Monday 13 July 2009, by Mokuji
Regarding your latest release, Caprica, it sounds to me more emotive and character-centric than the Battlestar scores, which are very atmospheric, encapsulating all the action and drama of the environment.
Well, Caprica has a much smaller cast, and that cast can essentially be divided into two families - The Adamas and the Graystones. So I wrote two themes, one for each family, and they serve as the thematic thread that ties the Caprica score together. Battlestar, as you mentioned, tends to be attached to arcs, subplots, and sometimes thematic ideas. There are also themes for every single character on the show, and there are at least 50 of those alone, not that they all get used all the time. So Caprica was a very different approach.
Was it difficult at all to pull back from the expansiveness of Battlestar and hone in on this smaller story?
It was a bit of a relief, honestly. If the producers wanted Caprica to sound bigger, I might have died. The Battlestar score has reached a point where it is so unwieldy and massive, in terms of the amount of instruments in it, the style it encapsulates. It’s difficult to work with this language, and Caprica was like a breath of fresh air. I got a small chamber-sized orchestra together, and I was able to fall back on just writing, technique, and ideas, and the spectacle of the score wasn’t part of it.
Did you approach it more as a classic drama than as a sci-fi epic?
Well, I don’t approach anything as a sci-fi epic. I look at everything from a dramatic standpoint. Battlestar is certainly no exception to that. There are more family-drama storylines happening in Caprica, and Battlestar certainly does have its share of big, sci-fi plots that are not solely character based. But I have to admit that I try to ignore them, from a musical standpoint. What can one do to write science fiction music in the first place? I write narrative music. So, in that regard, it wasn’t any different than doing Battlestar. But I think the biggest difference was the ensemble, which was much more traditional, more contained, and much more classical. And the signature instruments like the ethnic drums, Middle Eastern flutes, and whatnot that are all over Battlestar, only make sporadic appearances throughout Caprica.
Something I found puzzling, given your credentials, was that in the press surrounding Caprica’s development, you weren’t even originally considered to do the score. I read something about the director having conversations and you were eventually suggested. What happened there?
Well, they honestly wanted a very different sound. And the director, Jeffrey Reiner, who had never previously worked on Battlestar, came in to direct Caprica, and wanted to go in a completely different direction. He didn’t want to re-create Battlestar...none of us did. So, I wasn’t an obvious choice, because I WAS the guy who did Battlestar. I had a meeting with Jeff, and we realized immediately that we were both on the same page about how the music should be. In fact, we had an incredible relationship artistically; he and I really got along, so it worked out for the best. But no, I wasn’t the obvious first choice. But like I said, the producers were concerned; they wanted something different, so I had to prove that I could deliver it.
What exactly is your compositional process? Do you write suites or individual miniature cues?
I generally start with a theme piece or some version of the theme that I want to use throughout the score. Then once I have that, I roll up my sleeves and attack one of the bigger scenes that require music as a means of warming up. Honestly, the shorter cues are often the hardest.
How often do you have to go back to the drawing board and do rewrites for something that doesn’t work for you or the director?
In my entire career working on Battlestar and Caprica, I have only ever done one rewrite. It was in one of the very first episodes of Season 1, and I’ve never done one since. That’s for two reasons: one, the producers and I have worked together for a really long time and we see eye-to-eye. Generally I know what they want, and they trust my instincts. And two, there’s no time for rewrites. I had to write the entire score for Caprica in nine days. So I was just churning out cues as fast as humanly possible. I turned out between five to eight minutes of music for nine days straight, and on the tenth day, I was in front of the orchestra conducting it. So we definitely make revisions, tweaks - Jeff and I worked together on it very closely. But as far as going back and rewriting something from scratch; there was no time for that.
Was there a period where you and the producers had to break the director into the mythos of Battlestar?
Sort of, but like I said, he and I got along pretty much right away, so there weren’t any issues that way. The first set of cues I sent him were the tracks on the album “Grieving” (which was the first piece I wrote) and Jeff loved it. In fact, he even came to the orchestra session just to sit there and enjoy it. He really didn’t have anything to say; he heard everything and liked it all. It was a really great relationship. He and I are going to work on some other projects together in the near future.