Soundtrax: Episode 2008-11
Randall D. Larson
[Original article here]
This week we talk with Mark Snow about his music for the new X-Files movie and get a small glimpse at what a massive score this is going to be. He also discusses scoring The Ghost Whisperer and his sublime score for legendary French director Alain Resnais’s Private Fears in Public Places. We kick of the Summer with reviews of the soundtracks for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Speed Racer, The Strangers, and Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, fine scores all. And, as usual, the latest film music news is gathered from the seven seas.
Interview: Mark Snow on X-Files: I Want To Believe
Mark Snow is best known for his many seasons of music scoring for TV’s The X-Files and Millennium, although his work has encompassed many more series (including the popular shows Smallville and The Ghost Whisperer) and made-for-television movies as well as a handful of feature films (including the recent Award winning drama from legendary French director Alain Resnais, Private Fears in for Public Places, aka Coeurs (Hearts) – quite a significant coup for an American television composer, and one that earned him a César Award nomination [the main national film award in France] for best score. Snow’s many musical scores for American television and films have also garnered him numerous Emmy nominations and ASCAP awards. In 2006, he became the first composer to receive ASCAP’s prestigious Golden Note Award for lifetime achievement and impact on music culture. Mark Snow’s iconic X-Files theme remains a worldwide phenomenon.
Snow is now poised to regain that recognition as the new X-Files movie, The X-Files: I Want To Believe, preps for release on July 25th. Snow scored the show’s first feature film, The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998), with a massive orchestral score that took the show’s central thematic material and expanded it to fit the sonic scope of the big screen, and his music for the new film promises to raise the bar even higher. Interviewed last week while in the midst of completing the new score, Mark Snow describes his music for the further adventures of agents Mulder and Scully, along with his other recent work.
Q: So how far along are you with the new X-Files movie?
Mark Snow: Half way done.
Q: What can you tell me about this score?
Mark Snow: We’re using a gigantic orchestra with no trumpets or high woodwinds. It’s tons of brass, big strings, and a few low bass clarinets, contrabassoon. Plus we have another orchestra doing effects stuff on top of it – no music, just musical effects like [imitates an orchestral effect] “haaiii-pnnnnnn…”, that lay in at certain points. I’ve also got a genius sample percussion guy who’s adding on to that, plus my own atmospheric stuff there, so the music is made up of these four elements. I’ve been lucky enough to get Alan Meyerson as the music mixer – he’s the engineer who does Hans Zimmer’s stuff and who is a technical genius. He is probably one of the few guys who can pull this off. We’ve got assistants among assistants – he’s got his crew, I’ve got a couple of guys just helping me, sending MIDI files, getting these things out to the copyist.
Q: The first X-Files movie expanded the music you were doing the TV series and gave it a huge widescreen scope. It sounds like this new score will be doing that yet again, intensifying what you had in the first X-Files movie by yet another several degrees.
Mark Snow: But it’s very different. This movie is not along the lines of the mythology story of The X-Files, with the government conspiracy and aliens and flying saucers. We’re all sworn to secrecy and death if we talk about the story, but I can tell you that there aren’t any aliens in this movie. It’s much more of a standalone episode, and so the music is not like the last one. Actually there is one cue from the first movie that the music editor tracked in, and it worked great, but that’s it.
Q: Will there be recognizable material such as The X-Files theme, beyond the opening title?
Mark Snow: Yeah. If you’re a musician you’ll hear that in the orchestra parts from time to time. Not blatant, but nice and subtle.
Q: What’s central to the score, musically? Where does the score hang its hat on?
Mark Snow: It’s just dark. Deep and pulsating. On the other hand there are two really beautiful melodic themes. One is sort of like the Gabriel Fauré Requiem, that kind of thing. I am using boy soprano live, and then a counter tenor, which is a male voice that sounds like a woman’s.
Q: How much music is this score going to take?
Mark Snow: Tons! Maybe 70 minutes.
Q: What was it like revisiting, or returning to The X-Files after several years hiatus?
Mark Snow: Like fitting into a great pair of old shoes.
Q: Any plans yet for a soundtrack album?
Mark Snow: Yes, on the Decca label.
Q: Meanwhile, you’re still doing Smallville and The Ghost Whisperer…?
Mark Snow: The seasons have both ended, so I’m not doing either of them right now. I won’t be coming back on Smallville, it’s just been way too much. I will come back next season to do Ghost Whisperer.
Q: You worked on Smallville for seven seasons. How has the music or its needs changed, evolved, or developed throughout that run?
Mark Snow: Not a bit! It was: ‘Pilot: John Williams.’ ‘Yes sir. Done!’ ‘Thanks, bye!’
Q: So it was more maintaining the heroic concept and the mythology than progressing through specific changes…
Mark Snow: That’s right, exactly.
Q: I’ve been enjoying your music for The Ghost Whisperer, a neat mixture of ghosts and character drama with very good writing, excellent performances, and of course a compelling musical underscore.
Mark Snow: The thing that they really want in the music is a real emotional quality. So that’s been a combination of spooky, emotional, and mysterious.
Q: Even though it comes from a supernatural basis and certainly has moments that are spooky/scary but in essence it’s more of an emotional drama.
Mark Snow: That’s right. The idea of people crossing over – they try to do this in a hip way so it’s, in a sense, like Highway To Heaven or Touched By An Angel but much more modern/contemporary/cooler.
Q: When you’re scoring a weekly series like Ghost Whisperer, you’ve defined your musical approach in the pilot. Have there been opportunities in the individual stories of Ghost Whisperer to do something varied, or are you tied to a given musical concept from the start?
Mark Snow: Ninety percent of the music on Ghost Whisperer is under dialog. It’s very rare that there’s music without dialog, for whatever reason. But it’s like setting up a sound and the pallet for it and just revisiting it in different variations. They love the piano, and they love pads and percussion pulsing along, but then all of a sudden if you do an orchestra sound with a real strong melody they just go nuts for that. It’s the contrast, that what I think is successful about that.
Q: Are there’s enough variation in the storylines to afford different instrumental pallets?
Mark Snow: Certainly, when the show calls for some ethnic music or we go to different locations. Sometimes these flashbacks have period piece connotations to them also, which calls for different kinds of music.
Q: Was there a specific way that they asked you to deal with the supernatural aspects, like the appearance of the ghosts, or emphasize when things are going a little bit strange?
Mark Snow: They rely heavily on sound effects for all those things, when the ghost pops in or pops out or moves across the room. I kind of lay low then, because the sound effects guys really go to town there. At first they wanted us both to go crazy at those moments and they’d pick out what they liked the best, but that turned out to be a mess, so then I knew to calm down and let the sound effects do those moments. But obviously sound effects can’t do the nice melody stuff, so I get my turn.
Q: You recently composed the music for Alain Resnais’ Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places), which must have been quite a coup to get to work for the legendary French director. I understand that Resnais was attracted to your music due to the X-Files. How did he first get in contact with you for this?
Mark Snow: He just called. He found out who represented me and called. I never associated his name with all his marvelous past, which is classic, this guy is a giant in the French New Wave cinema. He just heard X-Files reruns on French TV, and he thought the music would be perfect, for whatever reason.
Q: He was drawn to the more melodic material which is laced throughout the X-Files scores, rather than the scary stuff?
Mark Snow: Actually, no! He was really talking about the more atmospheric music. He thought that would be fitting. They had tracked it with my music. There was some melodic stuff but nothing like what it turned out to be, that’s for sure.
Q: Did you score it over here or did you go over to France?
Mark Snow: I met with him in Paris but I actually did it in Connecticut. I have a studio out there.
Q: What was the process, as far as determining what he wanted and how you should approach the music?
Mark Snow: He said, ‘just do what you think is right, like the kind of thing we put in [the temp score].’ I had actually written a theme before I got there, just from reading the script, and it turned out to be the main theme. I sent him music from Connecticut, and then it was waiting for that first phone call, that initial reaction, which is always nerve racking. But he called and said ‘it’s great,’ and then as I kept sending him stuff, he would just say, ‘oh, make this part a little this, or a little that.’ ‘Okay, fine.’ ‘Wonderful, thank you!’ And done. Then what happens, in France, apparently, they take the music and they just put it wherever they want to! So there were places where they moved the starts and they fade it in early or used another cue, stuff like that. I mean, not that you’d really notice, and nothing that was like bad from my point of view. Then they called and said ‘you’ve got a Cesar nomination along with a lot of other people in the group here.’ It was a big hit at all these festivals, and it won the Special Award at one of them. And now there’s a possibility of doing his next movie, which he’s just finishing now.
Q: How did this feature film experience differ from writing for a television series?
MS: The marvelous thing about movies as opposed to TV, you can write these kinds of things. In TV the producers are always going, ‘no, no! Pulse! Pulse! We need rhythm! We need to keep the audience awake!’ And then if you write a minor chord, they go, ‘no, no! That’s sad! We can’t have sad!’ Even if it is sad! But with this, you get that mood going, you get your theme going, and that’s it. That’s what was so great.
Q: What was the element that you felt was the crux of the film – or “this is what I want to hang my score on?”
Mark Snow: That’s a good question. I would say, toward the end, you start feeling, as corny as it sounds, the tragic element of these people not being able to connect. So it was toward the end when you knew it was like, oh shit, it was inevitable that this ain’t going to work out for anyone. That’s where the meat of the score lay.
Q: You recorded in Connecticut?
Mark Snow: I have a studio there. I played it and recorded it – it was all by me, there was not one live instrument. But we mixed it at the Sony Records studio in New York. I had my mixer fly in from L.A., and we did it, which was amazing. It was pretty great.
Q: So what’s coming up for you after the new X-Files movie?
Mark Snow: I’ve got this other movie coming up, a kids’ movie called The Knights Of Appletown. It was directed and written by Bobby Moresco, who co-wrote Crash with Paul Haggis, of all things. It’s a sweet little movie and it’s miles and miles away from X-Files!