. Even more, he can write cues that are completely different but somehow lyrically connected: I can listen to the electronic pulses of “Enter infinity” right after the melodic “Callister inc.” and it makes sense.

Then there is my musical sweet spot, the reflective ambient sound that Daniel Pemberton completely nails in “Waking up” and can he please write an entire score that sounds just like that, orchestral buildup included? Of course in this world that peaceful piece can be followed by a discomforting, “Alien” like atmospheric piece like “New recruit”. Yeah he could write an “Alien” score as well. I like how many different shades of mystery and suspense, some lighter, others darker the composer can fit together in this score without losing the narrative thread.

Then there’s “Alone on USS Callister” which sounds as if it was taken straight out of Inception and that’s another musical place I love. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Daniel Pemberton is a chameleon and I will never pass on one of his scores. My favourite parts of this score are when it goes full sci-fi ambient and I instantly feel sucked into a musical vortex I am not interested in escaping from; I feel truly alone on a space station but this music makes the experience enjoyable and understandable.

“USS Callister” is a score that’s much denser and feels longer than it actually is; the musical adventure is without a doubt rewarding as a standalone listen without seeing a second of the episode. The old school Sci-fi action vibes of cues like “Distraction and escape” or “The asteroid field” (hm…why does this cue title sound familiar) coupled with the reflective ambient beauty of the quieter moments are my favourite parts. Once again Daniel Pemberton shows that he is one of the most entertaining composers right now.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 31 / 54

Album excellence: 57%

Highlights:
Callister Inc.
Enter Infinity
Waking Up
Alone On the USS Callister
The Airlock
Distraction and Escape
Into the Wormhole
Alive
Silent Night
USS Callister: The Next Adventures

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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