Television Nostalgia – Music & The X-Files – My favourite Mark Snow music from the series

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I’ve very much been in a nostalgic mood recently and no finer example of this is my revisiting of my favourite television series, returning with six new episodes in January 2016. I’ve already discussed on this blog why I loved the show so much and my favourite episodes, as well as talking about my most memorable moments between, in my opinion, the greatest TV partnership. Something else that has been very obvious during my recent viewings of the series is the power and importance of the musical score of The X-Files.

Written throughout the series and the two films by composer Mark Snow, it has a very distinct sound, which became ingrained in the fabric of the series and also a vital part of its atmosphere, tone and mood. The series was always meant to be a little out there and needed to have music which matched its various tones – whether myth arc conspiracies, creepy monsters of the week or more emotional, personal stories centring on the lives of the characters we had grown to know so well. Mark Snow scores all of this brilliantly.

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Recently his music has been able to be appreciated all over again by X-Philes with the release of two volumes (4 CDs in each) of his wonderful music from the series by La La Records, each selling out very quickly (although you can still locate copies on the web if you keep looking). A re-release of the score to the first film is however still available (see the link at the end to buy). It’s been fantastic to listen to the music on its own and realise just how much certain moments in the series are linked to the music that accompanied them.

Fans are already chatting about what music they’d like to see in a further third volume (come on La La Records, you know you want to!) and it’s made me consider which musical score moments from 202 episodes and 2 films have stood out for me. So, as we await those new stories and new music from Mark to accompany them, here are my favourite pieces of Mark Snow’s X-Files score. I’d love to hear what other fans have on their lists and what they would love to hear on a third CD volume if we are lucky enough to get one.

1. Ending from Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (series 3)

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This is a fairly surreal episode by fan favourite Darin Morgan (hard to believe he only actually wrote four episodes!), but more than anything I love the music written for the final few minutes. It’s a genuinely beautiful piece of music, which is able to be both melancholy and hopeful at the same time. This is a very distinctive musical piece from the series and it’s no surprise it was included on the first volume of music released.

2. Scully remembers her sister in Piper Maru (series 3)

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This is only a short music cue from Piper Maru, but it’s always been one that I’ve remembered and I was thrilled to see it included on volume 1 (within the track “Back In The Hood”). As Scully returns to the naval base she grew up on, we see her remember happy childhood times playing hopscotch with her sister. With Melissa’s death still very recent, this moment is very touching and this cue from Mark Snow truly adds to the emotional depth of the scene.

3. Dark revelations in Grotesque (series 3)

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Grotesque is one of the series’s most chilling episodes and required a darker, more disturbing musical background to enhance the atmosphere we were seeing on screen. Mark’s loud, intense score, heavy on the piano and its relentless pounding is absolutely perfect to depict the frightening events of the story as the viewers start to worry that Mulder may have truly fallen over the edge of sanity.

4. Home Again (I Want To Believe)

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Although it disappointed me in many ways, the music for the second film I Want To Believe was not one of them and Mark Snow proved that years later he was still perfect at capturing the magic of Mulder and Scully (and indeed David and Gillian) on screen. The stand out piece for me has to be what is effectively their love theme from the film, captured in “Home Again.” It’s a beautiful piece of music, full of love and emotion and marks this deeper connection now shared between them.

5. On a bridge between life and death for Scully in One Breath (series 2)

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One Breath was bound to be in here somewhere as it’s my favourite episode and it’s another which highlights the variety of music needed over the course of the series. Unlike darker, moodier music such as for Grotesque, the music for One Breath needed to be more delicate, in order to reflect Scully’s fragile life and how close she was to death. Mark Snow’s score is very touching and feels, in parts, rather spiritual and I particularly love the music chosen for scenes in which Scully sits in her boat, which at any point could be set adrift. Thankfully volume 1 of the CD collection has captured this score in both “Reanimation” and “Guardian Angel”.

6. Unwavering love and friendship in Momento Mori (series 4)

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Momento Mori is one of those episodes that always manages to bring a tear to my eye and remains, for me, one of the finest hours of the series. It’s certainly some of Gillian Anderson’s best work (in the year she deservedly won an Emmy) and this scene at the end of the episode, in which she deals with Penny’s death by resolving to come back to work as she has things to finish, is truly wonderful and contains one of the series’s most emotional and heartbreaking pieces of music. The fact this has yet to be released on the CDs surely means a 3rd volume is a necessity?!

7. Sweeping conspiracies in Gethsemane and emotional depths in Redux (series 4 & 5)

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The music of the fourth series finale and indeed the start of series 5 has always stayed fresh in my head and for me is one of the most memorable sections of score written for the show. These episodes were quite epic in story, both on a myth-arc level, as Mulder searches to prove the ultimate proof of a governmental deception and on a personal level, as Scully’s cancer seems to finally be too strong for her. Mark’s music is very impressive, with grand, sweeping sections, moving seamlessly through to the more fragile moments. Although most of the music from Gethsemane and Redux has been captured on volume 2, I was sad that the beautiful short cue from Redux II, played as Mulder visits a sleeping Scully was left out. Surely this is another must-add piece for a third volume?!

8. Beware Eugene Victor Tooms! (series 1)

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Tooms remains one of the most memorable and indeed terrifying characters of the series and the music written by Mark in his two episodes was fantastic. With brilliant use of plucked strings and synth, he truly conveys an eeriness that was essential to the effect the episodes were designed to have on the audience. The creepy music from the beginning of Tooms, when we are within the Druid Hill, stands out for me as being some of the most frightening music on film or television (captured on volume 2’s release). It’s a perfect example of how crucial music is to something – no matter how well written and acted, I think Squeeze and Tooms would not have had the same impact without Mark’s score.

9. Maybe there’s Hope in The Truth Part 2 (series 9)

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It was a sad day when The X-Files came to an end and the final scene of the series was a lovely way to end the show. It left Mulder and Scully with hope for the future, one that saw them reunited and stronger together. Mark Snow’s delicate music, with echoes of the main theme within it was a lovely way to say goodbye to our favourite FBI agents and no doubt brought a tear to the eye of many fans when they first watched it.

10. At the crossroads (Fight The Future)

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The release of the first feature film was an exciting event and Mark Snow created a grand score to accompany this big screen outing. I could have picked a number of pieces, but I’ve always loved the piece of score that accompanied the scene in which Mulder and Scully drive across country after the tanker trucks and instead of going left or right, drive straight ahead in to the barren wasteland.

11. The influence of the Navejo (Anasazi trilogy, series 2 and 3)

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In what for me is the strongest mythology multi-part story of the whole series, there is the strong influence of the Indian tribe and their ancient traditions. Mark Snow did a great job of creating a score for the episodes that managed to capture this within the sound, giving the episodes a fresh and distinct sound. It’s such an intrinsic part of this story that you can see the moments in your mind as you listen to it.

12. Little Box of Sand (Emily, series 5)

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The season five two-parter which revealed the existence of little Emily as Scully’s daughter is one of the most poignant stories. You had a sense that this could never have a happy ending. The score is delicate, haunting and filled with a tragic sadness and this piece from the soundtrack, brings this beautiful music together. It’s one of the best examples of Mark Snow creating an emotional depth in his music to enhance the power of the storylines on the show.

13. The End – Closure (The End, series 5)

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As the show’s time in Vancouver drew to a close the creators gave us a finale that brought certain answers, while also setting the course for the show’s new path. It felt like an ending of sorts and the music was epic and with a sweeping grandeur to match the occasion. I especially love the score that accompanies the last few moments as Mulder finds his office and life’s work has literally gone up in smoke.

14. Cloning and the alien bounty hunter (Colony/End Game, series 2)

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Colony and End Game marked a shift in the stakes of the mythology of the show, introducing the concept of clones, a deeper mystery surrounding Mulder’s sister and the frightening Alien Bounty Hunter. The music throughout is suitably atmospheric and eerie, giving the story an added other-worldly element, which was able to ratchet up the tension once Scully realises the person before her is not her partner at the cliffhanger end to the first episode. It was gripping television and Mark’s score certainly added to that.

15. and of course…..the now iconic theme! 

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Although this list is more focussed on music from the episodes themselves, it seemed wrong to not include the brilliant theme of the series. Looking back at the show now, I can’t imagine The X-Files without this haunting, otherworldly music cue, which set the tone for Mark Snow’s music for the entire duration of the series. It’s instantly recognisable and one of the best television themes created.

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So those are my favourite pieces from the series to date. No one else would be able to capture the unique mood and atmosphere of the world of Mulder and Scully and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what musical score Mark Snow will create for the new episodes airing next January (I can’t believe how close we are now!). I’d love to hear which musical tracks you love and which you are hoping to see on any future compilation CD.

The official soundtrack releases for The X-Files were released by La La Records. The collection for the first film Fight The Future is still available here. Keep an eye on their website for news of any future releases (fingers crossed). 

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Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in Cardiff – the home of modern Doctor Who!

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Ever since Doctor Who returned to the BBC a decade ago, one constant presence has been the series’s distinctive musical soundtrack. While we’ve had four Doctors over eight series, composer Murray Gold has remained and personally his score is always one of the highlights of Doctor Who. I recently struggled to choose my favourite tracks of Murray’s music from the series for this blog, which you can read here.

Since Christmas 2005, we’ve also been lucky enough to have Murray’s music recorded by a full orchestra and chorus – the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. This has given the music a wonderful level of depth and quality and has resulted in the regular soundtrack releases becoming a must-have addition to my collection.

A decade in to New Who and after the success of recent Proms (always selling out within hours), Murray’s music has this year been on a world tour, in the form of this concert – the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular and last Bank Holiday Monday it arrived in Cardiff. There seemed no better place to see this concert than in the city that has become home to modern Doctor Who and I can certainly say that Monday’s concert was a brilliant experience for fans of all ages.

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Peter Davison standing up to the Daleks

I confess to being a little worried that this would be similar to the Doctor Who Live tour of 2010, rather than the wonderful Proms. Thankfully my worries were unfounded and the show gave fans of the series two glorious hours showcasing some of Murray’s most iconic pieces from the series, as well as providing the first live event for the music from Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Twelfth Doctor. By the nature of the show constantly moving forward, some pieces have not been played at recent Proms and it was lovely to hear tracks from all ten years again.

The show opened appropriately with the latest Doctor Theme – “Am I A Good Man?” I admit, on watching the first few episodes, I was unsure if Peter’s Doctor’s theme was very distinctive, but this track truly shines when heard in all its glory. Its suitably grand horn section and fast pace compliments wonderfully its more quiet and calm beginning, which reminds me a lot of Vangelis (I can hear aspects of it belonging in Blade Runner). Accompanied by footage from the show, it was a brilliant summary of Peter’s first year (one which I for one thought was very good indeed – more of that here).

From there host Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor and now father-in-law to the Tenth Doctor) took us through the rest of the show, with fun and yes some cheesy jokes. Continuing with the most recent music, we were treated to a suite from series eight, “Wherever, Whenever,” including score from Robot of Sherwood, Listen (including the beautiful track “Fear”), The Caretaker, Time Heist and In The Forest of the Night. I was impressed with how many great pieces of music had been condensed and combined to highlight how crucial the music is to the series. It brings lightness and fun in episodes such as Robot of Sherwood, but also moments of darkness, fear and emotion (such as Listen).

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Ben Foster conducting the end of the show in the Fifth Doctor’s coat!

Other highlights for me were The Companions Suite, which brought back the beautiful themes created for each of Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy and it’s interesting to be reminded how each one was unique to each character. I also love the series three piece “This Is Gallifrey”, which was given a new life by being accompanied by footage from the 50th Anniversary, in which Gallifrey was so important. This did however mean that the music from that special itself wasn’t included, which I did think was a shame. To close the first half of the show, we heard a selection of music from our last trip in the TARDIS, Last Christmas. As well as the music, as with the Proms, the show welcomed some of the frightening foes of the Doctor, as Cyberman, Whispermen, Silurians, a Muumy and many other creatures appeared on stage and roamed through the audience. It’s always wonderful to see the reactions of children when they get to be so close to the monsters! Of course there was also the compulsory entrance of the Daleks, who faced off to Peter Davison and conductor Ben Foster on stage. It was cheesy, but all in good fun.

The second half of the show also had some classic as well as recent themes and opened with yet more monsters with the superb All The Strange Strange Creatures, first heard in series three. The Death In Heaven Suite was particularly good, including within it lovely pieces such as the Theme for Clara and Danny, which strikes me as being quite a mature piece of music and very moving. Although not a favourite episode of mine, Abigail’s Song from A Christmas Carol was brought to life wonderfully by Elin Manahan Thomas. This half also included music from one of the stand out episodes of series eight, “66 Seconds” from Mummy on the Orient Express, as well as the wonderfully triumphant and uplifting The Pandorica Suite (although I was sad this didn’t include the music played at the end of The Pandorica Opens – The Life and Death of Amy Pond).

The show was always going to end with some classics and it was lovely to hear Vale Decem again. Although always associated with the end of the Tenth Doctor, it has now become the concert anthem for paying tribute to all the previous Doctors and is clearly a fan favourite at such events. Of course such an event could only end with one anthem – the latest imagining of the iconic Doctor Who theme! Peter Davison even gave Ben Foster a Fifth Doctor coat to wear for the occasion!

This was a wonderful celebration of the music of Doctor Who. Without it the show would shine a little less brightly in the universe and I will always be grateful for the extra effort that the BBC has invested in the music for the series. Its quality and popularity among fans was very clear in Cardiff at this concert and I’m sure similar events will continue to be a huge success. Fingers crossed for another Prom in 2016!

Murray Gold’s Out of this World Music – My top 20 tracks from a decade of Doctor Who!

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This weekend saw the arrival through the post of the latest Doctor Who soundtrack, containing Murray Gold’s music from series 8 and the most recent Christmas special Last Christmas. Across 3 CDs! I’m a huge admirer of film and television composers, whose music I strongly believe is integral to the shows they accompany. None more so than Doctor Who. So many moments of the series over the last decade have been made stronger by Murray’s contribution, whether emphasising a sense of fun and joy or deep sadness and heartbreak. These scenes and the world of New Who wouldn’t be the same without him.

So, as I listened to the latest soundtrack this weekend, reliving Peter Capaldi’s fantastic first series as the Time Lord, while looking forward to next weekend’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular concert, it made me think about all the other musical moments from the eras of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith and which ones would make my track list if compiling the ultimate soundtrack to modern Doctor Who.

So, here are my top 20 choices (10 was too hard!). Let me know which ones you’d include in your list.

1. “I Am The Doctor” – 11th Doctor’s theme (series 5-7)

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From the moment I heard this piece of music, I knew it was going to be a firm favourite and it came to encapsulate Matt Smith’s time on the series. It is grand and sweeping in scope and exploded this new Doctor on to the screen with fun, fanfare and excitement. Surely no soundtrack or Prom could ever be without it and it’s a shining example of the powerful contribution music can have, to not only a mood of a series, but also to a character. I now cannot imagine the Eleventh Doctor without thinking of this track and it’s certainly my favourite theme of all the Doctors so far.

2. “Doomsday” – Farewell to Rose (series 2)

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The Doctor and Rose’s parting on the beach at Bad Wolf Bay is an iconic moment in modern Doctor Who, which certainly caused quite a lot of tears from some fans. David and Billie are exceptional in this upsetting final scene together (well at the time anyway) and Murray’s haunting theme, accompanied by Melanie Pappenheim’s vocals added a deep sense of heart and emotion to an already intense moment. It’s also quite an interesting track by itself, as the vocals and piano, carrying such sadness mix with the guitar, giving the music a heartbeat of sorts and an edgier tone too.

3. Together of Not At All – The Song of Amy & Rory / Goodbye Pond (series 7)

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This piece of music from series seven’s The Angels Take Manhattan immediately stood out for me on first viewing the episode. Although it begins very creepy in the first few bars, it becomes something altogether different, capturing through the music and the vocals of Halia Meguid the love between the Ponds and how ultimately being together was the most important thing in their universe. As long as they were together they could face anything, even death. The graveyard is perhaps the sad moment for the Doctor (and indeed “Goodbye Pond” is a gorgeous track to go with it), but it was this moment that moved me the most, watching this couple take that leap of faith together. It was a highlight of the last Prom for me and I’m still sad it was one of the sections cut from the televised version. This is one of Murray’s finest tracks so far in ten years and it was always going to make this list.

4. Fear – Clara’s message of strength to a young Time Lord (series 8)

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Listen was one of my favourites of Peter Capaldi’s first year (see my review of series 8 here) and the more I watch it, the more it edges to the top of the list. Despite being such a spooky and scary story, it also had a wonderful message for children (and indeed adults) about how fear is a superpower that we shouldn’t be frightened of, but instead should use to give us strength to achieve things we may not be able to do otherwise. This piece (thankfully on the new soundtrack) accompanies Clara’s speech to the young, scared Doctor. It is some of Jenna’s best work and is a genuinely beautiful piece of music from Murray and highlights how he helps enhance some of the most passionate and crucial scenes and messages in the series through his music.

5. Vale Decem – Goodbye to Ten and Tennant (The End of Time, series 4 Specials)

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Oh how this piece of music will always take me back to New Year’s Day 2010, as we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor and Russell T Davies in The End of Time. Some may think it was a drawn out end, but I loved it and Vale Decem (Farewell Ten in Latin) was the perfect choice to end David Tennant’s incredible time on the series. It was grand and emotional and still provided a sense of hope for the future with the arrival of Matt Smith. Hearing the combination of the music and choir live in the Royal Albert Hall, bringing this moment back to life at the Prom was a wonderful experience.

6. All the Strange, Strange Creatures (series 3 and 4)

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This piece of sweeping music has become a staple of the Doctor Who Prom and although associated with the Tenth Doctor’s time, it can easily be used as the theme for the variety of monsters all the Doctors have faced. It was one of the first pieces of Doctor Who music, within which you could truly appreciate the scope and power of the National Orchestra of Wales that bring each episode to life. Hearing it live is always a joy.

7. The Doctor’s Theme – Welcome Christopher Eccleston! (series 1)

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The first of New Who’s Time Lords, Christopher Eccleston was superb on the series. His Doctor’s theme was a perfectly otherworldly piece of music, which seemed to speak to the vast time and journey of this 900 year-old alien. It’s haunting and emotive and tinged with sadness, highlighting the great losses he has suffered in recent years. It was an early indicator that the music of the series was not simply going to be background noise, but a crucial thread of the production and this track will forever make me think fondly about Doctor number nine and his arrival in 2005.

8. This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (series 3-4)

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Another classic piece from Ten’s era of the show is this one, first heard in all its glory during The Sound of Drums as the Doctor described his home to Martha and Captain Jack. The wistfulness is perfectly played by David Tennant and the graphics bringing our first real glimpse of his home were wonderful. However it’s this music that has come to be the biggest association with Gallifrey and is a lovely creation by Murray.

9. Rose’s Theme (series 1 and 2)

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She was the first companion of New Who and integral to the show’s initial success and Rose’s theme was one of the first pieces of Murray’s music to resonate through the episodes. It was such a great decision to have themes for key characters and this is definitely one of my favourites. I love how light the notes of the piano sound, giving it an air of romance and beauty, which matched the heart of Rose perfectly.

10. Four Knocks (series 4 Specials)

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Another tearjerker here in the form of Four Knocks, the heartbreaking music written to accompany the Tenth Doctor’s realisation that he still had to die in order to save Wilf. It’s some of David Tennant’s finest acting and this subtle, gentle, emotionally raw music is absolutely perfect. Well done to Julie Gardner, who I believe fought with Russell T Davies to have music over the scene. My one gripe with Four Knocks now however is the choice to have it play again over the top of Clara’s lovely scene with the old 11th Doctor just before he goes off to meet his fate in the clock tower in Matt Smith’s swansong. I can’t have been the only fan of the music of the series to be taken out of the emotion of the scene by the distraction and surprise on hearing what should always have remained a piece capturing the Tenth Doctor’s sacrifice.

11. A Good Man? (Twelve’s Theme) (series 8)

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I admit, on first watching Deep Breath I was listening for the Twelfth Doctor’s theme and by the end I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Matt’s Doctor’s theme had been so iconic and stood out immediately. Peter’s theme however, despite being just as strong, somehow seems less obvious. As Murray points out in his sleeve notes to the latest album, the horns that signal the heart of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme do pop up within every episode of series eight, weaving each story to the next. On listening to the theme by itself as part of this soundtrack, it’s power, excitement and beauty shines through the music and it’s a worthy successor to I Am The Doctor.

12. The Life and Death of Amy Pond/Amy’s Theme (series 5-7)

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Yet another theme for a memorable companion. I admit I wasn’t a huge Amy Pond fan, but her theme is lovely piece of music, which captures her special bond with her raggedy Doctor. It carries with it a sense of childlike magic, perfect for the girl who has known the Doctor most of her life and whose story is always a little unknown to the audience. This was expanded on in The Life and Death of Amy Pond track, which plays over the tragic scenes at the end of The Pandorica Opens, as River is trapped in the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica and Rory unexpectedly kills Amy in his arms and represents some of the most heartfelt music of the series.

13. “This Time There’s Three of Us (The Majestic Tale)” (The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary)

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The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was certainly a proud moment for the BBC’s flagship show and Murray’s music was right at home on the big cinema screen. Capturing the celebration and grand scope of the episode and everything it represented, I loved this track from it, which is equally exciting to hear in its own right without watching the episode. It picks up the emotion of the scene with the Moment, before whisking us up in to the sweeping grandeur of the hero-like fanfare that accompanied the Doctors joining together to save their home. There were three Doctors (and then 13) and what a wonderful team they made!

14. The Long Song / Infinite Potential (series 7)

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Okay so The Rings of Akhaten was not a great story in my view, but I did love the stirring choral singing in this track. It ensures that the end of the episode at least pulls off something lovely, together with the following track, Infinite Potential, which accompanies Clara saving the day with the power of infinite memories in her leaf. It’s an example for me of where the music of an episode is something I enjoy much more than the story itself! Also, it was a magical number to hear live at the Prom.

15. Song of Captivity & Freedom (series 4)

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Most of the attention goes on the Song of Freedom played in Journey’s End as the Earth is towed to safety. However I’ve always liked the other half of this theme, The Song of Captivity from The Planet of the Ood and this track from the series 4 soundtrack wonderfully combines both in to one piece of music. It is tinged with sadness through the incredible voice of Mark Chambers, but it’s a lovely part of the score of the show and was something a bit different in tone.

16. (The Majestic Tale of) An Idiot With a Box (series 8)

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I love what Murray has achieved with this piece from the series 8 finale and reading his sleeve notes makes it all make sense. Apparently Mr Moffat missed I Am The Doctor, associating it with his time as showrunner, whereas Murray associates it with Matt Smith’s era (I agree with Murray). So, as a compromise, this piece incorporates both! You can hear I Am The Doctor, albeit slightly tweaked in style, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor theme, with its bold, powerful horn section. What you get is an epic, bold, exciting and glorious number, which had better be played at the next Prom!

17. Up The Shard (series 7)

bellsofstjohnFarewell to the Ponds and hello to Clara in series 7. Her first adventure as an official companion, The Bells on St. John, was bonkers, but lots of fun and I particularly loved Murray’s grand musical choice to accompany the Doctor’s mad motorcycle ride up the side of the Shard, which uses I Am The Doctor as a base and expands it.

18. With Love, Vincent (series 5)

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This is one of my favourites stories of New Who and after the tears are shed after watching Vincent in the museum of his own art, it’s this lovely track which accompanies Amy as, through her tears at knowing she didn’t save Vincent, she sees her sunflowers, now bearing an affectionate message for her. It gives the episode a happier ending, in which the Doctor and Amy can look fondly on the life of an extraordinary man.

19. Altering Lives (The Waters of Mars, series 4 Specials)

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Waters of Mars is a much darker story than most of the Tenth Doctor’s time, deliberately building up to his exit in the following episodes. However, its story is one that on the whole is praised by fans and for me is the strongest of the Specials that year. It’s a story about loss, accepting destiny and sacrifice and this quiet, spiritual track enhances all of those important themes and is most associated with the scene in which the Doctor finally tells Adelaide her fate, as he stands in the airlock, preparing to walk away yet again from a fixed point in time, no matter how painful it is for him.

20. The Cybermen theme (throughout)

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Ever since its return in 2005, there have been two constant enemies, popping up over and over again for the Doctor to defeat. I love Murray’s themes for both the Daleks and the Cybermen, the first with its almost Darth Vadar style evil. However, it’s the Cybermen music, with its eerie strings and bold horns that has always grabbed me, especially once the frantic violins and choir join in and the piece builds to a crescendo. The theme always crops up in some form when the Cybermen appear, most recently of course in the series 8 finale, but I admit this track always makes me think of Rose desperately clinging the the lever in Doomsday!

So that’s my selection. It was a lot harder than I imagined, hence it becoming a top 20 and there were so many other possible candidates (The Impossible Planet suite, The Carrionites Swarm, Boe, Final Days from The End of Time to name just a few)! Now all I need is a re-release of series one and two, which only ever had one CD for both years. That is criminal! Surely others out there would agree that this is a much needed addition to the Doctor Who soundtrack collection? Come on Murray Gold and Silva Screen. You know you want to!

The Doctor Who soundtracks are released by Silva Screen (see their Doctor Who music website here) and are available through all the usual stockists.

Music & Movies at The Royal Albert Hall with Gladiator (2000), Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) Live!

It was in 2010 when I first became aware of the Royal Albert Hall’s film screenings, accompanied by a live orchestra playing the score as you watch. It sounded like a brilliant idea and I managed to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that year. Since then I’ve been trying to go to another such concert and ironically, the last week of May saw me making three trips to this famous concert venue to do just that!

My first outing was to see one of my favourite films – Ridley Scott’s sweeping epic from 2000 Gladiator starring Russell Crowe in probably his most recognisable role to date. Every time I watch this film I remember what a fantastic classic it is. The story has everything – tense and exciting battles, political intrigue, vengeance, romance and a deeply heroic but also spiritual ending for its central character. The whole cast is excellent, with long established British actors, such as Sir Derek Jacobi and Oliver Reed (whose sudden death during shooting adds a deeper poignancy to the film) alongside younger up and coming talent, including Joaquin Phoenix, together with Russell Crowe’s thoroughly deserved Oscar winning performance. Despite being 14 years old now, the visuals and the action sequences still look impressive on a big screen.

The mighty Russell Crowe

Then there is the other pivotal part of the film and the reason for last month’s concerts (Gladiator had four such screenings in one week) and that is its utterly beautiful score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard (whose input in to it earned her a co-credit). Gladiator’s score was developed by Zimmer much earlier than is usual in the film production process, as he was able to be on set and soak up the tone of the film before writing the score and the programme notes for the concert explain how the editing process and Zimmer’s composing impacted on each other. The end result is a score that captures the various moods of the story – from intense, epic battles and gladiatorial fights to the death, through to the emotionally stirring piece that underpins Maximus’s love for his home and family. It is one of a select group of film scores that I can listen to independently from the film itself.

The Royal Albert Hall was a wonderful setting for this sweeping epic and the combination of film and live orchestral (and choral) score was incredible to witness. The Philharmonia Orchestra was on stage, accompanied by the Philharmonia Chorus and guest vocalist Lisa Gerrard, providing the beautifully haunting voice instantly connected with Gladiator’s score. Hearing “Now We Are Free” at the film’s end, played live by such talented musicians and singers was something I will never forget. If Gladiator ever returns to the venue, I urge you to go along, whether as a fan of the film or just of wonderful evocative live music that stirs the soul.

Next up was the UK premiere concert of J.J. Abrams’s first Star Trek reboot from 2009. Again the atmosphere in the Royal Albert Hall was one of excitement and enthusiasm, with some of the crowd dressed up in their Starfleet uniforms!

Before the film began we were treated to an introduction from Simon “Scotty” Pegg, who then introduced to the stage J.J. Abrams himself (who he said was currently busy on a new low budget film that wasn’t worth mentioning, which earned a laugh from the audience)! J.J said some lovely words about the composer Michael Giacchino, who then also appeared, together with the night’s composer Ludwig Wicki. The screening was fantastic and having the orchestra (the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) there truly made me appreciate how much the music adds to the excitement of the film.

J.J Abrams, Michael Giacchino and Simon Pegg introduce Star Trek!
J.J Abrams, Michael Giacchino and Simon Pegg introduce Star Trek!

I was never really a fan of Star Trek until the reboot, which through the introduction of Spock, Kirk and the crew in their younger days added a fresh and exciting new slant on something that had always seemed a bit unappealing to me. I’d also forgotten just how funny this first film is (the calm before the darker sequel). Chris Pine is fantastic as the young, cocky but loyal Kirk and Zachary Quinto has truly made the role of young Spock his own. Once the film ended, Michael Giacchino reappeared on stage and took the conductor’s podium himself to play an extract from his upcoming score from the new Planet of the Apes film, which was very good and seemed perfectly suited to the film.

Finishing off a week of music at the Royal Albert Hall was the UK premiere of Star Trek: Into Darkness. Only Michael Giacchino appeared on stage to introduce the orchestra, choir and conductor and then the film began. After watching both in two consecutive nights, I certainly prefer the second one (and that’s not just because Mr Cumberbatch is in it). The crew of the Enterprise is already assembled and so the action can begin as soon as the film starts and we are able to see the characters continue to develop.

I think Chris Pine is fantastic as Kirk, moving from confident and slightly arrogant to a man ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for his crew. By the end it definitely seems that he has grown up. I also love Simon Pegg in this film, in which he has a far larger role, bringing a good dose of humour through Scotty and it would’t be the same without him. For me though the highlights of the film are Cumberbatch’s villain John Harrison and Zachary Quinto’s multi-layered portrayal of Spock. Mr. Cumberbatch may not immediately scream big blockbuster villain, but his performance is fantastic here. As “Harrison” he is measured, methodical, quietly calculating and absolutely ruthless. He is a coiled spring, waiting to be unleashed, which he does wonderfully towards the climax of the story. However he also manages to bring an emotional edge to him too, and asks Kirk if there is nothing he would not do for his family (crew). Benedict is always superb and it was great to see him tackle a different type of role.Zachary Quinto’s Spock continues to be fantastic, experiencing so much in this film and we get to see a different aspect of his personality. I love seeing him become overcome with the loss of his friend and his showdown with Harrison is fantastic.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Harrison” and Chris Pine’s Kirk

As for the score – it’s a bigger, grander, louder spectacle than the first film. Themes already created return and others join them – the fantastic villain theme for Harrison is an example. Watching the orchestra and choir bring it to life before us was incredibly exciting and they were given a much deserved standing ovation. As before, Michael Giacchino conducted his extract from Planet of the Apes (well, why not when you have a chance to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall?!).

Overall this was a superb week of concerts at this iconic London music venue and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. These events are a superb way to bring a new audience to classical music. A live orchestral concert is a unique experience and some may not think to go without something linked to it that they are familiar with. By screening popular films that also have outstanding scores, the Royal Albert Hall is encouraging a wider demographic of people to go and see live orchestral music and that is certainly something to be applauded and supported.

I certainly intend to go to many more of these events and hope the Royal Albert Hall continues to include such events within their annual concert schedule. Upcoming screenings currently on sale are West Side Story (4-6 July) and Titanic, conducted by James Horner himself (in April 2015), as well as a concert in October this year to celebrate the film music of John Williams.

For more information about upcoming events, visit the Royal Albert Hall’s website at:

http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/default.aspx#/page/1/

 

 

Conversations with Screen Composers – Michael Price

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In association with BAFTA, the Royal Albert Hall continued its Conversations with Screen Composers series last night (31st March) with a wonderfully interesting and insightful chat with the lovely Michael Price, composer of both film and TV and of course now most notably Sherlock (which he scores with David Arnold). Over the course of two hours we learnt about his early career and how he came to write for the BBC’s phenomenally successful show. For those unable to attend I thought I’d provide an insight in to the evening in this blog.

The early days

Michael began by recalling his university days at the University of Surrey, at which he completed the Tonmeister degree (which combines elements of music, physics and maths) and how he had a wonderful university experience, making many friends that he still keeps in touch with today. He didn’t have a master plan for his career and it was touched upon that he was the first of the composers included in this series to complete this specific course, with others studying music in different degree forms.

After initially working in the sphere of contemporary dance, Michael went on to work with American screen composer Michael Kamen, whom he first came to work with on X-Men, quite randomly, after he began giving talks around the world for the creators of the leading music notation software Sibelius and his name was suggested when Mr Kamen was looking for a new assistant. Hilariously he was not the only person to be offered the job and Michael fondly recalled arriving on a Monday to start work only to find another person there too, James Brett, and how the two of them had plenty of time to bond seeing as Mr Kamen didn’t arrive for three and a half days! He continued to work for Kamen for five years on projects including the live Metallica concert S&M (Symphony & Metallica) and we were shown an amusing clip of a young Michael in the background of a docu-style behind the scenes film about this project. His final project with Kamen was the HBO series Band of Brothers and Michael commented how the producers were able to get something glorious from Kamen (I have always thought that the score for the series is very impressive indeed and compliments it perfectly). Michael spoke about Kamen’s improvisation during the process and how he and James Brett would tidy up the composition around the edges where necessary. He also noted that he felt this was the start of a growth in high-end television and that that has resonated with him from a career perspective.

Music editing

Michael then went on to be a successful music editor, working on a number of celebrated films. In order to give us a better insight in to the role of a music editor in film we were shown three clips from different scores Michael worked on. These were Love Actually, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Michael explained how the role of the music editor is to listen to the director, producer and composer and provide diplomatic solutions in order to achieve the best music for the film.

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It was interesting to hear that Richard Curtis had a huge number of songs that he was interested in using in Love Actually (some of which were referenced in the script) and how Michael was involved in the cutting room, deciding what track would work for a certain scene in order to realise the soundtrack in Curtis’s mind. The clip we watched was the moving moment Emma Thompson’s character receives the gift she thinks is a necklace, but which is in fact a Joni Mitchell CD, and goes to listen to it as she cries upstairs. Michael talked about how the music underscoring the moment she opens the gift references the music of the Joni Mitchell song that immediately follows in the bedroom scene, weaving the film together.

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Courtesy of Working Title

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Courtesy of New Line Cinema

We were also shown the famous fight in the Serpentine fountain scene from the Bridget Jones sequel as an example of when the editors have to dramatically cut a song in the edit for a film and finally the scene from The Return of the King in which Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn is crowned and reunited with Arwen. Michael spoke further about the process for creating the score for The Lord of the Rings films (he worked on all three of them) and how it was true that Howard Shore’s team had indeed taken over a whole floor of the Dorchester hotel during the process! There were scores of people working on the films and so unlike a smaller film (such as Love Actually) you couldn’t become personally familiar with everything that was happening. No one had all the answers and, although it had been an incredible experience and Howard Shore was an incredible man, it was not Michael’s style of working as a musician.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

One of Michael’s last jobs as a music editor was the film Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Michael recalled that this was the most incredible interview he ever had for a job ad talked about how Alfonso genuinely cares about every detail of his films. The project also meant Michael had the opportunity to work with his favourite composer Sir John Tavener and how the film was changed to fit the music tempo once Tavener came to Abbey Road and recorded his piece of score for it, as he did this at a different tempo to how Cuaron had imagined it. Michael also hilariously spoke of having to come up with the sound of the music of the future, which included audio of a screaming German student found online (who is credited in the film)!

Composing (and a certain TV show)!

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Courtesy of the BBC

Michael spoke about how, as a screen composer, there is a spectrum from artisan to artist and that he is more interested in the artist end of this spectrum. He is always trying to find artistic expression that is authentic. He spoke about first meeting David Arnold more than ten years ago, when he wrote additional music for him and how, although an unlikely pair, they had become firm friends. Michael then moved on to discuss the music he is now most associated with – BBC’s Sherlock (which he scores with David Arnold). David already knew Mark Gatiss and Michael remembers him and David watching the pilot of Sherlock and having just ten days to write the score. They divided up the characters between the two of them in a pub in Soho and set to work. I thought it was particularly nice to hear that they never say who writes each part of the music as it is a shared voice.

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Courtesy of the BBC

Michael further went in to detail as to the creation of some of the iconic themes from the show and how many of the characters in Sherlock have four chord tunes, such as Watson, Moriarty, Sherlock himself and the main theme and that therefore this DNA of the Sherlock music has been set from the beginning. This was wonderfully demonstrated by Peter Gregson (a cellist and composer in his own right), who played the main themes on a cello for us. To delve deeper in to the music of the show we then watched the first of two clips, which was from the first episode A Study In Pink and is the scene in which Sherlock and Watson chase the cab across Soho. After the clip Michael said how sometimes you are dependent on a constellation of things happening around you, for example, Paul McGuigan’s direction and how so much character is in the performances of the lead actors and that you just have to join in! He also admitted that he probably played it slightly safer in the beginning of the show.

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Courtesy of the BBC

The second clip was the final conversation between John and Sherlock in series 3’s His Last Vow. Michael spoke about how when writing the music you don’t want to repeat yourself as that would be boring, but that you also don’t want to alienate people either when coming up with something different and that although he and David had discussed ideas for series 3 before seeing it, none of these ideas were actually used. He kept these to himself in case they can be used for series 4 (if there is a series 4 he added swiftly, not wanting to be the one to be seen as confirming anything)! He agreed that the third series had been more about the relationship between the lead characters and he had chosen this clip specifically because it was a scene between them which contains that initial DNA of the music for those characters – those four chords, gradually moving around through the conversation, before the music reaches up with Sherlock as he disappears in the plane.

Any questions?

There was then time for a few questions from the audience.

1. Any rituals when composing?

On being asked about how he writes in solitude on projects (rather than as part of a collaboration) Michael talked about avoiding the blank page! He is a lark rather than an owl and so will work earlier in the morning if necessary rather than later and tries to work from 9am – 7pm. He also spoke of his belief in starting out with pencil, paper and a piano rather than writing on a computer, as he thinks writing straight on to a computer shapes how you work. By starting with a notebook the tune can develop at the speed it needs to and that once he has a book of ideas he hopes that is enough to sustain him through the score. He referred to the ability to go back to music on Sherlock and change things but that on any project if the tune isn’t great to begin with no amount of orchestration can save it.

2. Choice of instruments?

The second question came from Beryl Vertue herself (who began by saying how everyone at Sherlock was so proud of all the wonderful music, which was applauded by the audience). She asked Michael what motivates him to choose a certain instrument for a piece of score. He replied that sometimes a tune is simply a piano tune or a trumpet tune, but that at other times more than one instrument could fit and so it is decided on a cue by cue basis. He gave the example of Watson’s theme, which was used for the first time in brass in His Last Vow during the resurrection sequence when Watson is effectively saving Sherlock’s life. He also said that the Sherlock theme chords suit anything, such as low cellos under dialogue (as in the second clip) or violins and that it is great to be able to change the palette.

Reference was also made to the use of the cimbalom in the Sherlock music as this is also used by Hans Zimmer in the score of the Sherlock films. Michael said that they has actually used it earlier for the Crooked House for Mark Gatiss (where the budget stretched to only two instruments) and that the sound they had wanted to achieve with the Sherlock music had been one of hi-tech vs. low-tech, which was different from that of Zimmer’s score for the films.

3. Process for matching music to specific scenes?

Michael was finally asked how he matches music to specific scenes, to which he spoke about it being a carving process and that you need to be honest with yourself as to what works and what doesn’t work. There are big questions, such as what type of overall sound are you looking for, but there are also many micro decisions to be made during the process. Some are easy wins, however the majority need lots of polish. This takes a lot of work and he said that this is something composers respect about each other.

Michael ended by first letting us in on one of his favourite themes from Sherlock – Irene Adler’s theme (it’s like having a favourite child he said) and we were lucky enough to hear The Woman played beautifully by Peter (playing a violin part on a cello!) and Michael on the piano. With regards to the subject of soundtracks, Michael said he would rather create a 60 minute symphony for someone to listen to but that with a soundtrack like Sherlock he completely understood that there is an emotional connection to the memories of the characters for people and that when he hears certain pieces of the music played, he has the memories of working with David to create it.

Coming up next?

Michael is currently working on the next Inbetweeners film with David Arnold, as well as an Australian television show and his own record, which he is working on in Berlin at the moment. The evening then drew to a close with Michael playing a piece on the piano (I think it was from The Hope of Better Weather, but I’m not 100% certain about that) as a thank to us all.

This was certainly an incredibly interesting and insightful evening, during which it was wonderful to hear about Michael’s career as a whole and I’d like to thank him for taking the time to share his memories and experiences with us. The Conversations with Screen Composers series is continuing and I’d recommend going along to one if you can.