Film/TV composers have a particular interest here on CDM in that they tend to think creatively about style, instrumentation, and sound in their work and have to meld one technology (music) with another (film). It’s Friday night, so having resisted this long, I can no longer avoid mentioning Galactica. Composer Bear McCreary, who has scored the Battlestar Galactica TV series, has a blog going in which he talks about his music and some of the instruments featured in the show’s eclectic (and often surprisingly ethnic) sound textures:
For tonight’s episode, McCreary blogs his featured violinist, Paul Cartwright, whose electric violin is largely responsible for the signature sound of the show. CDM readers I think will especially like his bag o’ covet-worthy gear, including a tube amp and set of stompboxes any guitarist would love to have, let alone a violinist. The small tube amp is especially interesting to me, because one of the challenges of electric violin is softening out the tone, both to distinguish it from just sounding like a guitar or, at the opposite extreme, being too harsh. I love the analog approach, and there’s still plenty to be learned if you’re a computer-toting violinist (and, of course, I wouldn’t be the person I am if I didn’t point out computers can be great fun with violins, too).
Bear McCreary blog (erm, blog in a sort of mid-90s, stuck in frames sense — no RSS — but well worth reading!)
Bear McCreary is an interesting composer in general, a young, rising star in a hyper-competitive field. He’s a USC grad and Elmer Bernstein protege, obviously a fan of Philip Glass (yes, that isn’t just music that sounds like Glass on Galactica, it is actually Glass excerpts), and has scored other TV and movies, including The Alamo. Galactica is clearly his major claim to fame now, and not just because of the sci-fi fanboys; without his music setting the stone I doubt Galactica would have become the breakout hit it is. Interestingly, McCreary breaks from the usual composer stereotype by making his primary instrument the accordion.
Richard Gibbs deserves credit for scoring the original Sci Fi Channel miniseries, and I think it says something about both composers that the music of one segues perfectly into the music of the other. Gibbs has a long history of credits, arguably the coolest being The Simpsons series 1. Gibbs music is responsible for producing the initial character of the show, and his musical cues surface throughout the series (much as Alexander Courage created a series of leitmotifs for Star Trek). He managed to score the severity of the initial Cylon attack while keeping the world fantastic and not just, well, depressing, which is an accomplishment for a show that begins with mass-scale destruction and death.
The miniseries and TV soundtracks for the show aren’t available on iTunes or the various Windows Media stores so don’t look. The record label has free MP3 downloads of a lot of the main tracks (excerpts only, of course), and if you like it enough to get one or all three CDs, Amazon will hook you up. International readers can buy direct from the label.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the long legacy of Battlestar Galactica soundtracks. The 1978 series and pilot movie featured a score by Stu Phillips, the composer who gave us Knight Rider and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Series creator Glen Larson even contributed music and co-wrote the Galactica theme song, one of the few theme songs that may ultimately have had more notoriety than the actual show, especially when a certain Italian keyboardist came on the scene. Giorgio Moroder produced his own cover album of Galactica-inspired music, with this cover, which proves that obviously he and his cover artist were watching a very different show than the rest of us:
The art is by someone named Winston Taylor. Anyone out there who can shed light on who that is? Anyway, Moroder’s album wound up becoming a club legend, and now the original show has pretty much been eclipsed by everything else that bears its name. What have we learned? You can’t release a really awesome electronic album without a space babe like this on the cover. And if you remake old shows (ahem, Lost in Space), go for awesomeness rather than camp.