Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day 03 - Trek Music

Over the past few years I have had a particular focus on audio dramas, however they rely heavily on you, the listener, to be the special effects wizard, the set designer and the costumer by inserting these details into the plot that plays out in the cinema of your mind. Luckily this is a job made easier because Star Trek has some iconic audible cues, such as a turbolift door opening or a combadge chirping, which are instantly recognisable.

The importance of the audio track is of only slightly less important in a video project.

Think about it. How often have you watched a scene on a fan film that is a great greenscreen effect, looking exactly like it is taking place on a star ship's bridge, its mess hall or some exotic planet, only to have the effect ruined because it sounds like it was recorded in someone's garage? In addition, as anyone who has been through the special effects ride in a movie theme park will know, many of the things that we take for granted on a film are actually added afterwards – door knocks, footsteps, gunfire even face-slaps and punches. A sword drawn from a scabbard, for example, rarely makes a “K-shingg!” sound, but we are conditioned to require it when we see it on screen.

However what is of equal, vital importance to both audio and video productions is the music which subconsciously sets and changes the mood, adds subtle, unspoken hints of danger or suspense and, by the mens of personal themes, adds to the presence of the characters in a scene.

Today's article focusses on celebrating the work of the amateur – and not so amateur - composers whose music is a vital but all but invisible part of the success of any production.

Many productions – audio dramas and fan films – use incidental music which comes from the Star Trek movies or TV shows and this is a perfectly viable option. It is no different from using a canon screenshot as the background of your bridge greenscreen or using a canon character in your plot. As long as the credits reference the original artist and there is no gain made by anyone, this is just another facet of the technical copyright breach that is at the core of fan productions. Don't get the impression that this is a second-rate option for producers. The Original Series in particular had specific musical themes that served to underscore (quite literally) moments of drama or humour, and just hearing them will transport the listener into a specific mood.

I defy any true Star Trek fan not to recognise the Klingon theme music!

Just as a fan film maker will try to make sure that his sets, costumes and even camera shots and lighting, mesh with canon, so to do those brave souls who write the incidental music that will go with it. Matt Hallaron, musical director for Star Trek: Eras is very mindful of the different musical styles that make the different series unique. “The music has always been orchestral in nature, but each series' music reflects the real world timeframe that it was created in. The music in TOS for example has qualities that reflect TV music of the 1960's.”

Original work can come in small contributions, such as Brian Martinez Oldham's piano piece in Star Trek: Defiant, others might just be the theme as in the case of Mary Kouyoumdjian's work for Henglaar, M.D. However some productions are lucky enough to have someone in their group who acts as their musical director, creating as well as arranging the music.

In some cases the music is such an integral part of the production because it is provided by the producers themselves. This is the case with Andy Tyrer, who is the Co-producer of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission who has also created some evocative work as incidental music for their episodes, an audio drama that, although it takes place in the TNG era, has elements of TOS in it. Andy's work is an especially good example of how music can be timed and themed to support the dialog - understandable since the creator is the producer!

There's even a case where we have music without a production! Assignment Earth is a project started by three fans of Gary Seven, the charismatic scifi secret agent introduced in the Star Trek TOS episode, Assignment Earth, which is fan-made theme music for the spin-off TV series about him that was planned but never made.

A comprehensive survey of the music for all fan films and audio dramas is way beyond the scope of this article so if your favourite production hasn't been mentioned, why not check the credits, send in some feedback to the makers or ask if a download of the soundtrack could be made available? I guarantee that you will find it a rewarding experience.

To get you started on your search, hear is an incomplete listing of composers of the music that, to a large extent, lies behind the success of many of our favourite fan productions. Just as some professional actors have lent their expertise to fan productions, so too have some respected professional musicians, others are immensely talented amateurs, to all of them we owe a debt of gratitude.

ST: Intrepid, Orphans of War, Operation Beta Shield
ST: The Helena Chronicles, Operation Beta Shield
ST: Odyssey, ST: Federation One
ST: Odyssey
ST: Intrepid
ST: Federation One, Project: Potemkin, ST: Lexington, ST: New Homelands
ST: Excelsior
ST: Eras
ST: Intrepid, ST: Odyssey, Voyages of the U.S.S. Angeles, ST: Diplomatic Relations, ST: Grissom
Starship Farragut, ST: Osiris, ST: The Helena Chronicles, Tossed Upon the Shore
Henglaar, M.D.
ST: Outpost
ST: The Helena Chronicles
ST: Defiant
Star Trek: The Continuing Mission

Kevin McLeod
Special mention should also be made of those charitable composers who place some, if not all of their work on line under the creative commons license,making it possible for amateurs to use them without charge as long as the creators are credited. This is a great concept for fostering collaborative, creative projects and the first name that springs to mind is Kevin McLeod and his website Incompetech.com. Kevin's work, large and small, has become almost a standard resource for sound editors because of the wide range of themes and their consistant quality... and for $5 per song you can use it royalty free!
Please don't hesitate to contact me with the names and credits of any musicians I have inadvertently left out.


The Twelve Muppet Days of Christmas



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