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Black Gold

Black Gold

By Phil Blanckley • June 18th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Varese Sarabande Records

Release date (US): February 13th 2012
Running time: 55:34 minutes

Composer: James Horner

Black Gold Soundtrack

Long before Titanic (1997), James Horner was always one of my favourite composers. I remember having to pick a film at university and composing an original score for a short excerpt.

I decided to pick Casper (1995) – big mistake. Although challenging, I couldn’t get Horner’s original melody from my head. I managed to complete it in the end, however let’s just say that my original composition was clearly over-inspired by him!

Horner’s worked with directors such as James Cameron and Ron Howard, and has composed well over 100 film scores including An American Tail (1986) and Braveheart (1995). He’s known for his combination of electric and choral elements and for his frequent use of Celtic musical elements, heavily based around stringed instruments and sweeping, pastoral chords.

He’s also composed popular songs such as My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, with the vocals of Celine Dion, and Then You Look At Me, again featuring Celine, and taken from the 1999 film Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams.

I have always been inspired by Horner’s ability to create such memorable melodies and his use of pleasing harmonies and cadences. His score for Black Gold, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and staring Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto, is no exception.
Black Gold

Inspired by the period and country in which the film is set, Horner manages to combine flawlessly elements of traditional instrumentation with a more classical style, whilst still maintaining a Celtic feel through his use of the instruments and playing techniques.

I particularly like You Were A Prince, with it’s varied use of dynamics, electronic effects, low piano motifs and voice. The use of the percussion at the beginning of the track, which then fades into long, often-dissonant harmonies create a feeling of tension and unease. The use of portamento throughout this section of music also adds to this.

The beautiful piano opening accompanied shortly after by vocals in So This Is War encapsulates the emotion of the track perfectly. The range of the vocals combined with the woodwind melody, both with heavy use of reverb, disintegrates into a piano melody accompanied by low droning strings and brass. It reminds me of something from a musical, and creates a desolate feel.


  • 1. Main Title — A Desert Truce (6:34)
  • 2. Horizon To Horizon (3:59)
  • 3. The Wonders Of Wealth (1:49)
  • 4. “I Have Chosen You” (3:22)
  • 5. “You Were A Prince” (1:47)
  • 6. Leaving As An Emissary (5:19)
  • 7. Father And Son (1:50)
  • 8. Phantom Army (1:48)
  • 9. “So This Is War” (1:56)
  • 10. The Blowing Sands (4:27)
  • 11. Fresh Water (1:51)
  • 12. One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies (6:44)
  • 13. Battle In The Oil Fields (5:13)
  • 14. A Kingdom Of Oil (8:43)

The Blowing Sands was an extremely interesting track for me, and sways towards Horner’s more experimental side, with heavy use of electronic elements throughout, particularly with the effects used on the instruments used and the elements of portamento.

It’s a crazy combination of often low traditional instrumentation combined with high electronically altered voice that builds back into the main melody from the score and becomes a full orchestral passage. It graciously dies back down into a delicate piano melody combined with soft male voice.

Elements of this piece reminded me of Horner’s score for , in particular the track One Last Wish. This was my favourite track from the score.

I love Horner’s ability to experiment the way that he does. He’s not afraid to try something different, yet the score always returns to be identifiable as his work by the memorable melodies he creates, and the instrumentation and harmonies.
I can’t think of a score that in places has not affected me to the point of becoming emotional, a trait that in my eyes makes a great composer. When asked about him, many people immediately think of Titanic but he’s so much more than that.

Phil Blanckley

Phil Blanckley

Phil is a 27-year-old classically trained musician from Sheffield with qualifications in Popular Music, Classical Music and a BA (Hons) in Creative Music Technology and Sound Recording. He likes nothing better than locking himself in the studio and composing music of all genres.

Phil became interested in composing after learning how to play the Cello and Clarinet at a young age, and has never looked back since. His favourite composer is Danny Elfman, whose unconventional harmonies and rhythms in scores such as Edward Scissorhands still manage to bring a tear or two to his eye.

You can find him on Twitter @PhilBlanckley.

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