Posts Tagged ‘mark snow’

The Julliard Journal Online: Settling Scores: Composer Mark Snow Gives Students Tips

The Julliard Journal Online
Settling Scores: Composer Mark Snow Gives Students Tips
Kris Bowers

[Original article here]

Wailing brass, thunderous percussion, and eerie sound effects burst through the speakers while an audience of 50—Juilliard students and a few visitors—sat in complete silence as they aurally digested this unique sound world. Shifting from moments of extreme energy to others of frightening tension, this five-minute improvisation turned out to just be something film composer Mark Snow had been working on for fun. “I figured since most of you are jazz students this would be something that you would be able to relate to,” Snow told the group.

Snow (B.M. ’68, oboe) was speaking at a forum on December 3 sponsored by both Jazz Studies (through its Friday Jazz Forum series) and the Alumni Relations Office (as an offshoot of its Lunch With an Alum series). Both series give students the chance to sit down for a couple hours with some of the most amazing individuals in the performing arts and ask them about just about anything. You might assume that someone like Snow, who has won 34 ASCAP awards, wouldn’t be interested in spending what little free time he has at his alma mater, but he was thrilled to be back at Juilliard, telling The Journal beforehand, “This is great! I love this stuff.”

After his piece was finished, Snow took questions from the audience. One student asked how Snow created the piece, “especially for all of those layers and interaction between the instruments and sounds to be completely improvised.”

“It really all just came together pretty organically,” Snow answered, noting that he does all of his composing at the computer. “The days of scoring something with a pencil and paper are gone, unless it’s a traditional orchestral score,” he said, adding that “about 80 percent of big Hollywood scores today are a combination of orchestra and sampled instruments.”

He then played another track, a cue from the 1990s hit TV show The X-Files that was a beautiful combination of strings and voice, prompting a question about synthesized sounds versus the natural sound of real instruments: “With that first piece we listened to, you did a lot of things that absolutely couldn’t be done with real instruments.”

“I was glad I didn’t have to write [that piece] out,” Snow replied. “If you look at the music of Elliott Carter or Pierre Boulez, some of those rhythms look like they’re impossible to play. With this piece, a lot of it’s out of time, and there are a lot of unusual rhythms. That was part of the fun of being able to just play it instead of worrying about whether or not it’s playable.”

Back on the topic of composing by computer, Snow observed that when working on TV music, scoring at the computer is really the only option due to the time constraints. With film, he said, “it’s really a whole team working on the project. Plus, they have weeks to orchestrate, copy the parts, and record.” With TV, by contrast, a composer would be lucky to get more than three or four days to finish 50 minutes of music.

Even before he started scoring for The X-Files (which he did from 1993 to 2002), however, Snow embraced technology. He still uses a synthesizer from the 1970s called a Synclavier, which he used to create the X-Files theme. “I was thinking, and happened to put my elbow on the keyboard which had some type of delay effect on it,” Snow recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow! What was that?’” He also observed, however, that composing music for films is rarely that easy, although, he added, “When a show is mediocre, that’s when it’s the hardest. When it’s good, it’s hard to screw it up.”

When asked how someone who is interested in film scoring gets into the field, Snow replied, “For each successful composer, there’s a different story.” One piece of the puzzle, of course, is the would-be composer’s demo. “It’s important to have contrast,” Snow says. “It’s really about: fast, slow, soft, loud. For example, with the pieces I played for you, the difference between the two is like night and day! I’m not saying that’s a good demo, but if there’s a lot of contrast from piece to piece, that’s really good. It’s great if you can do seriously great contemporary stuff, but also more traditional stuff.”

For music students, who work hard to perfect their orchestration skills and knowledge of each instrument, it was refreshing to hear Mark Snow talk about the technological side of music composition. Learning and perfecting traditional compositional skills is important, but Snow was proof that, especially in today’s world, embracing a little technology now and then can’t hurt.

Kris Bowers is a master’s piano student in Jazz Studies and the recipient of the first Luther Henderson Scholarship at Juilliard.

Beyond The Sea: Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow for an Italian thesis

Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow for an Italian thesis

[Original article here]
[Video montage of the thesis presentation here]

Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow

Virgil, a friend of ours, received a degree few weeks ago.
His thesis is about Motion Graphics and during its work Virgil interviewed two guys we know very well: Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow.

Click on the title of this article to read the complete interviews.

Congratulations Virgil!

Intervista a Frank Spotnitz

Your work as screenwriter for “The X Files” has evolved in some way in the course of 8 years? I mean, you had to modify your original style adapting it to the series?

I can’t overstate how important “The X-Files” was to my development as a writer. I worked as a news reporter for the wire services and various magazines, then studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.  “The X-Files” was my first professional job in Hollywood.  I think I had good storytelling instincts, and a strong sense of what I liked and didn’t like, but I had an awful lot to learn in terms of craft. Fortunately, Chris Carter is an amazing craftsman, and I learned an enormous amount about interior scene writing and storytelling economy from him.

Some Italian critics believe that TV shows have the power to  exercise influences on TV viewers’ thoughts, even if they are considered harmful; there are some articulated shows, like “The X Files”, that lead people to intelligent attitudes and opinions. Do you think “The X Files” is for everyone?

I wish it was, but I don’t think “The X-Files” is for everyone.  You have to be interested in these kinds of stories and this type of subject matter. I don’t think “The X-Files” tells people what to think, however. I don’t really think any good entertainment does. Propaganda is about pushing a particular line of thought or opinion; for me, the best entertainment keeps you interested and then gives you something to think about. It’s left up to you, the viewer, to come to your own conclusions.

Some narrations obliged screenwriters to elaborate the stories many times to be understandable, particularly in sub-plotted episodes where the viewer is compelled to get information deliberately hidden; how do you go into these kind of choises? Which is your own method during the draft of a script?

In the case of “The X-Files,” we were always looking to make the viewer think: How much do we need to say? To show? How long can we wait before answering certain questions that we’ve raised? We were trying to engage the viewer in the show, raising provocative questions, both in the mythology episodes and the stand-alones. Sometimes we wouldn’t realize until after we’d written and shot an episode that certain pieces of information weren’t necessary, or were better off delayed, and in those cases we would make the change in the editing process.

Television images can’t stimulate viewers’ imagination as the reading of a book does, in its textual form, but it’s also true that we partially solved this problem with modern technologies. How hard it was for you to write imaginary stories remaining in the feasible limits?

I think the secret of “The X-Files'” success was that it made the outlandish seem plausible. The believer-skeptic dynamic made it necessary for Mulder to overcome Scully’s doubts each week — to show her how what they were seeing could be possible, or deny conventional explanation. In the process, it made each story more believable to the audience, and therefore scarier. From a production standpoint, there are many things we wanted to show or do that simply wouldn’t be possible budget-wise. As is so often the case, though, those limitations forced us to become more creative. It’s true that what you can’t see is scarier than what you can.

Talking about the x files opening credits, they were realized leaving absolute freedom to the designers or Chris Carter suggested scrupulous guide lines? I mean, they had their own script?

I wasn’t on the show when the original opening credits were designed, but my understanding is that they went through a lot of last-minute changes that somehow ended up being just perfect. In the last few years of the show, Chris made the decision to finally change the credits, both because David was on and off the series, new characters were being introduced, and, by Season 9, it felt like the images could benefit from some refreshing.

Intervista a Mark Snow

What connection is there between the video image and music? Do you think they have different values?

It is always the video that comes first. It is the inspiration for the music. Writing music for TV and film, is a very distinct art form, that cannot be easily taught. I feel the composer must have a deeply honest emotional reaction to the film, be it a fast chase scene or a heart braking sad or romantic moment. I think you will agree that some of worlds best film composers, have written some of the most beautiful and thrilling music, from John Williams, Hans Zimmer and the great Italian master, Ennio Morricone. But to answer your question, the video is the “master” and the music is the “slave”. It is very rare that the music is written before the video, but sometimes happens as in “The Shining”, when the director, S. Kubrick, used modern classical music as the score for the movie. I remember Frank saying to me once, that he thought my best scores were written for the best shows, showing you how much its the picture that drives the music.

What are your musical influences for the production of your works?

For the X-Files, I was heavily influenced by modern classical music, composers such as Bartok, Stravinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev, Xenakis, Stockhausen et c., and the film music of Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone. Chris Carter and Frank, were always encouraging me to be different, and let me be as creative as I wanted, and I took full advantage of that.

What are inputs required by the production to create a soundtrack?

You must have a collaborative personality to be a successful film composer. The producers and directors have a hard time of telling you what they want since music is such an “abstract”, you must be able to interpret there desires, at least 90% of the time. Some directors could want no melody and all synth pads, while others are the exact opposite. Minimal verses elaborate, fast V. slow and so on. The successful composer must have many different musical identities in his or her arsenal.

Do you think the audio remix’s aesthetics is also used in television for the re-mix videa? Or maybe they are two unique and distinct things?

There were many re-mix versions of the X-Files theme. Sometimes there were only “beats” added to the theme and other times, like the end credit version of “I Want To Believe”, they could be intense elaborate versions taking elements of the theme and doing variations on it. Most re-mix’s were quite one-dimensional, while there were others, from a piano solo, to an accapella chorus, that almost created something new.

Beyond The Sea: Mark Snow speaks to ‘Beyond the Sea’

Mark Snow speaks to ‘Beyond the Sea’

[Original article here]

Mark Snow

Mark Snow doesn’t need any introduction. For all the X-Files fans, he is just the man who wrote the extremely famous TV show theme and who emphasized all the Mulder and Scully’s stories with his music, from the Pilot to the “I Want To Believe” movie.
When you think to “Existence” finale, don’t you hear the “Scully’s Theme” in your mind? Speaking about one of the last pieces, how many of you were moved by the “Home Again” theme in the “I Want To Believe” last scene?

From the first arrangements created using a synthesizer and samples to the classic orchestras and live instruments, the pieces and the genius of this composer were an extra values for X-Files since the beginning.

X-Files, Millennium, The Lone Gunmen and Harsh Realm. All these TV shows created by Chris Carter have the voice of Mark Snow and it was just one year ago when Frank Spotnitz officially announced, at the WonderCon, that the second X-Files movie would have had the same voice again.

Mark Snow kindly answered some questions we made him and he told us about his work for X-Files. He talked about the pieces he made for the TV show, the music he composed for both the movies, and how it felt like to write once again for a new chapter of this incredible story after a very long time. These are just some of the issues we talked about. Besides, he revealed us that a 4 CD boxed set of the X-Files TV music from the TV shows only will be released this spring.

Many moments of the show are still vivid in all fans mind thanks to the music, for example the “Scully’s Theme” that plays during the pregnancy story arc. In order to get to orchestrate music like this, do you get inspiration from pictures or is that a separated creative process?

I was inspired for “Scully’s Theme” from the incredible emotion of the story. I actually felt like part of Scully’s family, and it was almost a religious experience for me, and how great that I was able to use a live singer!

The “Teaser” from “Trust no 1” episode, which music is based on works such as Tchaikovsky’s “Barcarolle”, or also “We Wanted To Believe” from “Little Green Men”, based on Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F”, are just a couple of examples where classic music, joined with some of the X-Files characters voices, creates a style that perfectly fits with the show. Why did you choose to use classic music for the score?

Those classical pieces that we used, I chose them because they just seemed so right, and as a former classical musician, I had a lot of classical repertoire “spinning” around in my head. That Brandenburg Ct. #2, is a piece that I use to play as a student at Juilliard, as an oboist. So, working on those shows was especially great because I was able to delve into my past life.

Mark Snow, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz at the I Want To Believe premiere in Los Angeles

In many pieces from “The Truth and The Light” you used the music with the insert of some voices from the X-Files dialogues (Mulder, Scully, Deep Throat) that made these pieces unique and original. How did the idea to use this approach come to you?

The idea of using the dialogue from the shows in the “Truth and the Light” CD, came from my music editor Jeff Charbonneau, who thought it would be very original to do this, and in a way, to make it sound like a radio show, that without watching it on TV, it really got you into the moment of the experience.

Sometimes in X-Files we can listen to very famous music like, for example, Cher’s or Moby’s. How was this music chosen? Have you had to adapt them to the show?

The Cher piece as well as Moby, was chosen by Chris Carter, who thought they would be especially effective. I think he was right. I also know that at the time, Chris was a big fan of Moby’s, and when I did the theme for Harsh Realm, he requested that I do something like Moby.

How did you feel to go back to write music for X-Files after many years? Have you tried to get back again to the old ‘classic’ X-Files style or did you just watch the movie and then began to orchestrate the soundtrack?

It was very easy and exciting to do the film score, especially being able to use the full orchestra and the singer. The music did not sound so good in the movie because it was mixed too low, but at least on the CD it sounded good, I hope you enjoyed it.

Has Chris Carter, or someone else, given you some input about the “I Want To Believe” music?

For “I Want To Believe”, Chris asked me to compile a CD of some of my favorite film music, and /or any music that I thought might have the right mood for his movie. He seemed to like what I chose, and it helped me to come up with a sound for the movie.

Were there any differences to orchestrate “Fight the Future” and “I Want to Believe”?

I thought that “Fight the Future” was much more of a traditional score then “I Want To Believe”. “I Want To Believe”, was I think more modern, and reflected more the sounds that are current now. The “Fight The Future” score was more heavily dependent on electronics and samples.

Is there any difference in writing music for a movie and for a tv show?

Writing for a movie you usually get more time, and have a much bigger pallette to work with. The modern film score today is made up of huge orchestra’s and tons of samples. In fact in “Bat Man: The Dark Knight” Hans Zimmer used 1000 tracks of music in his score, sampled orchestra , live orchestra, electronics, and anything that can make a noise!!

Mark Snow working at the I Want To Believe score

I think “Home Again” and “The Surgery” are very emotional and moving. Compared with the rest of the soundtrack, they have a sort of more positive “breath”, they are bright, less oppressive, less dark… less X-Files, maybe just to point out the new style Chris Carter gave to X-Files in the movie. What do you think about that?

Those are some of my favorite pieces that I ever wrote. The idea of writing beautiful melodic music in X-Files land, is really great. Yes, Chris wanted these emotional pieces in the movie and made it a point to make sure these were included. Thank you for noticing.

Is there a music you wrote for X-Files that after many years it’s still your favorite one?

That’s easy. “Surgery” and “Home Again”. (also, “Post Modern Prometheus”, “Beyond the Sea”, “Scully’s Theme”, hard question to answer)

The X-Files Theme is famous all over the world and people can connect it immediately to the show. Was there a moment in which you understood that your music contributed to create the X-Files phenomenon?

I didn’t think that my music and the theme were that great until after show #6, people started talking about it, and people were telling me how great the music was. All that music I wrote for the show, came so easily for me, that it was such a gift to have it be so successful, and I doubt that it will ever happen, a miracle!

Frank Spotnitz told in his blog that some of your X-Files works will be released in a new album. Could you say us something about that?

In this spring, La La Land records will release a 4 CD boxed set of the X-Files music from the TV shows only. It will have all the shows that I have been nominated for plus probably pieces from episode, I’m sure some of your favorites will be included.

Our huge thanks to Mark Snow for the helpfulness and niceness he showed us upon this occasion.

Last, but not the least, a special thanks to two users of ours, Virgil and Bittersweet, who made all this possible through their “behind the scenes” work.

Ain’t It Cool News: ScoreKeeper With Composer Mark Snow

Jun-24-2008 [9:49:12 AM CDT]
ScoreKeeper With Composer Mark Snow About THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, The Creation Of The Series’ Theme, And Much More!!
Ain’t It Cool News

[Original article here]

Greetings! ScoreKeeper here secretly sleuthing my way with what could be my favorite composer interview to date.
Mark Snow is a legend. Sure, you probably know him as the composer for the smash-hit phenomenon THE X-FILES (1993-2002), but his legacy didn’t start nor ended with that series. He is the composer for countless television series and movies including SMALLVILLE (2001-2008), GHOST WHISPERER (2006-2008), THE LONE GUNMEN (2001), MILLENNIUM (1996-1999), HARSH REALM (1999-2000), 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1997), FALCON CREST (1986-1988), T.J. HOOKER (1982-1986), and HART TO HART (1979-1983) as well as a composer for theatrical motion pictures which include DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998), THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), CRAZY IN ALABAMA (1999), and COEURS (2006) which was nominated for a César Award for Best Score.

Now the sizzling Summer of ‘08 heats up even higher as Mark returns to the world of Agents Mulder and Scully in THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (2008). Already one of the more highly anticipated films of the summer, Mark sheds tiny slivers of light on what has successfully been a very clandestine production.

Mark was a joy to speak with. His casual demeanor and passionate expression created the perfect combination for a great interview. We gabbed about the new film, the old shows, and everything in between. As a die hard fan, it was difficult containing my inner geek. So I gave up and just had fun. I hope you will too.

Enjoy the interview…The truth is out there.

ScoreKeeper: Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today. I’d like to start off talking about THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. As a bona fide fan of the series, I am very excited about this new movie. How does it feel returning to the world of Mulder and Scully after six years? Did you miss it?

Mark Snow: I did and I knew many years ago that this project was in the works. In fact, Chris Carter called me from London about five years ago and said “Get ready. We are going to do another one…”.

Then it got bogged down and there was red tape with the studios while they were “ironing out” the contracts. But it came to pass and I was thrilled to be invited back. It just felt so comfortable.

SK: Having scored nine seasons of episodic television and a feature film, how did your approach to the new film fit within the X-FILES universe?

MS: It’s very different than the first movie. This is more of a stand alone episode while the first one followed the mythology story with government conspiracies and aliens. There is a lot more heart, warmth and tuneful music in this one – as well as all of the wonderful sound design and atmospheric things.

The idea of being able to write some great themes for some of these very emotional scenes…well, it’s really great! In the score there is this great contrast of fast and slow and loud and soft and melodic and atmospheric. There’s just so many wonderful textures.

I had my full battery of samples and synthesized sounds. I certainly bring back a few things that people might remember from the old days plus a lot of new things. I had a session with a big orchestra that just did atmospheric sound effect music. There was no music written out. I would just give the orchestra instructions like with an accent or a “boom,” or “let’s crescendo here,” or “make a funny noise here,” or “drop a pencil on the music stand,”…all kinds of real cool inventive things.

There’s a battery of percussion with these fabulous taiko drums and all kinds of things. Plus live whistlers and live singers…It’s quite a sound!

It was all very creative.

So, you’ve got that and then a big orchestra hanging out playing written out music for four days of recording. The thrust of the orchestra is mostly like a baritone to low orchestra. There are no trumpets, no high woodwinds. There is a flute solo but it’s an alto flute solo and there is one moment where there’s a high baroque trumpet playing over a very emotional scene. There are eight French horns, five trombones, and two pianos and harps…thirty-two violins, sixteen violas, twelve cellos, and eight basses…

SK: Wow!

MS: That makes a hell of a sound! It has been great.

One of the most wonderful things was I was able to get Alan Meyerson to be the scoring engineer and the music mixer. He does all of James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s stuff. His creativity is really just fantastic! His mixes just come alive.

SK: That improvised aleatoric jam session you talked about…Were you doing that to picture?

MS: No, there was no picture. I just made a tool box of all these sounds and had it at my disposal to sprinkle throughout the score. There’s all sorts of short accents and long sustained things…all kinds of drums…just really marvelous stuff.

SK: You mentioned Chris Carter said there was interest about five years ago to do a second film. At what point did the creative process begin for you? Did you receive a script during that time to start thinking about music? At what point did the compositional process begin for you?

MS: There was such incredible secrecy about this project. I did receive a script and each page had my name watermarked on it. I had to sign something saying if I gave this out then I would be killed.

[Both Laugh]

MS: So that script was going to be chained to my wrist for the whole duration so to speak.

Certainly reading it was the beginning of my thought process and I remember the most direction that I got from Chris Carter was “This is a love story with spiritual and religious overtones.”

I’m reading the script and saw a love story in it along with real good classic X-FILES weirdness. It’s a very complex story. After the first reading, I was so intrigued and I read it so quickly that I had to read it twice and even a third time. But there is still nothing like seeing the visuals. That’s when it really kicks in!

I did write a couple of themes that I thought might work and actually one of the things I wrote before seeing the picture did work out beautifully. Another piece, Chris (Carter) and Frank Spotnitz, the producer, weren’t crazy about but I was able to take it and turn it around and make a variation of it. It worked out great.

SK: What is the functional purpose behind the two themes? Do they have a symbolic relationship in the film?

MS: There are two very distinct moments. I hope you will respect the fact that I can’t say too much about it…

SK: Oh! Of course. I don’t want to know too much about it, so, yeah, don’t go into spoilers. If that’s the case, that’s fine.

MS: These two particular pieces come back quite a few times in different orchestrations and settings and they really work out great. That is what was so satisfying…to be able to write real melodic and thematic music in this movie as well as all of the great X-FILES noises on top of it.

SK: How about the iconic main theme? It’s interesting because in the first film it didn’t appear that much. I liked that you refrained from using it and composed a host new material. How does the main X-FILES theme work into this new film, if at all?

MS: Right from the get go you will probably recognize it and that’s all I can say. Then during the score, there are hints of it and variations of it. It is very subtle and it comes and goes. It doesn’t appear too frequently but enough that someone with a good musical ear will be able to pick it up. It’s not dominating the music whatsoever and these other thematic pieces actually have no relation to it at all.

SK: I find it interesting because you have such a long and fabulous career with so many different television shows and productions but it’s the THE X-FILES that has really come to define your career and help solidify your name in the scoring world.

How did your experience working on I WANT TO BELIEVE compare to nine seasons of THE X-FILES series, the previous film, and all the other scores you’ve done throughout your career?

MS: The most exciting stuff in the TV series, for me, was actually the stand-alone episodes. The mythology episodes had sort of a set palette and everyone kind of liked that. It was more of a traditional sound. The stand-alone episodes were a real free-for-all. They were like mini-movies unto themselves.

The freedom and trust that Chris and company had with me was so remarkable. I could basically do whatever I wanted and when you are given that kind of freedom it’s also a responsibility. No one was giving me notes. They would come over and they would watch every score of every episode for the whole nine years and mostly it would just be “Oh, we just love to get out of the studio and watch the music and see how it helps the picture.” There would rarely be any notes. If anything, “Oh, hit this louder,” or “When this guy jumps out of the box…smash it!” or “That’s too much…”. It was very minimal.

With the recent film, it was a combination of all the stuff that I loved so much about the series: the freedom to do what I wanted and the idea of writing these themes which turned out to be so potent and hopefully memorable.

Going from the orchestra’s reaction…the musicians were maybe thinking they were just going to be playing a bunch of sound effects. Then when all of these, dare I say, wonderful tunes showed up, it was just great. Chris, Frank, and the people at Fox would walk in from time to time listening to the cues and it was just “thumbs-up” the whole way.

Thomas Newman once said in regards to work, “There is war and peace. War is scoring a movie and peace is when you are between movies.” With I WANT TO BELIEVE there was no war, it was just a fabulous exhilarating experience.

SK: Take a moment to address all of the X-FILES fans out there. What is in store for them? What can they expect?

MS: All the best things of the stand alone episodes and the relationships with the characters… They will not be disappointed, I’m telling you!

SK: I’m among the many anxiously awaiting this one. Personally, this could be one of my more anticipated movies of the summer. Since hearing you describe the music in more detail, I’m even more excited.

How many minutes of music are there in the film?

MS: There’s about an hours worth. Maybe a little bit more. There are a couple of songs but really the thrust of the music really is the score.

There’s not more than three songs in the movie and they aren’t in a montage or playing during a whole scene where the sound effects and dialogue are cut out. The songs are more subliminal and more a part of the overall sound.

SK: When scoring the series you were primarily layering synth sounds without utilizing many live acoustical elements. When THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE came along, you had the opportunity to score with a live orchestra and again with I WANT TO BELIEVE.

First of all, how does the compositional process differ between the series and the films and to what effect did any differences outcome the music?

MS: Well, it didn’t really change at all. The big difference was when I was done with a piece, I would turn it into a MIDI file and it would go out to the copyist who would, in turn, put it through one of their programs to give to the orchestrators. They would see pretty clearly where the orchestral music was in regards to the strings, the horns, percussion, piano, harp, and they would write that out.

Sometimes my synth strings would be with the orchestral strings and sometimes not. Sometimes my percussion stuff would be plenty and we didn’t need any of the live percussion. It was a cue by cue situation. I felt very comfortable that all of my orchestral instruments would be much more fantastic with the real deal, especially with the size of that group.

SK: How do you work in the electronic elements of your acoustical scores? Do you have those planned out ahead of time or do you add them after the acoustical elements are in place?

MS: I basically hear the whole thing right from the get go. We separate every single individual synth or sampled sound on a separate track and Alan Meyerson mixes each one of those. He treats them with who knows what he does – it’s amazing to me – and then combines them all. Then it has to be mixed in 5.1 surround sound. It’s a miracle!

I do my thing and it sounds pretty good. We get an orchestra and live players and Alan Meyerson…Holy mackerel! I pinch myself listening back to these things. I said “Wow! I loved that! Holy Smokes! This is great!”

SK: It sounds like this could be a real peak for you as far as satisfaction throughout your career. Not just in the X-FILES world. It’s sounding very much like this is one of those top ranking experiences for you…

MS: I’m glad you said it because somewhere along this interview I was definitely going to say that. In terms of satisfaction this ranks the highest.

I did a movie in France with director Alain Resnais. That was also satisfying. The only thing missing was we didn’t have a live orchestra. The music for that – and there is going to be a CD coming out momentarily – was very subtle but also extremely thematic and tuneful. It’s all very emotional but in a quiet sort of sad-yearing-type of way.

It was also very satisfying in the sense that the director just said, “I’m a big fan of yours and I want you to do this. I hired you because I know you will do the right things. I don’t want to tell you what to do. Just go out there and do it.”

So I did and it turned out to be a really great experience.

SK: I received a promo copy of your score from PUBLIC FEARS IN PRIVATE PLACES (aka COEURS) and I wrote a brief preview of it on this site [HERE].
I loved it! I don’t normally review film music without having seen the film but in this case, I did. I really loved the music. You were nominated for what is basically the European equivalency of the Oscar for that score, is that correct? [details HERE]

MS: Yes, I was nominated. They call it a César Award. To get that nomination, that too, is pretty remarkable.

SK: Do you have a date yet when the score will be released on CD?

MS: It could literally be next week.

SK: I’ll be on the look out for that. The promo CD that I got only had ten or twelve minutes of music on it, so I’m definitely dying to hear more.

SK NOTE: Since this interview was conducted, has announced the release of PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES (aka COEURS) on their own BSX Records label. I ordered my copy immediately upon hearing the announcement. Check out their web site [HERE] for more information.

I’ve heard there is already a CD planned for THE X-FILES 2: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

MS: It’s going to be coming out on Decca. They are bugging me, “Let’s go do some record mixes for it right away!” It will probably be 90% of the score because a lot of the pieces are just sound effect style stuff.

There is also a song by Xzibit which plays during the end credits. I think that song is going to be on the CD as well. There’s also a really great new band that Chris Carter knew about that did a remix of THE X-FILES theme which sounds fantastic. That’s going to be on there as well.

SK: What about the series? I remember when THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT CD came out. I was very excited they finally released your music from the show. Any future plans of releasing more?

MS: I understand that there’s going to be CDs released on the other series that Chris did: MILLENNIUM, THE LONE GUNMEN, and HARSH REALM.

They’re talking about this massive compilation of THE X-FILES too. But nine years times…it could be ten thousand minutes of music! That would be a real challenge to choose from that much music but I understand that that is in the works too.

SK: That would be awesome!

I’ve interviewed and talked with a lot of different television composers and one thing that frequently comes up is we seem to be currently witnessing a genuine renaissance in television.

The various facets of television are reaching new heights in terms of quality and one of those facets is music. We are getting some absolutely fantastic scores in television these days. In the past several decades that hasn’t always been the case.

I’ve always attributed this modern boom back to THE X-FILES. Even during the nineties, television wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to hear great scores. But I very much believe it was your work on THE X-FILES that helped catalyze the resurrection of well-crafted scores for television.

It was your music, in fact, that first got me sucked into the show. I was flipping channels one night – I believe it was during the second season – and I came across a show and said to myself, “What is this music?” I was loving it. It turned out it was THE X-FILES. I tuned in the following week just so I could hear more music. The next thing I knew, I was hooked on the show.

I’d like for you to comment a little on the recent trends of television scoring because I think you deserve a lot of credit for raising the bar and improving the overall quality of it.

MS: That’s an immense compliment and I really appreciate it. I think the most important factor was that Chris and company really seemed to trust me.

First of all, there is a lot of music in the show. At first, with the pilot, they really wanted very atmospheric stuff. Not melodic or cheesy. Just supportive almost sound designed music. That’s where we started.

I felt after a while that was getting too one dimensional and so I started experimenting. Every time I did, it was encouraged by Chris and company so I just kept going and going and they kept liking it and liking it.

It’s rare that you are in a situation where you are given such creative freedom. In television, the music editor has to do temp tracks that have to be approved by the studio, the network, the producers and then those things are tweaked and changed and then it comes back to the composer and the composer is given these marching orders, “Copy this as close as you can come,” which does take some degree of one’s own creative impetus out of the process. It just depends on the show and it depends on the people that you are working for.

I think Chris Carter and Steven Cannell, Dick Wolfe, and Steven Bochco, are the last of the great singular people that a composer had to answer to. Not committees and not networks. These guys would tell us what they wanted and it was just wonderful being able to answer to just one person.

SK: That seems to be the reoccurring theme. The more creative freedom talented individuals receive the better the product is going to be. It’s not a law, but it’s definitely something common amongst the great shows of our time.

To me, I think without the success of THE X-FILES, I don’t know if we would have some of the great television scores that we are getting today. Trust begets trust.

MS: I really appreciate that but at this point in the interview I have to give credit to someone who was actually my mentor. I think this man was the absolute first composer for TV music that gave it some legitimacy and that’s Earl Hagen.

Although he did a lot of light hearted and comedy music, his more dramatic music and the range of what he could do was exceptional. He was such a hard worker. In those days there was no such thing as a sampler or a synthesizer. Everything was written out and played by live musicians. If you listen to some of the underscore of some of his dramatic shows it is so brilliant!

He was incredibly generous to young composers who were starting out. He would have this class at his house out in Calabasas California, where there is a big country club that he belonged to. He loved golf. He made a ton of money on all of the TV shows so the fee for getting into the class was a dozen Titleist golf balls.

We would have a ten week session each year. There wouldn’t be more than ten people and once a week we would sit around with him while he played some of his music and teach us about the technical side of things.

I just remember he would never kick you out. If you wanted to stay there until four in the morning, he would be right there with you and you could ask him any question, talk about stuff, or listen to all kinds of music. It was incredibly inspiring.

SK: I’m glad you brought him up. I couldn’t agree more. When he passed away a few weeks ago, I wrote a brief memorial article for Ain’t It Cool News [HERE].

When you talk about the father of television scoring, nobody can quite compare. His body of work is just legendary. That’s an amazing anecdote.

MS: Also, in a funny way, my X-FILES theme with the whistle is sort of my homage to Earl. He whistled (the theme from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) himself. I wasn’t that good of a whistler. But he did it.

SK: That’s awesome!

What I’d like to do now is take you back through THE X-FILES series a little bit. I’m going to mention a handful of individual episodes and I want you to give me some initial thoughts of reflection or an anecdote or whatever comes to your mind when I mention the episode. I’m going to start off with one of the more legendary X-FILES episodes of all time


MS: That was so powerful and so incredible…the idea behind it. All I had to do was sit there at the keyboard as something came up right from my gut, into my fingers and plopped down.

I was possessed absolutely with that episode. I’m telling you, when the shows were that good it was less than easy. It just flowed. It was so natural and came so easily. I don’t know what else to say. It was just so inspiring that you couldn’t miss. You couldn’t go wrong when you were just so completely mesmerized by the show and that was one of the classics. You are absolutely right.

SK: That’s TV history in my opinion. Nobody has seen anything like that since or before and it still remains one of those episodes you clearly remember where you were when you first saw it.

MS: I also thought that it was so powerful even with no music and just sound effects. Like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) and how great that was.

But (HOME) was a classic no doubt about it.

SK: The next one is one of the more beautiful and poignant scores you’ve done for the series. It’s one of my favorites, THE FIELD WHERE I DIED.

MS: There was an opportunity there. So much of the music in the first season or first part of the first year was all of this musical vapor and atmospheric sound design stuff. I knew that I just loved being able to write a melodic piece and here was an opportunity where it presented itself that worked out great.

I was a little nervous when Chris and company would hear a melody. They might think “Uh oh.” I tried to make it as honest and heartfelt as possible.

I think that actually leads right over to what I did with I WANT TO BELIEVE with these themes. Frank Spotnitz is a real straight forward, serious, but good-natured guy and he walked over during one of the recordings of one of these pieces and there were tears in his eyes. That was like, “Wow!”

I don’t want to sound like I’m so full of myself but there were so many magic moments in the scoring of this movie, especially with these themes. I think you will know what I mean when you see it.

SK: The teary eyes from any of your audience members is definitely the ultimate compliment for a film or television composer.

The episode that I consider to be the quintessential episode – if no body had ever seen the show and they said “What one episode should I see?” I would tell them to go see JOSE CHUNG’S FROM OUTER SPACE.

MS: That was such a remarkable episode. Getting Charles Nelson Riley in that was genius. He was just so quirky and perfect. That’s another thing that seemed to play automatic.

The idea…what was sort of like 50’s bebop jazz with the bongos…almost like something from Ed Wood but finger snapping and the piano thing.

Using the little jazz combo – without overdoing it – gave such an interesting flavor and again, very different from most X-FILES music.

SK: THE X-FILES is well-known for darkness and for beauty but one element that often gets overlooked was comedy. I’ve always thought SMALL POTATOES was one of the great comedic episodes of the series.

MS: There was a palette of instruments consisting of strings and woodwinds that I had for that show that in a way dictated some of the other lighthearted or comic shows. The sound relied on pizzicato strings a lot.

Nevertheless it seemed sparse enough and not over-the-top but definitely lighthearted with a lot of good space between notes. There were woodwind solos with pizzicato strings and some piano and every once in a while one of the classic X-FILES weird sounds would pop in.

Those episodes were tons of fun because it really relied on timing. It also seemed that the economy of the music was a big part of that to make it successful.

SK: One of the things I’ve always been curious about is in the episode CLOSURE from the seventh season when you finally learned the fate of Mulder’s sister, it’s one of the rare moments where you didn’t actually compose the music. They cut in “My Weakness” by Moby.

First of all, did you have anything to do with the selection of that piece and I often wondered was it at all disappointing for you not be able to score such a major resolution in the X-FILES mythology?

MS: That’s a good question and luckily for myself, I really thought that song was perfect. I didn’t have anything to do with it or the decision behind it but I felt totally comfortable.

Every once in a while, when Chris would pick out a pop song or whatever, he would always make really great choices and I thought that was a good one.

He was a big fan of Moby at the time and actually my theme for HARSH REALM was inspired by Moby where I used some snippets of Mussolini giving a speech. I used it in sort of a musical-sample way over the dark music. There was sort of a hip-hop type rhythm section I used with this Mussolini thing. It think it had a pretty cool effect actually.

SK: If somebody had told me before watching CLOSURE, that they ended it with a piece that you didn’t compose, I would have screamed “Blasphemy!”

That said, I do think it was one of the more powerful, amazing, and emotional moments in the entire series.

MS: Chris’s taste in pop music and alternative music…I’ve been right there with him.

So that’s always great. I remember in MILLENNIUM, there were some opera pieces and in the great black-and-white show, THE POST-MODERN PROMETHEUS, they took a piece from (Camille) Saint-Saëns, called THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS. So we have been all over the map. What’s that Johnny Cash song? “I’ve been everywhere man…”

I have been everywhere musically with the X-FILES. From harpsichord baroque, string quartets, live sopranos…the Scully theme that people talk about a lot, so…

They were talking about doing another movie after (I WANT TO BELIEVE) and I thought “You are kidding! I thought this was going to be it.” I suppose if this does big business or acceptable business they might keep doing some more. That would be incredible.

SK: Looking back on it all…the show, the two films, in your best summation, what does the X-FILES mean to you?

MS: At first it was an absolute shock! When I first saw the pilot, I knew it was good. I knew it was well done but like everyone else I had no idea whatsoever that it was going to turn into this cult phenomenon.

The magic of that time in my life was just amazing. If that happened again in my life it would be a miracle of miracles. To be a part of something where I do music for either a TV show or a movie that became another iconic thing, that would be amazing. But believe me, I am very satisfied with this one!

SK: Can you recount your experience composing the now classic theme for the THE X-FILES series?

MS: The story about the theme is so cool.

At first, Chris sent me a collection of CDs and music ranging from classical to punk rock to all sorts of things. He said “I like the guitar here. I like the vocals here. I like the drum sound here.” So to make a long story short, I did four themes before I hit upon the final one and all of them were based on material that he gave me.

They were more of what you would think perhaps a sci-fi theme would be: loud, fast, and weird. He was very cool about the whole process. I said, “Look, let’s try this…Let me just start from scratch and erase everything we have done and see what I can come up with. I’m getting to know you better and your musical sensibilities and what you have a taste for, so just give me a shot here.” He said, “Absolutely!”

I remember he walked out of the studio. I put my hand down on the keyboard and I had this delay echo effect which later became the four note piano triplet figure that repeats itself, “Da-da-da, Da-da-da, Da-da-da…” I said, “Wow! That’s a happy accident.” So keeping with the Chris Carter school of music – nothing slick or overproduced and really, really simple – I thought, “What else does it really need?”

It needed a pad of stuff underneath and then a melody and that was it. So I had the piano part. I had the pad combination of a lot of things, and then I came up with this tune.

Then it was a matter of what instrument or sound would play it and I went through everything that makes a sound from saxophone to guitar to flutes, all of the regular instruments and synthesizer stuff. I then stumbled upon this one sound.

I remember my wife hearing that whistle sound. She was out in the yard and the door was open. She came in and said, “You know, that’s pretty cool.”

I got Chris back in my studio and he’s very quiet. He hears it and he says “That’s great” in a very low key way. He kept hearing it and hearing it and he said, “I think that’s it. I think that’s our TWILIGHT ZONE theme.”

Then he said, “OK, now we have to get it approved by Fox so I want to bring it in with you. We’ll both sit there with them and play it.”

I meet him over at the studio and I have a boom box and a CD and we go in there and he looks at his watch and goes, “Oh no! I have a meeting. I can’t stay. Hey guys, this is the theme I want. Here’s Mark Snow… I have got to go.”

So I’m left with these four executives and they are all in suits and they are all very nice and respectful and I played the piece and they looked like they didn’t know what the hell happened. They couldn’t say anything.

One guy said “You know, that is really…I am telling you…” and then he would look to his friend and say “Bill, what do you think?”…“This piece…Sam?” and they would go around the room and no one would say anything. But they signed off on it.

Whatever it was, a month or two later when the show was beginning to take off and the music was getting noticed, one of these guys called up and said “Didn’t I tell you how great that was, huh?”


What do you day? You say “Yes Sir, thank you very much.”

SK: That very first draft that you played for Chris, is that the draft that we hear on the show?

MS: Actually there was a little more stuff in it. He said “Why don’t you just simplify it? You’ve got these three basic elements. Just take out this, this, and this.” It wasn’t too much more.

SK: Are there any particular episodes that I might not have mentioned that seem to stand out in your mind as being a favorite of yours?

MS: Oh God…

SK: Hard question, huh?

MS: That is. I forget the name of the show, but the side show circus group with this guy who had…


MS: Yeah, HUMBUG, where his twin was attached to him and would crawl out in the middle of the night to all kinds of mischief. God that was amazing! I’m just at a loss of remembering names…THE POSTMODERN PROMETHEUS was a big deal. JOSE CHUNG was great. CLYDE BRUCKMAN was a great one…HOME.

SK: THE HOST…That was probably the first slap across the face for people watching the X-FILES in its debut season. They are getting comfortable in the first season and all of a sudden THE HOST comes on, it’s like, “Whoa! This is something different.”

MS: The series of shows that Micheal McKean was in (DREAMLAND and DREAMLAND II)…Just name it. They are all good. The JFK black-and-white in and out with the Cigarette Smoking Man was amazing…

SK: There’s that block of episodes in the fourth season that stick out for me, with HOME, UNRUHE, MUSINGS OF A CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN, NEVER AGAIN, THE FIELD WHERE I DIED…There are like five or six of them within an eight week period that I think represent some of the best episodes of the series. What an amazing run. I have a hard time picking my favorites too.

MS: I remember there was one where there is an Amish sect that has all kinds of crazy stuff going on in a very rural country setting.

I remember using this ram’s horn sound as a signature sound for that episode with just two notes that sounded very primitive. It also had a kind of scary religious overtone to it.

SK: Great stuff! Real quick, do you have anything planned after X-FILES 2? What do you have coming up in the future?

MS: Actually I’m writing a score now that is a completely different change of pace. It’s a kids movie, sort of Tom Sawyer meets Hitchcock and it’s really well done and cute and sweet. It’s an independent movie.

In fact, it’s directed by a guy named Bobby Moresco, who was one of the producers of MILLENNIUM of all things and he also co-wrote CRASH (2004) with Paul Haggis. He really had a love for this story and did a really great job. It’s a lot of fun going from the big X-FILES to this other thing.

SK: Well Mark, I’ve had a blast chatting with you today. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do so. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors hope I can talk more X-FILES again soon.

MS: Thanks! It was my pleasure.

If you’d like to catch a great series of photos from the scoring sessions for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, check out the spread at [HERE] and see Mark in action!

On behalf of Ain’t It Cool News I’d like to thank Mark Snow for his time. He worked in a generous hour between recording sessions for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE in order to talk with me. Time is sparse during such hectic days for a composer and I’m very thankful Mark chose to divvy up some my way.

I’d also like to thank Costa Communications for their assistance with this interview.

There’s no doubt about it…I WANT TO BELIVE!

Shock Till You Drop: Scoring Stage Visit: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Scoring Stage Visit: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Shock Till You Drop
Silas Lesnick

[Original article here]

On 20th Century Fox’s scoring stage, producer Frank Spotnitz and composer Mark Snow seem to share the energetic second wind of two artist who know they’re in the home stretch. Months after we were invited out to the set of The X-Files: I Want to Believe (read Ryan Rotten’s report here), the pair are overseeing the scoring of the same scene we witnessed with intense, booming notes that mark a decided departure from the television series to something much grander on-screen.

Snow, who scored the series from its very first episode (including 1998’s The X-Files: Fight the Future feature film), has evolved as a composer, moving across dozens of other projects since the series premiered in 1993. He concentrates on the images on-screen, syncing his orchestral sound with the picture.

By his side stands Spotnitz who – joining Chris Carter’s 10:13 Productions in the The X-Files‘ second season – has been working on the show for nearly as long. He wrote nearly 50 of the series’ episodes, shares a story credit on Fight the Future with Carter and co-penned/produced I Want to Believe. How much of this is starting something brand new and how much is returning to material you’ve already created before?
Mark Snow:
That’s a good question, because it was 10 years ago that we did the first movie and this one is totally different. It’s a different time, musically, for the world and for me. And having the wonderful nine years of the show and the first movie, there were certain kinds of sounds and instruments that I’d use that have found their way back in this one, but morphed in a sense and a different perspective and a different creative sensibility about it. With this movie, there’s still so many complex musical motifs. For example, there’s a lot of percussion stuff that just plays by itself. There are some very, really emotional pieces of music that people might not associate with classic X-Files sounds. And then the combination of my own studio electronic stuff that I did on the TV show and now with this almost 100-piece orchestra. And we’ve got a live boy soprano singing, coming in later. We’ve got a second orchestra that just plays effects, not music. We had a session where I just conducted and gave them instructions on what kind of sort of sound effect things to do, not melodic pieces. There’s a fellow who’s doing a special percussion sample overdubbed. So, we’ve got two orchestras, all my synth master tracks, a singer and we’ve got the greatest mixer here, Alan Meyerson, who’s done every big movie in the last five years. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. He’s just amazing. This is a great scoring stage.

Shock: How has the musical world changed since the last movie? Is it bringing in those percussive elements?
I think mostly it’s about what the movie is about. I mean, after reading the script and I spoke to Chris Carter. The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘This is a love story, mostly, with religious sort of overtones and spiritual overtones, so just keep that in mind.’ But I’m reading along and there are some pretty wild things that go on. I’m trying to make sure that the love story really becomes apparent to the audience. And it’s a big part of it.

Shock: What’s your process? Where did you start?
Well, I start with my home studio stuff. And then, there are glorified demos of all the material so I can play it for Frank and Chris and get the this, or the this, or the this. I can adjust those. It’s interesting, because now we have the orchestra here. By the time the orchestra comes in, it’s just pure pleasure, because there are no surprises. Everyone knows what the music is going to be, but now it’s fleshed out with this marvelous group. After it’s mixed all together, it should be a great CD.

Shock: Do you assign specific motifs to the characters and themes? How do you come up with what the body of what the score’s going to be?
It seems – and actually with the TV show as well – there were mostly themes for situations, not so much for characters – oh, here comes someone, oh, this theme. I mean, that’s a little traditional, a little old-fashioned. I don’t think that applies to this. This is more of a standalone episode rather than the mythology episode that the first movie was, which is really kind of fun, because there’s a little more room to have a more creative palette with this. The mythology movie, there was a certain palette that I established in the TV show that flourished in the movie, but this one has really more latitude and room to do some crazy stuff.

Shock: How long ago did you start?
I guess it was as soon as there was the first rough cut, which was about a month and a half ago. The nerve-wracking thing about that is we had to sort of race to do a temp dub. I had to write music, myself and Jeff Charbonneau, the music editor, had to prepare music for this temp dub pretty quickly so the studio people could see it and start their discussions and how they wanted to shape the movie and work with Chris and Frank. But that was very helpful, because we saw what was working, what wasn’t, what areas needed help and it was a really good place to start. It was frustrating, because then getting to the final cut took quite a quite a while and we were all, ‘Let’s go. When are we going to get it?’ Anyway, it arrived and we’re here and it’s going to be great.

Shock: On the temp dub, was it existing X-Files music or did you get something new?
It was half and half. There was some existing X-Files stuff and stuff that I’d written. It was a short time to prepare for that, so I couldn’t do too much. But the music editor and myself got it together in time.

Shock: Had you read the script previously to get some kind of feel or idea for it?
It was the emotional part of the script that was most interesting, because then I could hone in on this melodic, thematic part. There are two major melodic themes that appear in the movie that I think, if people heard alone, they might not associate with X-Files, but in this particular case it just marries up beautifully. And then having that interspersed with all the mysterious atmospheric sounds and stuff.

Shock: Frank, can you talk about what your collaboration was? What kind of guidance did you give him?
Frank Spotnitz:
Well, that’s the beauty of working with Mark, is that obviously he knows X-Files and the X-Files musical palette better than anyone, because he created it. So there’s not a lot, honestly, of discussion. It’s general, like you were saying. The love story is important or we talked a lot about atonal stuff, sections of the movie that aren’t melodic. But just very general, because Mark knows how to do it better than anybody. It’s more us reacting to what he does than providing guidance.

Snow: It’s always collaborative. The collaborative nature of it is always very, very exciting to me, because sometimes I think I’m dead-on with something and here’s something, and it’s like, ‘What the hell is that?’ No. Or vice versa. I’ll write something and say, ‘I don’t know if this is all right.’ And it’s like, ‘No, no. Just make more of that.’ That’s the excitement for me in film music, it’s that collaboration. You’re alone and you do it and then you bring it out there.

Spotnitz: My favorite part of the process is hearing his music, because I don’t do a thing. I just sit there and the movie gets fifty percent better. That’s not an exaggeration. It gets fifty percent better just from the music. And it’s also interesting because Mark is like this amazing barometer, and you can judge how successful what you’ve done based on his music. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what we did.’ It’s like a counterpoint to what you’ve done and in some ways it’s like, the better the score is, probably the better the movie is. There was this cue you did last week, Steve was there, and we were just sitting there and we were all silent afterwards and it was just like… [Spotnitz claps] It was so fantastic.

Snow: I’ll make a note. Which one was that? I’ll make a note.

Shock: You talk about the romantic theme, but Frank has mentioned there are a lot of scares. What’s the balance for you? Is it just seeing what the footage ends up being like or punctuating something that jumps out? How do you figure those moments?
I think it’s sort of the challenging part about that. Where you need a good sense of sophistication, there are moments where you could do so little and it could be so amazingly effective. And then, on the other hand, where you can really jump on something. When you see the movie in full tilt, you’ll see these sections where wow, the orchestra is just going crazy, you know. Other times where it’s just making these atmospheric sounds. But there’s action yet, it’s just sort of my feel for the material and the experience of doing the show from the get go, of knowing when to sort of hold ’em and knowing when to fold ’em.

Shock: Do you think modern technology could ever replace a live orchestra?
It’s getting close, but I don’t think so. I mean, what’s fascinating in this combination is there’s such cool mysterious sounds that I’ve sort of invented or altered, taken something that you might know as a, for a lack of any better word, a bell, and toned it down and taken the attack off, and it used to sound like “ding” and now it sounds like “wha.” All these kinds of interesting electronically treated sounds are laying in there in a special way for me, and the orchestra plays along. The combination is really interesting.

Shock: The level of secrecy that the filmmakers have had, have you had the same amount of secrecy?
Well, I guess there’s certain things I can’t reveal. You know, if I said something about a certain musical section.

Shock: Give us an example.
When I got the script, the cover was bare and I opened the first page and it had my name watermarked on each page. Underneath, ‘Dear Mark, you will be killed if this finds its way into the world somehow.’ So, you’d better shut up. Also, when I get footage it has my name on the film, “Mark Snow. Do not copy.” If one of my kids takes this thing and chucks it into the garbage and someone sneaks around, I’m in trouble. Anyway, that’s not going to happen.

Spotnitz: I have to tell you as an aside, I was flying and I had a DVD of the movie because I had to give notes and I was out of town. I’m in the airplane and I’m flying coach, and I’m about to load the DVD into my laptop and it dropped. It’s the second half of the movie. This is true. And it says, ‘Frank Spotnitz. Do not Copy.’ I’m reaching on the floor under my coach seat and I can’t feel the DVD. I look and the woman next to me is asleep, so I can’t sort of…I’m contorting around, trying to get the DVD, I could make the story go on for quite a while. I couldn’t find it, I asked everybody in the plane, all the way back to the back. It was about an hour and I was in absolute agony, and it turned out that it had fallen and slid like here, behind my seat. The guy behind me finally pulled it out. It was just like, I could see it happening. It would be on the Internet. Like, somehow the X-Files fan behind me realized what this was.

Shock: Can you talk about the atmosphere or tone of the music. Were there any classical cues or composers that you took inspiration from?
Snow: When I was in New York, a student at Julliard, I was a huge fan of avant-garde music, and I guess one of them… For me the most exciting thing about X-Files is when we did the pilot, they tracked music from other movies and Chris said, ‘I love the sparseness of this underscore, and I love just tons of very atmospheric supportive music under dialogue.’ No slick stuff, no melody, just pads and supportive atonal kind of mush, in a way. That was very successful at the beginning, and it got to be a little old at about episode eight or something. I slowly started to sneak some other things in it. It was based on my early experiences as a student being influenced by Ligeti, Penderecki, Xenakis, I mean all these really atonal composers. And the beauty of it is I kept sneaking these different elements in there and no one said stop. It was encouraged. Then eventually some melodic themes came in and it just blossomed beautifully. No one ever sat on me and said, ‘No, no, no. Go back to the original. Just tread water here.’ That was the most exciting thing that I naturally just followed my own instincts, and that’s so unusual, because most TV shows and films you’re sort of told what to do or here’s the temp music and please sort of copy it.
Spotnitz: And because the episodes were so varied, the score was so varied as well. It was just an incredible range.

Snow: From black comedy to all the scariest stuff possible.

Shock: Have there been any scenes in the movie where you thought this needed some score accompaniment and you saw the scene and you thought it would work better without music?
I don’t know. It felt like we were pretty much in agreement.

Spotnitz: Yeah. I think there are some cues we’re recording here that at the end of the day we might not be using. We’ll see. I think we’ve decided we’ll cover ourselves and then we’ll decide whether to pull back.

Shock: You basically design wall-to-wall music and then figure out what fits and what doesn’t?
No, I mean we’re used to a certain kind of working relationship where we sort of have an instinct with each other knowing where things should go. If you err on the ‘a little too much’ it’s much easier to take it out than to add at the last minute.

Shock: How was it years later to come back and revisit this franchise? Was it easy to get back into it or was it like an old friend?
That’s sort of the same thing. Was it easy to get back? Yes. Was it an old friend? Yes. It was just fantastic, especially that this movie was more of an individual standalone piece, where the palette…there was much more room for new kind of X-Files sounds, if you will.

Shock: Are there any fears that X-Files fans are going to not recognize it? Because what we heard sounds very broad and huge.
Well, that piece might not be…

Snow: There’s another version of that, by the way, that is so totally different. But it remains to be seen which piece will survive. All I can say is from the very opening of the movie there will be no disappointed X-Files fans.

Spotnitz: I agree. If we can, I’d like to play that music without picture before you guys go. To me, it sounds unmistakably like The X-Files. It’s like we were saying…in the series Mark did such an incredible range of styles of music and he has something very personal that you recognize regardless of what it does.

Snow: But seeing, also, how the characters have grown and changed, just physically over the years, and what’s going on with their relationship in the movie made a big impact on me in coming up with these emotional pieces, because it couldn’t be over-the-top schmaltzy. It had to have a real super honest, emotional quality about it. I think the fans, it’ll help them get what they want out of this. They’ll be very satisfied.

Spotnitz: That’s the thing. I don’t know what the fans were expecting this movie to be. I said before, I don’t know what they think it is, but I can tell you it’s not a cynical movie. There’s nothing about it that is calculated, ‘Oh, they’re going to want this.’ I think you’ll see that when you see it. It’s a heartfelt film with integrity and I suspect people will respond to that, or not, but that felt like the right thing to do rather than trying to be calculating and handicapping, ‘They’re going to want this.’ The movie has none of that quality.

Shock: Sometimes soundtracks reveal spoilers in the titles of the songs. Are you guys taking any precautions?
Track one, track two, track three. [laughs] No, it’s a good point, though. I hadn’t thought about that. But that’s a good point. We’ll have to be careful.

Snow: It’ll be in French.

Shock: How has the nature of composing changed since you first started. Do people want the same kind of music that they did then?
Well, this temp track thing is a big deal. Nobody wants to be surprised anymore. So they put temp music in these movies and it’s discussed with the composer and if the composer has a big reputation like John Williams, etc., they’ll always use his stuff, so he’s sort of copying himself. It used to be, when I would conduct the orchestras, the producers and director didn’t know exactly what was coming and there were always those moments I call walking the plank. It’s where you’d be out there conducting and you’d have to walk back into the control room and hear the comments or in your headset you’d get something like, ‘Mark, could you come in here please.’ And you think, ‘Oh, shit. I’m dead.’ Or, ‘Oh, man, you’re the greatest blah, blah, blah.’ And sometimes they’d fool me and say, ‘Mark, uh, we’ve got to talk.’ I’d go in there like, ‘Oh, shit.’ And I’d walk in and they’d go, ‘Yeah!’ Like, ‘What just happened?’ But I think for a lot of composers it’s been sort of frustrating, a safety net for the studios, that there aren’t going to be a lot of surprises and, like, ‘Wow, what the hell is that? We didn’t expect that.’

Shock: Putting you under the gun here, you’ve been around since day one, story-wise, what do you think about this movie? How does it stand?
I thought it was an amazing script. I had to read it at least twice, and I read it a third time. On the second reading, I started making notes, so I made sure I understood exactly what was going on. It’s very dense and complex. And seeing it on the printed page is so one-dimensional compared when the film is fleshed out. I had to re-read things and make sure, ‘Is that right?’ Because sometimes there will be literally a half of a line that’s like a clue to a big part of it, and if you just kind of fluff over it, the story is like, ‘What? What the hell happened here?’

Shock: How much of a break do you take between movies? Do they kind of overlap?
It depends on if you’re offered something. You can’t do too many things at the same time. I guess it’s a good question. The worst time of that for all of us, we were doing the X-Files series, the X-Files movie, Millennium and was there one more?

Spotnitz: That was it.

Snow: That was it. I remember, I’ve never seen this before, but Chris Carter’s a pretty mellow guy. He talks quietly, there’s nothing really flamboyant about him. I came out of the scoring stage and I saw him, like one of those keystone cop movies running from one end of the lot to the next. I mean, literally running. It’s totally unlike him. And he said, ‘Man, that that was the toughest.’ For you too? We were all dying. But we survived.

Shock: Was it hard to keep the music from overlapping?
That wasn’t too bad. Millennium luckily it had a sound of its own. It was in the dark realm as well, but it had this thing with this violin thing and that never showed up in X-File-land. That was kind of easy to keep that off to the side.

Shock: For the trailer, did you do the music on that?
That’s become a whole art form in itself. I mean, apparently, for good reason, that is so important, that the trailer get people to show up on opening weekend. Those trailer people, if they think some other music is right, they use it, or if music from X-Files is right, they use it, or a combination, and I think, in fact, my wife called me last night, she saw it on Fox TV, that they played the trailer and she heard [whistles X-Files theme].

Spotnitz: Weren’t there five pieces of music in that trailer? Five distinct pieces. They saved the little thing for the end, the best.

Snow: Which is going to be in the movie. [laughs]

Spotnitz: Surprise, surprise.

Shock: Is there a point where you feel like you’ve used it way too much? How did you decide how many times to put that in?
Well, there are a couple of times it’s used as you once knew it and loved it by itself. And, I don’t know if I can [talk about it]. Throughout the score, you’ll hear it mixed in with the score in variation. It’s sort of subliminal, but I’m sure, it’s such a simple tune, it will…

Spotnitz: It works on you, though. Like at times you’re watching the movie and you go, ‘I feel something,’ and you go, ‘Oh.’ It does have its affect.

Snow: You can use it, it’s six notes, sometimes it’s four or three. All you have to do is, ‘Duh dee.’ I mean, that’s it. ‘Duh dee duh.’ That’s enough sometimes. But there are a couple of really cool variations of it.

Spotnitz: There’s one, when you see the movie you’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s what they wouldn’t tell us.’ There’s one that’s very memorable.

Shock: Is the process of composing for you very academic? Is it literally constructing these pieces or is it kind of intuitive?
Because of the advent of the technology, electronics, I’ll sit down and I’ll have the movie synched up to my equipment, I’ll push ‘go’ and I’ll start sort of improvising and playing along with it. Then ideas come and they start to grow and form, and that’s really how it happens. God, I remember my first jobs where you’d go, you’d see a show, there was no video. They’d give you these timing notes where every tenth of a second someone jumps or runs or dialogue and you’re trying to imagine this and you’re writing it out, you know? There’s no keyboards. You have a piano, certainly. But things have really changed. I mean, John Williams still sits down and writes out his sketches and they’re copied just like the old days. He is, for that stuff, the best.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe opens in theaters on July 25th.

Scoring Sessions: Mark Snow scores The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Mark Snow scores The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Dan Goldwasser

[Original article here]

This week at the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox, composer Mark Snow returned the franchise that gave him six Emmy nominations when he scored The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the new feature film based on the cult television show that became a phenomenon.

Details on the session and the music remain a mystery, but we can tell you that Pete Anthony conducted the Hollywood Studio Symphony, and in the booth scoring mixer Alan Meyerson was at the console along with composer Mark Snow and orchestrator Jonathan Sacks.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe will be released on July 25, 2008.

Special thanks to Ray Costa for the photographs!

1. Pete Anthony conducts the Hollywood Studio Symphony
2. Composer Mark Snow and scoring mixer Alan Meyerson
3. The mixing console at the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox
4. The bass section
5. Orchestrator Jonathan Sacks, composer Mark Snow and scoring mixer Alan Meyerson
6. Pete Anthony conducts The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Soundtrax: X-Files Revisited

Soundtrax: Episode 2008-11
X-Files Revisited
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.

Mark Snow

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!

Music from the Movies: Speaking the Truth – Mark Snow on reopening The X Files

Music from the Movies
Speaking the Truth – Mark Snow on reopening The X Files
Michael Beek

[Original article here]

Strange things are happening… again, this time in the snowy wilderness of Virginia, where a series of mysteries invite many questions and very few answers. While the FBI scratches its combined heads, a couple of familiar faces are drafted in to help find the truth…

The X Files have been re-opened on the big screen six years (can you believe it?) after ‘The Truth’ was told and the curtain drawn on nine years of paranormal investigations, personal tragedies and an all consuming search for answers. The show, which was a phenomenon in itself, made icons of the names Mulder and Scully, not to mention the sight of flashlights in the dark. It also made international superstars of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, who return to the roles that brought them to the public conscience and together make us want to ‘Believe’ all over again.

One of the series’ strengths, aside from a raft of fine storytellers and actors, was its music. Despite a lengthy career in film and television prior to 1993, it was six notes that made Mark Snow’s name around the world, not to mention week after week of emotive, exciting scoring and all achieved with his own fair hands in his studio. As the years flew by, the music continued to scare, hearten and amuse audiences and in 1998 fans were treated to the first movie, Rob Bowman’s The X Files. The film offered the composer the grand opportunity to engorge his music with a full orchestra, delivering what remains an exciting and wholly listenable score on album.

Ten years later and Mark returns with Mulder and Scully to the silver screen for The X Files: I Want To Believe, and once again he’s been let out of his studio to play with much bigger toys and paint his music with an enlarged palette of sounds. The result is again a stunner, with its roots firmly in the weighty emotional textures and that melody we’ve known and loved for fifteen years.

I was able to catch up with Mark Snow recently to speak with him about returning to old friends and creating new music for the reopening of The X Files

Mark it has been over 6 years since you scored for The X Files; has it been a welcome return to familiar ground?

It has indeed. I guess the most exciting part of it is that this movie is basically like one of the standalone episodes from the series, which has always afforded me much more creative space and I’ve been encouraged to experiment as much as I want, while the mythology stories are more of a classical sort of traditional film music genre. But this one was really exciting because, amongst other things, I got to write some really beautiful melodies – which is not really something The X Files music is known for.

It’s quite an ensemble you assembled I gather?

There was a marvellous combination of two different kinds of orchestras, an aleatoric orchestra where there was no music but I basically gave the orchestra verbal instructions to do certain effects. Whatever seemed right we made variations of and sprinkled those on the large orchestra, which by the way contained no trumpets and no high woodwinds. I just wanted a little darker sound and also all the midi samples and synths stuff on top of that, plus some singers – especially this counter tenor, this male voice that sounds like a female mezzo soprano which is a very eerie sound and used so much in renaissance and medieval music – and then there was a percussion sampler. So all of these elements together was really such a marvellous grab-bag of tricks and stuff to employ in the score – and I had this great mixer Alan Meyerson who did The Dark Knight and all the Pirates movies, so that was great. So it was great having all these things at my disposal and having people pat me on the back and smile at me saying ‘come on Mark you can do it, you can do it…’ (laughs).

It must be great to be able to give your music that kind of brevity once in a while given that you’re usually locked away in your studio on your own!?

Right, you know and the thing is that I’ve been practising my stand-up comedy routines for a while and being in front of the orchestra you know -seriously, just to be out in public for Christ sake – is always a brilliant thing (laughs).

Did you ever think you’d be returning to these characters again?

I never thought I wouldn’t; I always thought it was a distinct possibility and I remember probably about five years ago Chris Carter calling me from London and saying ‘hey we’ve got another one coming so get ready, sharpen your pencil…’. So I said okay and then there were some legal matters he had to work out with Fox that finally got settled and then the stars’ availability came into focus and away it went.

What is it about The X Files that you think gets people so excited, even all these years later?

That’s a very good question. I think it’s sort of knowing that from week to week on the series there were so many unexpected things; even with the standalone shows you’d wonder what kind of monster would it be, would it be a monster, would it be some vapour, would it be a child speaking in tongues and then turning people into Rabbits – who knows?! And I think that’s part of the excitement of this one; and also for the fans, wondering where the relationship with Scully and Mulder is headed.

That relationship is a complex one at times – they’re together, they’re not together – what challenges or inspiration does their chemistry offer you as a composer?

Well there are some marvellous moments, as I said earlier, of being able to do some melodic music and, as corny as it sounds, dare I say a ‘love theme’ that’s sometimes unrequited and sometimes successful. So there’s variations of that, with their complex on again/off again relationship.

Now the plot of I Want To Believe has characteristically remained a secret – I don’t suppose you can tell us anything about what we can expect from this film?

Well the interesting part was, when I read the script the first thing I got out of it was deep, dark complexity and I spoke to Chris Carter afterwards and he said ‘what do you think?’, I said ‘man, it’s so complex and dark and mysterious’, and he said ‘and it’s a love story with religious overtones…’ Okay! He said ‘just keep that in mind’ and you know I re-read it and I got what he meant, and then seeing the movie I certainly got what he meant. Besides the Mulder and Scully relationship there are some other very very emotional, intimate if you would, moments there that do add spiritual and religious weight to it. And that’s where this counter tenor voice comes in and it felt like such a great fit for this sort of ecclesiastical sound; but very intimate, not a big broad choir sound, just a soloist singing over some very modal and transparent music.

So amongst that have you been able to add in some of the Mark Snow ‘sound’ that we would recognise?

Oh certainly, absolutely. There’s the naked X Files theme that happens three times in the movie and each time it seems such a completely dissimilar place and sometimes it’s actually hilarious, sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it’s extremely tender and heartfelt. There are also variations of the theme and using two or three of the notes as little motifs throughout the score so as not to have people forget where they’re at.

So it’s quite a versatile theme then in that sense; you can get quite a lot out of it?

Right, that’s what you get when you’ve got six simple notes (laughs)

Is it difficult to retain your sound when thinking orchestrally though? The style we’ve become accustomed to is very much a synthetic one – is it an evolution of your sound maybe?

No, I mean the orchestra can only do so much actually, as well as all the synth things, and when you combine them it’s great, but especially for The X Files. Plus I had the ancillary orchestra, which were almost like sound effects in and of themselves.

You mentioned using the X Files theme; are there new thematic threads in this new score?

Well there are and I’m trying to figure out a way how I can describe them without giving away plot points (laughs). But definitely one is a very heartfelt, tender and intimate theme and then there’s a love theme and they both get really great treatment so I’m just gonna have to let you see that when it happens…

You mentioned the religioso aspects to the music, but I’m sure this film has a few traditional spinetingling moments too. Do you enjoy working in the shadows and creating dark stuff?

I do. You know when I was a student in New York at Julliard and I was an oboe player, I was very much into avant garde, contemporary music. So The X Files was the first project where I could really delve into my past, my sort of beloved younger days as a music student and do this music that I felt so akin to, so close to and so personally part of my musical background and fabric. And so to be able to exploit it here… I thought ‘oh my god are these guys gonna get it?’ and they might not have intellectually understood it, but they certainly emotionally got it and that was all important.

You mentioned the love theme etc. Those pieces must be a breath of fresh air in a world of darkness and shadows?

Right, and I’m really looking forward to you listening to this. If I could mention that on the CD, I’m not sure what number the track is, but there’s a piece called ‘Surgery’. That’s particularly sort of one of my favourite pieces in the score…

I was going to ask if you had a favourite moment…

Right, well that’s one of them anyway! You know there’s other contrasting things, but that really turned out beautifully. That’s not a typical X Files sound whatsoever…

I see… well one of my favourite cues from the first film is ‘Crater Hug’ – would that be in a similar mould?

Yeah that’s a good point, it is but this is a little more intimate and is in its own way you know slightly baroque and medieval, so to speak. It’s a little quieter and a little more intimate, while that was a bigger, more expansive piece.

You obviously wrote a lot of music for the original series’ – will any more of that become commercially available do you think? It seems a shame that it won’t be heard outside the series…

Well I’ve got good news on that; I think they’re going to be doing that, releasing another CD…

That will be great – who’s doing that?

Well certainly through Fox, but I think it’s going to be on the Decca label that this soundtrack is on.

And will you have input in its production, selecting pieces and such?

Yes indeed, I will…

In which case you have to include the vocal theme you wrote for Scully in one of the later seasons!

Oh right! Yeah certainly… That’s a good point because that ‘Surgery’ piece and that Scully thing, there might be I think a similar emotional feel. But the ‘Surgery’ thing is much more detailed and much more colour and much more going on.

So is the last we’ve seen of Mulder & Scully on screen do you think?

You know, this movie, most of it takes place in a snowy cold climate and after the movie was mixed I overheard Chris talking to Frank Spotnitz the producer and saying ‘we gotta do the next one in Hawaii, this is ridiculous!’ So I think really what it boils down to is if this one makes money and does well there would be no reason not to go onto another one.

Well let’s hope so…

I do…

Well this certainly isn’t the last we’ve seen of you… What’s coming up for you?

Well oddly enough Chris Carter has just directed another movie, but it’s something he’s financed himself and it has nothing to do whatsoever with X Files themes or any subject matter of that ilk. It has all unknown actors and they’re all just brilliant and it is kind of slightly autobiographical – he shot it in the town in California that he grew up in, which is Bellflower near Anaheim and Disneyland. So as I say slightly autobiographical, you know, accent on slightly

Bit of surfing involved then..?

(laughs) well no there’s none of that , but all I can say is think Blue Velvet… and that’s as much as I can tell you about that. Again with him secrecy is everything.

So in terms of television, you’re still attached to Smallville?

No I’m finished with Smallville. They’re going on for one more year, but they cut everyone’s budget way way down and I thought it was time to go; all the producers left and they have sort of a skeleton crew. It’s definitely the last year and I thought it was time for me to go on that. I’m doing the fourth year of this Ghost Whisperer show and hopefully I’ve got some other irons in the fire; there’s a movie in New York that I might be doing – but I don’t wanna talk about it, don’t wanna jinx it!

The X Files: I Want To Believe is in cinemas now and Mark’s score is available on the Decca Records label.

My thanks to Mark Snow and to Melissa McNeil at Costa Communications. X-Files Music: Composer Mark Snow: The Ambience Is Out There

X-Files Music: Composer Mark Snow
The Ambience Is Out There
Randall D. Larson

For the last eight years, The X-Files has been mesmerizing its television audiences with its mysterious entities, government conspiracies, alien abductions, malevolent mutants, and whimsical creatures, all wrapped up in a detective-show type format. Among the various elements that bred its dark, pensive ambience has been the musical contributions of Mark Snow, the only composer the series has utilized thus far. Snow’s ominous musical atmospheres have intensified the show’s sense of apprehension and otherworldliness, while also supporting its eclectic storylines and rampant creativity.

Although X-Files, has given Snow his greatest claim to fame, the composer actually has been scoring television since 1976. He studied oboe at New York’s Julliard Academy of Music, where he became friends with Michael Kamen, another music student who would end up working in film. The two of them formed a band they called The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble in the late 1960s. It was an encounter with “Planet Of The Apes”, including Jerry Goldsmith’s modernistic 12-tone music, that caught Snow’s attention and directed his path towards a career in movies.

Aided by his wife (sister of actors Tyne Daly and Tim Daly; daughter of James Daly), Snow gained introductions in Hollywood and started working as a composer for Aaron Spelling on the TV series, “The Rookies”. Other assignments followed, including “Starsky & Hutch”, and before long Snow found a comfortable niche scoring for television. He got involved with The X-Files at its inception, and his music has gone on to become another character in the series, as prevalent and as important as Skinner, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, or the Lone Gunmen.

Snow’s main theme is a rhythmic amalgamation of synclavier and an electronically reprocessed melody whistled by his wife, which was sampled and doubled with a music software program called Proteus2. That simple 5-note motif musically symbolizes all that the X-Files is about, with its furtive, spooky ambience and a rhythmic cadence of adventure and investigation.

During the show’s first season, Snow emphasized a brooding, ambient soundscape, but as the series progressed, he found more opportunities for musical development. “From day one, with the pilot, everyone involved from Chris Carter on down wanted a lot of music,” says Snow. “At first he was talking about ambient, atmospheric, basic synth-pad material, and that’s what I did at the beginning. It got boring and too ordinary, so I opened it up. Chris didn’t mind, and after the first year he just let me go off on my own. As the years went on, it became more musical and less sound design-oriented. Now it’s a pretty good mix of the two.”

Snow likes to maintain an open palette of sounds for his X-Files scores and relishes the freedom he’s given to compose a variety of musical styles while maintaining an overall atmosphere of ominous danger. “It seems that people respond to my suspenseful music as if it’s this really new approach, but it’s really just the style of music I’ve come to love over the years, since I was a student,” says Snow. “Music by Varese, John Cage, all the real atonal material that perhaps I like more than some other composers. I think some of those sounds and techniques work great in suspense. On The X-Files, I mix that with a more traditional scoring approach.”

“Musically, the show has evolved from being more ambient, sound-design kind of material into some melodic music, in a dark, Mahleresque style,” said Snow, who has received several Emmy nominations for his X-Files music. “What is great about it is that I can go back and forth. There’s always a combination of the two styles. I’ve done flashbacks and dream sequences that are all very aleatoric and tonal, avant-garde sound design, with wonderfully weird combinations of sound and music, and then it goes back into the style of Mahler or Bruckner or late Beethoven!”

The variety of the series, which contrasts the ongoing mythology stories with a number of stand-alone, monster-of-the-week episodes, gives Snow plenty of opportunities for musical diversity. “When we have these stand-alone-or what I call ’boutique’-episodes, some of which verge on black comedy, there’s a lot of cute things I can do,” says Snow. “The big mythological/conspiracy/cover-up shows are fairly drab, and there’s not much room for anything but the real dark approach.”

In Season 4’s tongue-in-cheek episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,'” Snow arranged a cheesy muzak-version of the show’s main theme, which plays during the alien autopsy sequence-the only time he’s used the show’s title theme in the body of an episode score. His music for “The Post-Modern Prometheus” in Season 5 paid homage to John Morris’s score for “The Elephant Man”, a film whose storyline and visual style shared a lot with this episode. The 6th Season episode, “Triangle,” gave Snow the opportunity to compose Swing music for sequences occurring on a 1940s cruise ship. More recently, in Season 8’s “Via Negativa,” Snow crafted a powerful and frightening amalgamation of electronic and acoustic patterns and sounds that leant a potent, nightmarish mood of apprehension in the dream sequences. In an earlier 8th season episode, “Invocation,” Snow adapted the children’s folk song, “All the Little Horses,” into a variety of arrangements for piccolos and voices that become a haunting musical description of the kidnapped boy whose sudden reappearance, 10-years later, opens up a ghostly tale that could have come out of “The Others”.

Snow has anywhere from three to five days to write up to half an hour of music for each weekly episode. “The hardest part is the beginning,” he says. “Figuring out the palette of sounds and instruments, and doing that first cue. After that’s done, it starts falling into place.”

When X-Files creator Chris Carter created Millennium, about a former FBI agent with a psychic affinity for profiling the murderously depraved, Mark Snow came along to supply the music. While both shows dwell on dark subjects, Snow provided a somewhat lighter tone by contrasting the darker music with an element of quasi-Celtic folk material. “When they first came to me, they said they wanted the music to depict good and bad, heaven and hell, hope and horror,” says Snow. “I asked them, ‘Which is it more? Is it more dark or more light? Is it more horror than hope, or what?’ And they said ‘Yeah.’ So I came up with this single voice, which turned out to be a solo violin, with this dark percussion accompaniment. I had these folky, Celtic violin solos with the sleek, dark synthesizer rumbling. I’d gotten into more specific dark music with this Celtic contrast, whether it’s solo violin or solo harp or solo woodwind. That seems to have worked well.” The expressive violin tends to speak for the heart of Frank Blake, the show’s reluctant hero, while the synthesizer patterns represent the darker world in which he works, confronting the various faces of evil.

Snow got his biggest feature assignment to date from The X-Files movie in 1998. With the canvas of a widescreen theatrical feature, Snow had the opportunity to expand the scope of his television music and orchestrate it much more broadly. Most pleasing was the chance to redevelop themes, motifs, and stylisms he’d composed for the show’s 30-odd musicians into a full orchestra of 85 players. “Ninety percent of the score is big orchestra combined with electronics,” Snow said at the time of the film’s release. “I think the best thing, thematically, that’s come out of the feature is the X-Files Theme itself, which was harmonized and orchestrated in different settings that have never appeared on the TV show. The TV version is sort of a one-note pad with simple accompaniment. With the feature, I’ve put different kinds of harmonization to it. It doesn’t happen every place, but it happens enough that anyone who knows the theme would recognize it.” The orchestration was fairly standard but the inclusion of extra basses and five percussionists gave the music a deep dynamic and a wider scope.

Snow created a few new themes for the movie. “There is a veiled theme for the Cigarette-Smoking Man,” said Snow. “It’s not as much melodic as it is harmonic. It’s a bunch of minor chords going from one to another. There’s a theme for the Elders, the Well-Manicured Man, and the older conspiracy figures.” Some of these themes were carried into the 1998 TV season finale, which acted as a sort of prelude to the movie, which was released later that summer.

Far from the TV series’ five days, Snow had a lavish five months to compose 75 minutes of music for the X-Files feature. Snow said that a major concern on the feature was to carry through the honesty of the music from the series into the size and scope of widescreen cinema. “My biggest challenge was in understanding how to make that jump without it seeming like a score by Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner or another big name movie composer.”

Snow went from the X-Files feature into another feature film thriller called “Disturbing Behavior” before returning to Ten Thirteen productions for the new season of The X-Files. Snow still finds time to score about five or six feature or TV films a year, including such TV thrillers as Dean Koontz’s “Sole Survivor,” “Stranger In My House”, and Dean Koontz’s “Mr. Murder”. Quite unlike his X-Files music, his scores for made-for-TV movies-dramas, murder mysteries, Westerns-have been quite romantic and melodic. He provided a lavish and harmonious score for ABC’s Jules Verne fantasy, “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”. He also composed the theme for the TV incarnation of “Le Femme Nikita”, and provided music for some manic episodes of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”. In 2000, he wrote a score for an action video game called “Giants”.

But The X-Files remains inescapable for the composer, whose career continues to be defined, if not restricted by, his musical efforts for Mulder and Scully and company. “If there’s any sense of style that I have now, it was really The X-Files that put me over the hump and got me up into another level,” Snow said. “It made me experiment with a lot of different approaches, and it made me comfortable with that.” In fact, with the 2001 debut of a spin-off series, “The Lone Gunmen”, Snow will continue to lay down the fundamental ambient atmosphere that intensifies the X-Files world. The series, set to debut in March, should give Snow some new opportunities as he musically characterizes the personalities of the conspiracy-busting trio. “The main theme starts out with the Star Spangled Banner, ala Jimi Hendrix guitar solo,” said Snow. “Then it goes into a rhythm pattern, and then into the main tune from guitar. It sounds a little like a hipper version of “Mission: Impossible”. It has that spy vibe to it.”

Snow also scored Chris Carter’s short-lived 1999 series, Harsh Realm, laying down an X-Files-ian atmosphere but deriving his approach more from the duality of the series’ setting, half in the real world and half in the virtual reality of Harsh Realm. “In the most simplistic way, I’ve used conventional, traditional instruments like pianos and strings for the real world, and more of the sound design in the Harsh Realm world,” said Snow. There was a blurring of the edges on occasion; for example, when Snow needed to accentuate an emotional moment in the virtual world, he’d bring in the strings, creating an emotional crosslink with the real world that also enhanced the symbiotic relationship between the two as emphasized within the series.

With The X-Files entering its eighth season this year, Snow introduced a new tonality in the form of a lilting melody for solo female voice associated with Scully, which will be heard throughout the season. “Since this whole season is going to be so Scully-intensive, Chris Carter thought there should be a theme for her during the contemplative moments of the mythology episodes-something that spoke for her emotions.” The vocalist for the theme is Nicci Sill, who previously sang Snow’s theme for “Le Femme Nikita”. The vocal was initially intended to be wordless, but as she vocalized the part Sill began repeating in barely discernable voice the phrase “We are near,” which Snow felt was more than appropriate considering the fact that the aliens have kidnapped Mulder and are closer to the cast than ever before. “With the first episode of the season, the aliens have Mulder, and Scully is close but never quite there. But when she was singing it, it sounded like some ethnic incantation of some sort.”

The lack of a real soundtrack CD from The X-Files has been a source of frustration for many. A CD that came out in 1976, called “Music in the Key of X”, was nothing more than a collection of rock tunes inspired by the show, plus a version of Snow’s theme music. A very odd creation was also released that same year, “The Truth and the Light: Music of the X-Files”, merging seemingly random bits and pieces of music from the show with random bits of dialog and sound effects, creating a bizarre sound collage that pleased few people. “That mistake will never be made again!” grins Snow. “Somewhere, Chris Carter heard this voice-over thing and thought ‘That was great, we gotta do it!’ Actually, I thought it was pretty cool up to a point, but it got a little out of hand. And it was incredibly problematic-all the actors wanted a royalties, and so forth.”

To date the best representation of the show’s music appeared on a compilation CD entitled “The Snow Files”, released by Silva Screen in 1999. In addition to an impressive variety of excellent music for films and television, a very faithful arrangement of Snow’s X-Files music was performed by composer and synthesist John Beal, under Snow’s direction. (The actual music tracks were not available for licensing on the disc; but Beal’s arrangements are very fine and true.) Still, there is ongoing talk in the hallways of 20th Century Fox about the possibility of an actual soundtrack release, and hopefully one will be forthcoming in the future.

While more opportunities to score feature films would please Snow, he is finding plenty of satisfaction scoring quality television such as The X-Files. “I’ve been very lucky, because the quality of X-Files and Millennium is so good, in general, that it is like doing a mini-feature every week,” says Snow. “I’d like to graduate some day to where I’m not doing episodic TV, and I’m doing three, four, or five movies a year, where I really could expand my career from film to film. But the graph of my career is still amazing to me. I haven’t gotten into the negative yet. There’s so many guys who have come and gone, who have been so blisteringly hot and then fell off, so I really can’t complain when I look at it from the perspective of the business.”

FilmScoreMonthy: Downbeat: Harsh Realm

Downbeat: Harsh Realm
Jason Foster

[Original article here]

Jason originally wrote the following for use in "Downbeat," our section in FSM dealing with current scores and the challenges featuring well-known (and some not well-known) composers. He talked to Mark Snow about Harsh Realm -- which was canceled before anyone could blink. So, we didn't run the piece. Recently, however, Harsh Realm has been broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel so we thought we'd dust this off: -LK

Having already cemented their place in TV shows dealing with the paranormal, ten-time Emmy-nominated composer Mark Snow and X-FILES creator Chris Carter are at it again — this time with the series HARSH REALM.

Described as a tense and edgy contemporary-looking virtual reality adventure along the lines of THE MATRIX, Snow says that HARSH REALM should easily lend itself to music, much in the way THE X-FILES has.

“THE X-FILES is such a great show. It’s like scoring a mini-movie each week,” says Snow. “And coming from the same people, HARSH REALM, from what I’ve seen of the pilot, I expect the same quality which makes scoring the shows much more inspiring and a pleasure rather than just work.”

While Snow’s weekly scores for episodes of THE X-FILES have tended to stay in a similar musical ballpark throughout the entire series run, he says that won’t be the case with HARSH REALM.

“I think that it will be a combination of many, many different styles because the show is virtual reality at least 80 to 90 percent of the time,” says Snow. “I think they’re planning to have many different virtual worlds from periods dating back to the Dark Ages, futuresque, and all over the world. It’s going to be wide open to a lot of different cultures and we’ll be using a lot of different musical styles.”

Snow has enjoyed the musical freedom he’s been given in his previous collaborations with Carter and crew. But he points out that with a successful show, freedom isn’t all that rare an occurrence.

“Well, once you get on a TV series that’s successful, basically it’s the first ten episodes where everyone is involved and giving a lot of input into the project,” he says. “Then if they’re happy and feel comfortable, they leave you alone and then you have the freedom to experiment. My experience with X-FILES has been just that. After the first bunch of episodes, I was left to my own devices and felt totally uninhibited by whatever I wanted.”

Much like the music for THE X-FILES, and most television scoring in general, Snow will not develop different character themes for HARSH REALM. While that isn’t something that would be very difficult to do, Snow says it would be very limiting.

“The TV show works better for me to have themes for situations rather than people,” he says. “I think that by now if you had a theme for Mulder or Scully you’d grow sick of it. That’s why it’s not about themes for them as much as it is the situations they get in to. Each week the situations are, as you know, colored so differently and there are so many variations of the themes — so to keep my interest in it and to keep it sounding fresh, I prefer to score new thematic material every week and I think that’s how it’s going to work for HARSH REALM.”

One of the trademarks of THE X-FILES is Snow’s very memorable main title melody. But unlike his scores for that show, Snow says he’ll incorporate the HARSH REALM main title theme into the different episode scores.

“I’ll be able to use the theme as underscore a lot more than with X-FILES and certainly variations of it,” he says. “I also have a four-minute version of it where I’ll be able to take sections of it and use for underscore which will help the identity of the show. I’m looking forward to that. With THE X-FILES, I never used it (the main title) in the underscore. I did use the theme for the feature film, and come to think of it, I did use it a few times after the film because I liked how it sounded. I’m looking forward to having a different approach for HARSH REALM.”

While Snow says that nobody involved predicted the success of THE X-FILES, he says the ingredients are there for HARSH REALM to be successful, but says there’s really no way to know that.

“I can only do the best work I can, cross my fingers and hope that it will be another hit show,” he says.

Snow has also chosen to shed a little light onto the recent rumor that the name of FSM’s own Jeff Bond appears somewhere in the HARSH REALM main title.

“I’m not going to say it is or isn’t,” says Snow. “People are welcome to try and speed up, slow down, or play the music backwards to discover what’s there. It’s kind of like the 60s when people played that Beatles song backwards to try to hear it say, ‘Paul is Dead.'”

The truth is out there.