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Being a science fiction TV geek has gotten easier since my childhood days of Space: 1999, Star Trek, and the original Battlestar Galactica.  Thanks in large part to the financial success of Star Wars and Star Trek movies, science fiction programs have been easier to pitch in Hollywood — or so it seems to me.  Moreover, with the popularity of video games that, more often than not, have a science fiction theme to them, it’s increasingly clear that science fiction not a genre that’s only  relegated to the nerds.  Sure, a large part of the SF fan base are nerds, but there are so many closeted science fiction fans who won’t admit to liking the genre that a full picture of the demographic is kind of blurry.  It’s like adult contemporary radio in a way (i.e., a format that’s programmed for women).  Few men admit to liking soft rock, but now that Arbitron is using their PPM (Portable People Meter) to collect information about listening habits, they are finding that men do indeed like their fair share of AC artists. I would imagine a similar phenomenon is happening when it comes to science fiction — that is to say, there’s a large swath of the population that won’t admit to liking science fiction TV shows or films, but their viewing and purchasing habits suggest otherwise.

Enter the composer Bear McCreary … a guy who has composed an impressive amount of music for the series Battlestar Galactica (BSG), and has done so by largely breaking with the stylistic norms surrounding science fictions TV shows and movies.  Composers scoring TV shows or movies with science fiction themes have, to me, either created music that’s bombastically romantic with full orchestras, or have tried to craft futuristic sounds that can sound rather ridiculous.  McCreary  has charted a “third way” when writing music for BSG. Finding inspiration in music from around the world, many of McCreary’s music cues for BSG would have middle eastern flourishes, Asian Indian references to sacred texts, Scottish bagpipes, and heavy metal guitars that wove together a rich musical tapestry reflecting the cultural roots of the human race.

And he did all this before he turned 30.

Bear McCreary is more than BSG, he’s provided scores for a number of projects that include TV, commercials, and now video games. The more I listened to his work, the more I wanted to feature his music that’s stylistically diverse than what most are used to. So that means this mix isn’t weighted toward his BSG work, but rather surveys a wider grouping of  music projects.

Beary McCreary, “Human Target: Main Titles” (Download)

I watched a couple of episodes of this new Fox TV show, and found it kind of boring. However, I’ve been reading McCreary’s blog for over a year now and find it to be a wealth of information on what goes into a scoring session. The work he’s doing for Human Target has some nice stylistic elements (i.e., the use of a boys choir in an episode called “Sanctuary”), but the title sequence is pure heroics with that whole military undercurrent thing going on.  I featured this selection because I think it demonstrates that McCreary can easily create music that reflects the tone of the show.  Too often, composers gets trapped by their successes, and after BSG, I’m sure McCreary had to prove that he was more than a Johnny One Note when it came to working in other genres.

Bear McCreary, “Derek’s Mission” (Download)

It really pissed me off when Fox canceled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  But for some unknown reason, no one really tuned in to the series; a series I had a very high regard for.  McCreary’s score for the show has many similarities to his work on BSG, but T:SCC was much more meditative than BAM! BAM! BAM! action that the Terminator movies where known for. The show grappled with religion, ethics, nihilism, love, artificial intelligence, time travel and alternate time lines in a way the producers of Lost wish they could.  After the season 2 cliffhanger, I was hoping Fox would green light a TV movie to wrap up the loose ends of the narrative — which had grown very complex by the time the show ended. Alas, it was not to be.

Bear McCreary, “A Tauron Sacrifice” (Download)
Being the huge BSG fan that I am, I thought I would really love Caprica, but I really didn’t like much of the pilot or the first couple of episodes.  However, by the third episode, I started to warm up to the story.  The music is quite a departure from what McCreary was doing on BSG.  Sure, there are some stylistic similarities (after all, it is the BSG universe — just 58 years before the their worlds were attacked in a nuclear holocaust), so carrying over some themes and styles is expected.  However, McCreary is more rooted to European classical music on the Caprica soundtrack than the world influences he displayed on BSG.  Since the series takes place on a planet and city that’s supposed to be a cultural, political and economic center of their society (much like New York City), McCreary decided to go with a musical style of Caprica’s ruling elite, as evidenced by the swelling strings and operatic quality of this music cue.
Bear McCreary and the BSG Orchestra, “Theme from Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” (Download)
McCreary and the BSG Orchestra have been playing concerts in L.A. for the last couple of years, and lo and behold, they fill the venues!  This live version of “The Plan’s” main theme turns into a really wonderful extended jam.  For BSG fans, the use of The Gāyatrī Mantra has been a mainstay of the opening since season 2, and I absolutely loved how McCreary was able to rework the original opening into a more lively and percussive song.  And Raya Yarbrough’s vocals are in top form on this live performance.  If you have iTunes, I recommend downloading the video of this concert if only for the cello jam in the middle.

Bear McCreary, “Dark Void” (Main Finger Remix) (Download)

The makers of the video game, Dark Void, had a contest where they asked people to remix the main theme to the game.  After a number of submissions, Jesse G won the contest (judged by McCreary).  What he liked about G’s remix was that it incorporated the feel of an 8-bit score McCreary composed for the PC game — which captured the feel of early video games:

The Main Finger Remix, like the best of the entries, cleverly combined elements of my track with original material to forge a new musical identity. However, it managed to structure these disparate musical puzzle pieces into a form that flows like a good song. This piece never stays the same long enough to get boring and it never changes so radically that it feels like a montage of unrelated ideas. And there are some fantastic ideas here: the shuffle groove cut up from my taiko riff, the simple sine wave synth lines that bring to mind the 8-bit stylings of my own “Dark Void Theme (Mega Version),” the heavy-rock bridge featuring acoustic drums and electric guitar and the re-harmonization of the melody at the end of the piece, among others. I especially appreciate the restraint on display in allowing the melody to rest cleanly atop the driving remix elements, giving the listener the melody to listen to. I know I’m biased because I wrote that melody, but still … its fun to listen to it in such a new context!While many of the submissions resulted in intense beats, The Main Finger Remix struck the perfect balance between remix originality and good ol’ fashioned musicality. This is a piece of music I want to keep listening to. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m putting this thing on my iPod right now!

Bear McCreary, “The Mask of Fargo” (Download)

Eureka is on its third season on SyFy, and it has a a lot of whimsy embedded in its narrative arc that makes the show quite likable. And it’s that whimsical quality that McCreary is going for in this selection. From the episode “Noche de Sueños,” the denizens of the secret town of Eureka start sharing their dreams (some are rather comic) after a toxic spill.  The situations are humorous at first, and then things start getting more serious/dire for those who inhabit the town. “The Mask  of Fargo” is a cue that certainly reflects tragic/comic nature of the episode with the bravado of the Spanish theme, and later, a kind of sad breakdown part in the middle, only to have somewhat triumphant finale.  Entire cues are rarely used in these shows, but it’s refreshing to hear when a composer really understands what’s going on in a scene and uses that to craft an appropriate musical companion piece.