WonderCon 2017: Scoring the Future: Writing Music for Sci-Fi

One of my favorite things about attending these conventions is being able to meet the creatives behind the projects that you don’t normally get to see. Scoring the Future: Wiring Music for Sci-Fi was a fascinating panel about what it’s like making music for worlds and places that don’t exist. Hosted by Chandler Poling and Anne Cecre, panelists Tree Adams (The 100), Heather McIntosh (Z for Zachariah), Andrew Lockington (The Space Between Us), Greg Edmonson (Firefly, Uncharted) and Michael Kramer (Lego: Star Wars Ninjao) led us through their careers and their processes.

Getting the Job

Firefly is a show that has had such a long shelf life among fandom and Uncharted a big video game, and Greg nearly wasn’t a part of either. He spoke about how he initially turned down working on Uncharted but that he met with the creator who wanted to use the game to bring new gamers in, which required some great music. The opportunity gave him a change to work at Abbey Road and with 80 people. His Firefly experience was equally kismet. He had to send in a cd to Joss Whedon and got a call for a 5 minute meeting, which turned into two hours of chatting about British guitarists, and landed him the job.

Finding the Elements

Each composer said that figuring out the sound of a project is a fun and important process. Andrew, who worked on The Space Between Us, said for him he had to look at Earth as if it was another planet (the main character was born on Mars) and that he tried to approach the world with gardner’s eyes. He told a really funny story about finding a wine glass on the ground that was perfectly in pitch, that needed up in the main theme. For Heather, she decided to use acoustic instruments because the story was very connected to the earth.

Working with Themes

For Michael, he had the tough position of working within an established universe with iconic themes. He said that for his score, he  looked at the original inspirations that John Williams took to write Star Wars and find the original source material. It was tough to figure out how to balance old and new themes, but he decided that new characters get new themes andwrote mirror image of Force theme for Rowan. Tree Adams had a different challenge, because one of his show’s main themes, the Clexa theme, because charged with controversy when they killed Lexa. He said that as an artist, he brings the theme back in to reinforce the burden of the crown Clarke feels and to show that she still thinks about Lexa.

Video Game scoring

Greg said the process was very different scoring for a video game. In film/tv, everything is completed and you’re scoring to picture. In games, it doesn’t exist. You write about 2 hours of music and they deconstruct it over a 14 hour experience.

Imagining the Future

Tree: We have this gritty world, there are found items being used and clans had to evolve from the apocalypse. I see weird metallic stuff and then go into the trash and bang on it to find new sounds. We have the freedom because The 100 also uses an orchestra and traditional melody.

Michael: The orchestra is the bread and butter of Star Wars. I was struck by how much John uses other instruments (electric guitar in bounty hunter chase, synth with jabba the hut)

Andrew: instrumentation can be a catalyst to move out of your comfort zone. Music used to project what technology would sound like, now we’re so far advanced technology wise, ew use music in space to be more contemplative about humanity and how we fit in the universe. That vastness of space forces you to look inward.

Heather: I’m experimental weirdo, I love to go dark and atonal. There’s no power at the beginning [of Z for Zachariah] so as they work to get power I started to add more electronic sounds.

Greg: Joss didn’t want traditional instruments. [Firefly] was the start of me using ethnic instrumentation because the cultures got mashed together.  Just need a bit of spice sometimes to say we’re not in Kansas any more.

Favorite Scifi musical moment

-Heather: Imperial march

-Chandler: cliff martinez in solaris

-Andrew: just showed kids the matrix, the moment Neo wakes up in the pod

-Michael: in inception the 18-20 min long cue that resets and plays with time

-Tree: planet of the apes heston on the beach revelation part 2

-Greg: Jerry Goldsmith