The Matrix soundtrack - Don Davis

Don Davis - The Matrix soundtrack CD cover Being the first film in a trilogy and indeed the start of a whole franchise, The Matrix was the film which established many aspects of the subsequent films. So not only does it establish the worlds and characters of the story, but also the prevailing style, moods, costumes, camera work, martial arts movements, action set pieces, pacing and of course the music. The financial imperatives of the first movie were such that the first album released was one of those "from and inspired by" CDs which did not reflect the music actually used during the movie itself. This omission was later redressed with the release of the soundtrack album of music by Don Davis. In its own way the music was just as trend-setting as some of the stunning camera works and effects from the film, and compared to the majority of film soundtracks it was "modernistic".

When listening to the music, the main sounds which draw the attention come from the brass section. In fact the brass have a considerable amount of work to do. There are many cresendos, and the percussion (sometimes enhanced with synthetic sounds) provide a number of different crashes and thumps. Then there are the strings which fill in some textures and provide rhythmic figures which help to set the tempo. Voices are used in particular sections, and synth sounds sometimes augment the mix. Woodwind play a minor textural role as does piano and tuned percussion. There are no real melodies, but there are thematic ideas which recur throughout. The most obvious thematic motif is an alternating swell between different sections of the brass. This occurs so frequently that you could call it the "main theme". There are also moments of brass double notes and chords which build up and then crescendo. Sudden volume changes and some of the percussive "hits" create the same kind of punctuation in several places. In addition to this there are the occasional mini-melodies which appear several times either within the one sequence, or at quite distinct parts of the film.

While this is a radical set of ideas, it complements the film very well. The way that the pace of the music matches that of the film seems closer than on other films. In particular, when fast action scenes suddenly break out into "bullet time" and the combatants hang in mid-air for a few seconds before carrying on, the music likewise briefly pauses. So we get a rhythmic action-style pounding which gives way to the alternating brass swells before resuming the pounding beat. Amid all the artifical gloss of the synthetic environment and the machines we mustn't forget the human element, and it is largely up to Davis to bring this out with moments of fear and doubt on the one hand and love and conviction on the other. In summary this is an unusual soundtrack, though a perfect match for the film and very listenable as a soundtrack album.

Take the red pill...

Availability and track listing:

The Matrix soundtrack by Don Davis is at or The full track listing is as follows:

  • Main Title/Trinity Infinity - features synth sounds for the trickling green characters which show the matrix in action
  • Unable to Speak
  • Power Plant - voices are introduced in a Ligeti way, with big contrasts between loud busy sections and subdued murmurings
  • Welcome to the Real World - this track holds real emotional power with some of those mini-melodies and a lonely boy soprano
  • Hotel Ambush - drum and percussion quicken the pace, a number of threats lurk with low brass and percussion, and it breaks out into moments of high drama
  • Exit Mr. Hat - did you spot this anagram? Christopher Young is also fond of including puzzles within his track titles
  • Virus
  • Bullet-Time - one of those brass and strings tracks, with brass hitting double notes and leading the alternating swell pattern
  • Ontological Shock - all the established matrix devices come together in the last two exciting tracks
  • Anything Is Possible - in a couple of places this almost breaks out into the "normality" of late-romanticism, as Neo comes to terms with his abilities

And don't forget to check our review for the second film The Matrix Reloaded.