Creating the Score

Table of Contents

 

1. Prologue

After the analysis and previous demonstration of films’ segments that took place in the last chapter, it was the time to choose the film, or films, that my research would carry on in experimenting with music composition. This search had by now revealed several key identifications that I was looking for in a film in order to connect it with my current study. These prerequisite characteristics would also play a central role in demonstrating my original score as well as presenting any new findings and artistic suggestions along the way. It was also a mean to evaluate and be closely connected with the science fiction genre by simply combining all the previous theoretical points and literature review with the actual practice of composing and constructing a score.

A considerable feature of any research is the transformations that occur and the more that often stupor upon unexpected results one could be revealed through it. That was the case with the previous silent era part of the research and that was an expectation, in a greater level I must admit, that I had for this science fiction project as well.     

Initially then, and for the above reasons as well as any additional points that were exposed and will be discussed further on, a further preliminary view and examination on a number of different science fiction films took place in view of finding examples that will show the capacity of dynamics in view of scoring experimentation.

 

 

 

2. Introduction of the Films

Out of the films that were observed and re-visited there were two that found to meet the scoring requirements and potentials of new procedures and outcomes. These films are The Phantom Planet and Voyage to Prehistoric Planet.

The first aspect which drew my attention in both films was then extraordinary diversity of the scenes. This seemed to be a perfect fit to my initial intentions by providing a wide pallet of colors from which I could chose the ones to experiment with and demonstrate my musical thoughts. Additionally, it was found to be a rather important foundation for supporting the rest of the project as it would carry on evolving.

In view of this matter in the first moving picture, The Phantom Planet, which mostly takes place in outer space and on an unknown meteor-planet, I was able to find several segments that could spring inspiration and give birth to new ideas. The scenery changes from humans and places on earth, to outer space and floating astronauts, to internal spaceship cockpits onto new planets in which alien encounters occur. As a result, there is indeed a massive variety to potentially create different layers and aspects of music. This can be also briefly observed by the film’s trailer:

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In addition, what was also rather interesting and helpful was that the movie contains segments of scenes that were common, to a certain degree, with previously investigated films. This was also true in the overall sense of the plot’s development. Consequently, viewing and comparing different aspects between similar scenes would be pragmatized in a more effective way.

The latter also gave birth to the initial angle of scoring approach in terms of exoticism. Since a more direct comparison between The Phantom Planet and similar films could be drawn, instrumentation and scoring approaches could be re-visited in order to form a better picture considering the composers’ stylistic approaches.

A few thoughts that instinctively rise, reflecting the previously examined and congregated information, contemplate the instrumentation, the use of exotic scales and perhaps the ellipsis of experimentation with new instruments.

The choice of the film Voyage to Prehistoric Planet has been also made mainly because of its diversity, but also because of its quite different scenes’ set. Most of the film’s plot, as well as the selected scoring segment for that reason, is evolving on the surface of planet Venus where astronauts are dealing with unexpected findings and problems that may arise.

The difference, as the title suggests, is also in the nature of the alien species, as it seems like the script has a ‘back in time’ character, although there is a basic common line between the two films which is the human form of each planet’s alien natives. Where the Voyage to Prehistoric Planet segregates is in the addition of dinosaurs and sceneries that suggests a planet that looks more like a prehistoric Earth. This is also a rather important criterion as to why this film has been chosen since an exotic representation of the ancient and the prehistoric is often a common ground for ethnic music to exist, as it has been demonstrated in a number of cases of films in the previous chapter.

 

A trailer of the Voyage to Prehistoric Planet can be viewed below:  

What is also imperative to mention at this point, as a supplementary pre-clarifying note, is that this science fiction chapter is differentiating itself from the previous one as to the procedure that will be followed in view of the scoring approach and structure. Overall, as this is going to be discussed thoroughly later on in the chapter considering the composition structure, I felt the need to explore a bit further and demonstrate the sense of coherence that exists in a film score. This is why the compositional approach will commence on larger amounts of film’s segments.

By proceeding this way, except than trying something that separates from previous approaches, will also be given the opportunity to expose any other potential problems or skepticisms that may arise. It is a different angle which I chose, believing in the diversity and uniqueness of the possible outcomes.

 

The reason behind this development’s prologue, at this specific stage, is the necessity of a film’s space that a composer might be given in order to experiment and express himself. Indeed, this quality has been met in both films so it was a basic touchstone in their selection.

Supplementary information: Films’ Plot Overview

- The Phantom Planet (1961 – Score by Leith Stevens)

 

As a United States’ space exploration spaceship strangely disappears, another one has been sent with the purpose of discovering the causes and recovering the lost shuttle. After a problematic and hazardous confrontation of a meteor shower, the astronauts attempt to recover the spaceship with fatal results. One of them is being sucked by outer space while the other one, facing operational issues, is piloting and land the spaceship into a peculiar asteroid. There, an unexpected surprise awaits him as he confronts the alien miniaturized inhabitants as well as the planet’s idiom to miniaturize him as well. Taken into custody, the astronaut falls in love with a native mute woman. Their story develops through the planet’s enemy attacks, an alien race called The Solarities as they want to destroy Rheton (the asteroid-planet) and steel its gravitational idiom.     

 

 

    

- Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965 - Music by Ronald Stein)

An ambitious human attempt sending a spaceship to planet Venus. Five astronauts and a robot land on the planet’s surface in order to explore it. Venus’ idiomorphic surface is quite unfriendly to the human astronauts. Their exploration will jeopardize their lives as the planet’s surface will prove to be rather hazardous, but they will also be in danger while they experience attacks of prehistoric beasts.

 

3. Pre-Composition: Recording & Sound Design

Introduction

A decision that has been made from the early stages of this research was to exclusively use ethnic instruments for the scoring of whichever film, or films, were selected at the end. It would be a way to receive the baton from Intolerance’s last scoring attempt (pure exoticism) and progress by transforming into something new. This idea was considered to be better realized, and best suited for this purpose, by adding sound design into the equation.

An initial schematic considering the strategy that is going to be followed is demonstrated in the following flowchart:

The more the time was passing and the amount of collected information was growing, the more this idea was turning into a need. Science fiction films over the whole magnificent history of cinema have been given me the sense that they belong in a distinctive category in which experimentation and creativity truly exists. This research has enlightened this personal view, since there were moments in almost each decade that music alchemism was strongly present, regardless the film’s final outcome in terms of critique popularity and / or success.

After all we are talking about an art form which describes something that we have not actually experienced before, in a physical manner, therefore fantasy, innovation and spontaneity must exist in multiple simultaneous levels. This is strongly apparent when we are discussing about implementing moving pictures with sounds and music; let alone when these moving pictures include technology as one of their primary aspects.

Recording Ethnic Instruments

The initial part for realizing the above idea was to conduct a series of ethnic instruments’ recordings. These recordings would be then processed in numerous ways by using sound design so that the finalized sounds would consist of a sufficient, if not large, amount of audio samples ready to be used.

 

The following list consists all of the available physical instruments that I had access to and were performed personally by me (in alphabetical order) :

  • Balalaika

  • Bayan

  • Bendir

  • Bouzouki

  • Cajon

  • Darbuka

  • Def

  • Frame Drums (Various Sizes)

  • Oud

  • Saz

  • Stamna

  • Tzouras

  • Various Shakers

  • Zilia

The initial part for realizing the above idea was to conduct a series of ethnic instruments’ recordings. These recordings would be then processed in numerous ways by using sound design so that the finalized sounds would consist of a sufficient, if not large, amount of audio samples ready to be used.

 

The following list consists all of the available physical instruments that I had access to and were performed personally by me (in alphabetical order) :

  • Chang Erhu

  • Didgeridoo

  • Duduk

  • Hulusi

  • Kemence

  • Mountain Dulcimer

  • Ney

  • Overtone Flute

  • Pan Flute

  • Persian Strings

  • Quanun

  • Santur

  • Shahrazad

  • ShakuhachI

  • Vocals (Middle Eastern & Mongolian)

Performance Techniques

Performance techniques was another significant chapter in the making of the recorded sounds. The ethnic instruments that I was fortunate to have access to, gave inspiration to a number of new ideas considering the performance methodology. This took place in the bigger picture of recording instruments in such way so they could then be manipulated in order to give diverse results. With that in mind there was a lot of attention to detail given in view of each instrument’s texture and possible performance which would produce distinctive sounds.

Well established performance techniques in a number of string instruments were found to be rather intriguing in ethnic instruments that are not meant to be performed this way. An example of this would be by using the bow in ethnic instruments like the oud, tzouras or bouzouki. Staccato mode gave one of the most interesting results as well as long notes or chords which were found to be quite useful, especially when putting them under the microscope of granular synthesis, as it will be discussed later on.  

In addition, different playing positions, variations of performance modes, variety of picks and percussive sounds / rhythmic structures out of ethnic string instruments were some of the added styles used for creating new colors and capture new stimulating resonances.

At the end of this stage, the project ended up with a vast number of ninety-three different samples, out of the many more that have been recorded, all of which have been used later on in composing the score.

All of the recordings and samples together with a screenshot of the actual audio sequencer project can be found  below:

Recording Techniques

The variety of performance techniques resulted into a new idea of approaching the recordings. Since there were three available studio rooms in which the instruments could be recorded into, all three of them were indeed used to record multiple samples of each instrument. The rationale behind this idea was for us, the mixing engineer and me, to have multiple versions of each instrument’s, and performance in that respect, reaction with the actual rooms it was recorded in so we could then critically revisit the samples and select which parts to finally used and for what reason. Despite the time-consuming experience this seemed to work rather well especially with instruments that had already a distinctive sound in terms of resonance and pitch.

As an example, bowed string instruments’ performances usually worked better in the larger room due to its wavelength attributes provided by the delay of the wooden surfaces’ first reflections. In this way the end result had a pleasant airy character due to its cleaner, extended high frequency response which seemed to work best with some instruments performances. This was also found to be the case for most of the percussive instruments, or non-percussive instruments performed in a percussive way.

On the contrary darker sounding characters where naturally captured better in the smaller rooms mainly due to the curtain walls and carpet flooring. This boxing quality seemed to work rather nice with wanting to capture for example the warm, closer to the listen, sound of a bouzouki’s body.         

Another aspect that played a significant role in capturing the desired sound was the microphone placement techniques engaged before the recordings. It was a luxury that he had an array of different sounding microphones in our disposal, something that significantly helped with the procedure by saving time in order to achieve the desired results.

A characteristic example that was found rather interesting in view of the strategy behind it was the recording technique employed in the instruments tzouras and bouzouki in their respected bow performances.  Since the initial concept behind this was to design some of the recorded sounds with the intention of creating a dense atmosphere or creepy sound effects, what was found to work best was placing a small diaphragm condenser microphones above the performer’s head pointing from the ceiling down the bow so it would, in such way, give a certain ‘height’ placed sound due to its phasing relationships with the room. In addition, in this way we could avoid a large amount of the actual wooden body of the instrument so we could end up with crispy, squeaky sound that could then be manipulated as pleased.  

Respected recording techniques as well as a wider choice of room tones, placing the microphones further away in the room et cetera, took place in the recordings of melodic performances that were used with the intention of keeping their actual sonic characters.  

  

Photographic material from the recording sessions as well as a few pictures of the actual instruments can be viewed below:

Also, for demonstrating purposes only, it was thought to be rather useful for the reader to have a more authentic picture of how a number of these instruments actually sound when they are performed in their own unique culture-related mode. Therefore, a number of additional ethnic instruments’ recordings was also pragmatized in order to present the above.

The performances consist of free improvisations in the following instruments’ list followed by the corresponding audio material:

  • Ancient Diavlos

  • Bouzouki

  • Klarino (similar to Shahrazad)

  • Politiki Lyra (similar to kemence)

  • Tzouras

Sound Design

Recorded instruments needed to be presented in a more imaginative manner by altering their sonic attributes. Thus, sound design techniques were employed in order to achieve the desired result. Out of these techniques I can positively say that granular synthesis was found to be the most gravitational and immersive. Through this procedure I was able to get deeply into the very foundations of each micro-sound so I could manipulate it, transform it and in certain cases combine in with others so I could end up with a unique sounding result.

Granular synthesis was also used as a procedure in sound effects that were used either to create or mix a sound. A characteristic example is the use of granular reverb especially in mid-high pitch instruments as it was observed to pronounce and project the sound in a rather intriguing respect which could not be achieved otherwise.  

Also, a major part of granular synthesis was in the construction of the abstract, background sounds. Again, its contribution in this case was invaluable.  

There were a number of other mixing and sound designing techniques involved in this effort. Frequency modulation synthesis (FM synthesis) was often used when experimenting with instrument’s waveforms as well as ducking mixing practice which is especially famous for its sonic attributes considering the low frequencies.

A further detailed demonstration of sound design approach together with audio-visual examples will take place in the following chapter considering the construction and presentation of original film scores.

 

4. Presenting the Score: Part I

Background Context - Rationale

As it was briefly discussed before the overall tactic of composing original scores for science fiction films is quite the opposite than the one used in the previous Intolerance chapter. For comparative purposes, and as a reminder, the technical part in scores’ structure for the Babylonian story of the film Intolerance started by cutting the chapter into smaller pieces demonstrating several music aspects that were observed and draw comparisons with other related scenes found in different films. This procedure took place before the actual writing of the score.

In the case of science fiction film music, the opposite route was thought to be more appropriate for a number of good reasons. First of all, and as the research has reached to its first practical point of composing, there was a clear need to investigate a number of different films and get to know several different composers’ approaches. By observing how composers’ have tackled several occasions during the history of the science fiction era was an indispensable lesson in understanding the methods and appreciate the needs for new experimentation in terms of exoticism. This is one of the main reasons why the previous analysis did not take place in parallel with the actual composition.

 

The above also gave the right direction as to why and how I should proceed with creating the sounds for my scoring palette. Through observation, I was able to sculpt my opinion on how to suggest new ideas, both affecting the sounds’ conception but also the composition approach, that will play a central role in differentiating the produced music.

An additional motive was the conceptualization and realization of a music project which would be unique in terms of exoticism from its very beginning. This again was an outcome coming from the preliminary research and analysis as it gave birth to the idea of writing a score which would be purely consisted of two elements, ethnic instruments and sound design.  

 

Another important reason is coherence. Selecting lengthier segments of the two films seemed to fit perfectly in view of writing scores that can dynamically demonstrate a greater degree of sounding rationality. Furthermore, from a composer’s angle, this was quite helpful in terms of musical expression. It felt it was providing me with the opportunity of having a greater amount of space in which I could express artistically, sculpt my viewpoints and face any potential issues that may be revealed. Additionally, the end result could ardently provide the viewer with a greater sense of harmonic development and overall sound aesthetics.

After the music had been written, I could then begin questioning and re-evaluating my experiment by magnifying the score, dividing it into smaller segments and compare them with a variety of examples that could be inspired to use.     

The Phantom Planet Score

The following video segment of the film had been chosen to score mainly because of the diversity of scenes that are taking place in a noticeably small amount of time in view of the film’s total length. It begins with a mechanical problem with dramatic results which is taking place outside the spaceship, moving into a scene where one of the two astronauts struggles to pilot and eventually land the spaceship on a meteor, concluded by the astronaut’s discoveries on the meteor’s / planet’s surface.

The film’s section together with the original score written by Leith Stevens is being demonstrated in the following video clip:

The Phantom Planet - Score by Leith Stevens

Below is the same clip introducing the newly created score:

The Phantom Planet - Score by Evangelos Chouvardas

Before proceeding with the discussion of this scoring approach, it is worth including a number of audio examples of the sound design procedure which took place in a number of different instruments and sound recordings. These files have been extracted from the original sequencer project, therefore have been created, mixed and used specifically for this video project.

These are demonstrated in the following interactive table:

Original Sound

Instrument

Designed Sound

Tzouras 1

Tzouras 3

Tzouras 2

Overtone Flute 1

Balalaika 1

Duduk

Balalaika 2

Overtone Flute 2

Darbuka

Bouzouki 1

Bouzouki 2

Bouzouki 3

Stamna

Eastern Percussion Ensemble

Mongolian Choir

Bouzouki 4

Tzouras + Bayan Combination

Didgeridoo Combination

Original Version (Leith Stevens)

The original score by Leith Stevens is using a number of shared techniques, especially concerning the time period which was composed in. Starting with the strings one can initially observe the overall dramatic character which has been dressed with vivid vibratos and glissandi performance modes. The description of mystery and unknown has been achieved with a composition which deliberately avoids the use of third intervals, in both harmonic movements and chords, in the majority of the instruments used. The latter is also taking place in repeated motifs that are usually developing in fourths or fifths music intervals. The orchestration is quite busy with a strong sense of simultaneous movements considering the relationship between the woodwinds, strings and brass. 

Observing the presented film’s segment in a linear time mode, a first interesting observation is taking place at 01:27 where the astronauts are opening the spaceship’s exterior hatch, unexpectedly discovering the mechanical problem. It is quite unusual to see that the score is not following the semiotics of the moving picture, which has a rather strong character at this particular point. Stevens prefers to continue developing its previous, mild, motif consisting of what appears to be a xylophone and flute.

Moving on to the next interesting point in 02:06 where one of the two astronauts loses his senses. Once more, in this situation the composer chooses not to implement something new in order to emphasize the scene. The score carries on with its characteristic progression in low strings’ intervals of fours and fifths, resolving in a chromatic counterclockwise movement in the scene where the other astronaut is trying to move him inside the spaceship.

Indeed, there is a strong sense of coherence in the score but at times it felt it was passively skipping important features occurring on the screen.This is also strongly represented a few moments later (02:42) when the astronaut is being hit by an asteroid, loses his control and ends up floating helplessly into deeper space. The score is handling the picture using a very gentle approach, with the variation of adding some extra layers in low woodwinds, which seems to miss the chance in creating, perhaps, the proper excitement for the viewer. Again, there is a general flow in the music’s character but there appears to be no use of variation in harmonic development or dynamics.

This is the same principle which embodies the next scene starting at 03:28. The main role here has been given mostly to the harp and high woodwinds, especially flutes, creating in such way a dreamier, fantasy atmosphere rather than focusing on the drama of the character. These changes occur from 05:20 until 05:55 where the astronaut is attempting an emergency landing on a meteor. At this point one can observe the implement of a distinctive dissonance by the introduction of dramatic cues in strings and brass, which emphasizes the scene’s adventurous nature.

Moving onto the next scene where the astronaut sets foot on the meteor-planet, Stevens is returns to its previous instrumentation approach of having a thematic unity, developing mainly in a unison xylophone and flute motif. This changes when the astronaut starts feeling unwell, by implementing harp glissandi and strings tremolos. 

Astronaut’s flashback occurring in 07:28 signifies the implementation of sound design in the score. What appears to be a Theremin, which was a quite common and accessible electric instrument at that time, is providing a sense of mystery and movement which connects the constant vibrato pitch with the floating video effect of the picture.

An additional worth mentioning observation can be found in 09:03 where the astronaut regains his conscience facing the microscopic, anthropomorphic inhabitants. In this example the composer is using a vast amount of wild textures in all the instruments available making this one of the most dynamic moments considering the sound aesthetics.

Lastly, the astronaut’s miniaturizing (09:59) has been represented with a glockenspiel fantasy-like pattern in conjunction with a number of background strings’ textures and clarinet motifs. This is then followed by the distinctive vibrato, high pitched sound of a Theremin which follows the astronaut’s anxiety since he realizes that he is now the same size as the planet’s inhabitants.  

Prototype Asbstract Version (Evangelos Chouvardas)

This section of the film was composed with the intention of being an experimental abstract score which, as discussed before, has been created by using ethnic instruments in conjunction with a variety of sound design methodologies. Furthermore, exoticism has a rather strong and vivid character that will be demonstrated in several cases scenarios, reflecting accordingly with the moving picture’s context.

There are several moments inside the score in which there is an evident character of exoticism by using ethnic instruments that have not been overly processed with the intention of not losing their initial sonic signature. The use of santur is a characteristic example of this approach as it can be observed in several cases during the first scene in which the astronauts attempt to fix the damage.

The scoring approach considering the starting scene set outside the spaceship has been inspired from previous analysis of science fiction films where a variety of composers use woodwind instruments in a number of cases in order to musically express a mysterious scene. The procedure was to create a sound designed soundscape by using ethnic woodwinds, so it could be used as a background carpet in order again for some ethnic winds, for example the Hulusi, to sit in front by introducing a simple harmonic motif. This has also been reinforced by an eastern female vocal which seemed to fit perfectly and increase the quality of the dramatic atmosphere.     

The next and most dramatic outcome of the rescue effort is being presented when the comet hits the astronaut (2:40 – 03:13). This is a moment where it was thought better to describe it with a simple crescendo of two combined exotic modes. The motif begins in a Phrygian mode resulting into an Ionian mode and is being performed by an eastern female vocal in combination with a pan flute. What is also added in the instrumentation is the taiko drum first introducing a rhythmic pattern to increase the density of the upwards progression harmonic crescendo. The above tactics seemed to give a better picture of the dynamics in conjunction with the strongly presented picture.

    

The next interesting scene commencing at 03:28 has been dealt with the initial idea of focusing in the astronaut’s despair. That it the reason why eastern vocal has again the primary role, followed by some woodwinds that are taking place in 04:15. The scene’s context, as well as the music, changes in approximately 04:50 when the astronaut is starting piloting the spaceship and looking to safely land it on the meteor. Different vocals are also present but now inside a busier conversation of sounds. There are several sound designed tremolos at the back, especially the ones coming from tzouras, balalaika and oud, as well as the use of percussive woodwinds and a lyra harp. The end landing has been musically dressed with didgeridoo and duduk performances on an eastern hitzaz mode.

During the astronaut’s landing on the planet’s surface there is a distinctive sense of exoticism provided by the santur’s low notes performance. This has been followed later on by the taiko drums during the flashback scene. The latter had been composed with the intention of giving a sense of movement and excitement rather than using more typical stylistic approaches such as nylon harp glissandos or pitched percussion’s dissonant notes, for example the glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone et cetera.

In approximately 08:17, in the scene where the astronaut retrieves his sense, there is an introduction of a different sound design technique which was not used up until this point. The motif is coming from an irish whistle which was mixed with the implementation of granular reverb. This gives a distinctive sonic quality to the reverb’s tail by extending not only the reflections of the modelled space, but also a part of the actual sonics of the whistle itself. What was also found to be rather interesting was the rich metallic character which seemed to fit the picture’s purpose where the astronaut first encounters the miniaturized humans.

This particular sound is also being demonstrated below:

This was also part of the effort to present an ethnic instrument in combination with sound design, which signifies technology, in order to connect visually with the primitive nature of the inhabitants. It is worth noted that this was also an approach that had been previously observed and discussed in several different cases of science fiction films.

From that moment on, and during the next scene (09:06 – 09:45), where the planet’s inhabitants have been revealed to the viewer, the score has a busier orchestration and a stronger sense of exotic development for the exact reason discussed previously.

Moving on, considering the gravitational shrinking that occurring in the main character, beginning in 09:58, there is an intended lack of exotic scales used. This is one of the most important and peculiar film’s scenes which sets the ground for most of the films’ plot to evolve. It is a moment that I wanted to approach with the sense of fantasy, thus the use of lyra, but also to give an effort enhancing the sense of mystery. Therefore, there is the intentional use of many different elements such as random santur glissandos, pan flute’s wild textures as well as a tam tam percussion in orders to give a certain rhythmic perspective. This is also a moment in which my scoring approach comes into an agreement with the original composer’s intention, with the difference being the use of ethnic instruments which again was envisioned to be apparent.

Lastly ,the last scene where the astronaut realizes that has been miniaturized by the planet’s gravitational idiom, has a rather definite exotic character. It is worth mentioning that the specific thematic unity has the most ethnic instruments’ performances inside the score. This has been intentionally accomplished in such way as it was an effort to musically follow the plot, since the astronaut was now just like all the rest. Therefore, and as a more generic note, the music intentionally and gradually transforms from being more abstract into more exotic, signifying the sense of primitive culture. This has been pragmatized in three phases; the first one starts at the beginning of this video segment, the second one emerges during the first appearance of the miniaturized humans, and the third one with the realization of the astronaut’s reduced size.      

Irish Whistle - Granular Reverb Example

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet Score

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet - Score by Leith Stevens

Below is the same clip introducing the newly created score:

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet - Score by Evangelos Chouvardas

Following the same procedure as in The Phantom Planet, the larger number of sound designed audio files, together with their raw versions, are presented in the table below:

Instrument

Bouzouki 1

Bouzouki 2

Original Sound

Designed Sound

Bouzouki 4

Bouzouki 3

Tzouras 2

Tzouras 3

Tzouras 1

Bouzouki 5

Irish Flute

Oud 1

Pan Flute

Oud 2

Bayan

Shakuhachi

Digderidoo

Tzouras 4

Shahrazad

Original Version (Roland Stein)

There is a rather strong sense of resemblance between the Voyage to Prehistoric Planet and Phantom Planet scoring approach. Both films baring a quite distinct music color found in the 1950’s – 1960’s era of science fiction cinema. The difference in which the composer, Roland Stein, distinguishes himself is mainly the complexity and fullness that he achieves in several cases in his score.

From the beginning of this film’s segment one can observe the intricate musical conversations between low and high brass. There is also quite apparent movement of the instrumentation since the tempo is in harmony with the scene’s action. The harmony here, as well as in the rest of the film, can be characterized as fairly dissonant with often and continuous intervals of fourths and fifths especially apparent in brass and woodwinds.  

During the next scene, where the astronauts are sending the robot to help them with retrieving their spaceship, and in about 01:04 the instrumentation resembles numerous occasions of other science fiction films that have been visited before. The use of low brass together with low-mid woodwinds has proven to be a strong and recognizable tool in scenes were the main subject is spinning around the sense of mystery and anxiety. This scene has been written with a continuous and coherent character without experimenting or introducing any instrumentation or dynamics’ changes. Even in cases of re-appearance of potential danger, for example in the 01:13 dinosaur scene, the music seems undisturbed in relation to the moving picture.

The above is also true in several other cases in the film. One of the most apparent is in 02:26 where the astronauts discover a large brontosaurus. Even if the scene implies for a grandeur score to be present, the composer is simply choosing to bypass this visual event perhaps in sacrifice for the music’s overall consistency.

Moving further on, one can, once more, observe the similarities that exist between science fiction films, as well as in other genres considering this specific point, when the given scene dictates the introduction of dramatic music sequences. Thus, in this case the beginning of the characters’ drama is reflected in the divisi strings followed up by low-mid woodwinds. This is particularly pronounced in 03:25 with the introduction of the character’s line ‘let’s rest, we’ve very little oxygen left us’. 

Another interesting aspect which set this film apart is the use of an airy female vocal commencing in 05:14. The composer intelligently connects the diegetic with the non-diegetic music following the plot where the astronauts are stopping in a location in order to search for a woman’s voice which one of them claimed to have heard.

As a final observation in the waterfalls’ scene beginning in 06:59 there is an effort to present a richer sounding composition with increased dynamics and instrumentation. This has been achieved in a certain degree, although it falls short in terms of musical variation.  

Stein chooses to remain in a single note and although the scene has multiple pictures with multiple potential functions, there seems to be no apparent attempt to follow this nuance.

Prototype Asbstract Version (Evangelos Chouvardas)

In the case of the Voyage to Prehistoric Planet film the same scoring procedure as the previous one has been applied with the addition of presenting a more emphatic combination between dissonance and melody. This was a realistically achievable goal because of the large controversy existed between scenes.

Starting with the first scene, the dinosaur attack has been composed with the intention of not withdrawing from an action scene approach, as this is essentially the scene’s nature. Instead, it was recognized and approached as one with the only difference being the instrumentation which, as always in this entire project, is purely consisted by ethnic instruments. As a result, there is a strong rhythmic structure which everything builds around it, including the qanun and baritone balalaika that replicate the rhythmic pattern and introducing the main motif. This is developing in a crescendo mode by adding together smaller painting strikes of santur, qanun and taiko sticks.

In the next scene starting at 00:46, there is a completely different approach presented as this scene describes the procedure of sending the robot to help with freeing the spaceship. Sound design character was intended to be quite pronounced here, as opposed to the previous one, as it is the first commencing scene which emphasizes in technology. In addition, as opposed to the original film composer’s approach, the important aspects in relation to the picture including the segments that were thought to differentiate in a considerable degree from the rest of the visual, were decided to be treated with emphasis and variation as to the rest of any given scenes. Therefore, the added danger sub-scene occurring in 01:12 has been dealt with the analogous music implementation.

The next sub-scene’s music approach (01:26), demonstrating the astronauts’ effort to disengage their spaceship, presents a pronounced exotic character by introducing the strong up-front character of a duduk motif. This is being accompanied with several smaller sound design layer of instruments, producing the background music carpet for the duduk to take place in.

Moving onto the next scene beginning at 1:54, where the astronauts are wandering in the planet’s surface, sound designed music has again the central role providing an abstract, mysterious atmosphere. This has been reinforced by a few ethnic instruments, used more in this case as sound effects, in 02:00 and 02:20.

The next brontosaurus’ encounter scene was composed with the intention of providing a fuller, more exciting sound to the picture, as it was suggested by the picture itself. The distinctive use of a major chord corresponds to the greatness of its size but also to the pleasant atmosphere portrayed by the astronauts’ smiles. There are also moments where I felt appropriate to include instruments and specific notes that should be used as a reminder of the hostile planet and the overall bizarre location. Distinctive moments where the above occurs is in 02:36 and 02:40. In these cases the above thesis has been achieved with the help of a santur.  

Considering the next scene starting at 03:12, the music signifies the beginning of a difficult, as it will prove to be further on, situation of the two lost astronauts’ survival. An eastern female vocal together with low drum hits have been used in this case in order to provide the score with the appropriate accentuation of drama.

Moving further on, in 05:20 which is the scene there the astronauts hear the strange female voice, the composition strategy was to employ an array of different instruments, both manipulated and raw, so I could create a large, emphatic, melodic major chord which will reinforce the scenes’ inuendo question about ancient human existence. An added layer which contributed in that respect was a semitone up Mongolian men choir, signifying the astronauts’ enigmatic state. Opposite sex equals contrasting pitch note.

The waterfalls’ scene was found to be, as mentioned earlier, one of the most dynamic scenes in the film. Consequently, it was difficult to bypass the instinct which dictated the flow of the sound, before the score was conceptualized and composed. The music has multiple layers in terms of instrumentation but also a strong character considering the scene’s camera changes.

The smaller sub-scenes, including the first grand opening, imply a small visual crescendo as they move from showing the waterfalls, to a closer view of the running water, to the robot’s feet, resulting into a further away camera viewing angle screening the robot on the cataracts’ top cliff. This also occur before the screen gives any visual reference to the astronauts. As a result, the composition develops a strong one chord crescendo resulting into an additional chord (07:27), reinforced by an emphatic eastern female vocal. Here again it was intentionally planned to express this music angle by using both designed and raw sounding ethnic instruments.

 

The next scene commencing at 07:52 signifies the beginning of a survival struggle for the two astronauts. The music carries the baton from the previous scene with the help of a bridge consisted of two ouds. The score changes its character in 08:07 with the introduction of minimal performance, low and high taiko drums. Here again, and because of the drama’s gradual escalation, the composition builds another crescendo on both dynamics and instrumentation.

In the final scene, beginning at 09:00, the viewer is being presented with the final act of the two astronauts’ survival attempts. The scene is now inside a cave where the two characters are barely breathing. The score here attempts to create the sense of tragedy by using a simple, slow paced, motif, again, combing both synthetic and physical sounds.

Additionally, what thought to be interesting was to end the scene in an emphatic, magnifying and vivid way by following the last ‘I await your orders’ robot’s cue. This was a way to describe the ironic ending of the astronauts’ desperate seek for help and the robot’s incompetence to mathematically interpret and comprehend the request.  

Interestingly enough, observing it during the time I am writing it, the final first half of the motif notes’ progression is the same as the first half of the one found in Dune’s main, overly repeated, theme.    

© 2016 by Evangelos Chouvardas

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