Album Reviews

Thomas Bangalter – Mythologies

(Erato/Warner Classics) UK release date: 7 April 2023

With Daft Punk no more, one half of the duo has made a foray into orchestral composition with a substantial commissioned work

Thomas Bangalter - Mythologies As Daft Punk recede into electronic music history, is this when we get a proper look at the men behind the machines? Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s music flourished in part because of its robotic frontage, though behind the helmets there was a lot of craft and guile, proved beyond doubt in the duo’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy. It makes perfect sense, then, for Bangalter to make a foray into orchestral composition. He does so with Mythologies, a substantial work commissioned in 2019 by the Opéra National de Bordeaux.

Bangalter had a classical upbringing, playing the piano from an early age, and his mother, aunt and uncle all had connections with dance, so he comes to this new challenge well-armed. Mythologies is a sizeable ballet score, a set of characterisations of wondrous and awful creatures following in the footsteps of 19th century compatriots Léo Délibes and Adolphe Adam, then later giants Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. While the music doffs a cap to these composers, Bangalter adds to the mix a good dollop of American minimalism. His portraits are beautifully crafted, attractively orchestrated and adding elegance and refinement to the mix. The composition process, impressively, was a wholly solo effort.

Mythologies is almost inaudible to start with, pinprick tremolos from the strings and ruminations from the harp setting the mood. There is delicacy but also a sense of occasion, the motif in Premiers Mouvements sounding a cautionary note. As the characterisations begin, Bangalter starts to have more fun, with glimpses of the impish sense of humour much loved in Daft Punk’s music. Les Amazones bears testament to this, its squeaks seemingly drawn from the duo’s cutting room floor, and is closely related to the sort of playfulness heard in the Dukas classic L’Apprenti Sorcier. Le Catch is a good piece of cat and mouse, sprightly but with its clean lines looking back towards the French Baroque.

It is tempting to try to spot the classical influences at each turn in Bangalter’s score, but his voice is distinctive enough to speak on its own terms. The stark outlines of Les Gémeaux are a case in point, while the air of mystery around Danae generates the sort of tension found in Tron, before a busier riff takes hold. L’Accouchement provides a striking cluster of notes, blossoming into an intense and slightly alarming portrayal of childbirth. Both here and in Les Gorgones the listener gets an idea of Bangalter’s aptitude for characterisation and scene setting. Le Minotaure is the most substantial characterisation, heaved into action by lower strings but breaking out into a violin cadenza and atonal dialogue. Ares is similarly dramatic, with rolling timpani and microtonal strings getting stuck into a groove.

On occasion it feels that Mythologies could have more characterisation, with the brass at the end of Thalestris needing more bite, and the minimalist portrait of Zeus turning out to be quite forlorn. The melodic writing is good but not always as memorable as Daft Punk’s pop sensibilities would suggest. Yet there is much here to enjoy, and to suggest the next chapter in Thomas Bangalter’s career will see him flourish as an orchestral composer. More film commissions will surely follow, as we see more of the beating heart behind a duo who have won ours over for the previous 25 years.

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Thomas Bangalter – Mythologies