What if Zarathustra had not spoken? Alex North's counterfactual soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-94
JournalNew Review of Film and Television Studies
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011
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Abstract

This paper critically examines the alternative soundtrack for the 1968 science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, composed by Alex North but ultimately rejected by the film's director, Stanley Kubrick. Unheard for decades, the music was released on CD in 1993 on a recording entitled Alex North's 2001. Although the details of North's ‘lost’ music have been extensively discussed, from accounts of North's compositional approach and ultimate rejection, to musicological comparisons between North's music and Kubrick's choice of pre-existing classical and avant-garde music, this paper considers the CD itself and its apparent rehabilitative ‘mission’. The paper examines the inner sleeve notes of the album that stress the superiority of North's music, and argue that Kubrick made an artistic mistake in rejecting North's score. Subsequently, the paper argues that Alex North's 2001 recording is a significant example of a cultural counterfactual, it is an invitation to re-experience 2001: A Space Odyssey with a radically different sound and which conjures an intriguing ‘what if?’ scenario. However, the paper will stress the ways in which the supporters of North fail to appreciate Kubrick's ‘proto-postmodernist’ approach to the science fiction soundtrack, an approach that would be influential decades later.