BG3: “Maelstrom”

I realize that I’m several days late getting this entry together. I apologize, but I’ve been busy scoring the season finale, which seriously rocks, by the way. More on that later.

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD:

I first learned of Starbuck’s death months ago, while I was scoring Torn and A Measure of Salvation. Since that time, I knew that Maelstrom would be an incredibly difficult and tense episode to write music for. Because Season 3 has been the most difficult and creatively exhausting season yet, I was honestly afraid I wouldn’t have the emotional energy to do this episode justice.

Knowing what was to come, I blasted through the scores for A Day in the Life and Dirty Hands as fast as I possibly could. I even scored next week’s The Son Also Rises in advance. Doing each of those episodes in four to five days was tough, but it cleared my schedule so that I had a full two weeks to do Maelstrom. This was a genuine luxury. The last time I had fourteen days to score a show was for the season premiere!

Writing the score for this episode was rewarding, but incredibly emotionally draining. Writing music for me is like method acting. In order to evoke the feelings I’m trying to convey with sound, I have to put myself in the character’s world, get inside their motivations. For the scene in Exodus Part II where Tigh executes his wife, this was an excruciating experience. Scoring Maelstrom was equally straining. I needed to communicate Kara’s intense feelings of inadequacy, her bittersweet joy in watching her mother pass away as well as Lee’s shock and disbelief as he watches Kara’s ship explode before his eyes. In order to convey these emotions, I always end up experiencing them in some small part. As fans, you guys experience this episode as an incredibly intense 60 minutes. Imagine going through it, moment by moment, 18 hours a day… for two weeks!

Maelstrom is obviously a Starbuck-centric episode. In fact, there’s no secondary story at all. In my 50+ episodes of Galactica, I’ve written three themes that center around her character, two of which provide the foundation of the Maelstrom score:

The Starbuck Theme

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…which originates from early Season One, and…

The Leoben / Starbuck Theme…

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… that was introduced with the New Caprica storyline in Season Three.

The “Starbuck Theme” has always represented “Heroic” Starbuck. Even when presented in minor modes, or darker instrumentation, it associates with her confident, aggressive and charming personality.

The Leoben Theme, however, has always played against her self-doubt, her fears, her questioning of the “destiny” that awaits her. Originally conceived as a theme for her supposed daughter Casey, it grew to represent her love / hate relationship with Leoben. Ultimately, I expanded this theme to also represent her mother in the Maelstrom flashbacks.

This theme has always been performed on an erhu, a dual-stringed traditional Chinese instrument, similar to a violin in timbre, though very different in appearance. Martin St. Pierre has leant his remarkable talents to the Battlestar Galactica score for many episodes now, including playing the erhu, the zhong hu and the yialli tanbur.

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Martin St. Pierre plays the erhu

Once I had my two thematic building blocks in place, I was free to write the score. Virtually every moment of the score represented one or both of these themes. Where one is featured as a solo, the other is often layered in as an accompanimental pattern. In fact, the moments leading up to Starbuck’s demise are a traditional fugue based on the erhu theme.

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The “Maelstrom” orchestra (photo courtesy of Dan Goldwasser)

Since Maelstrom was clearly an important episode, it was easy to convince the producers that we needed an orchestra for the score. We returned to the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage, where we have recorded many significant Galactica scores.

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Engineer Steve Kaplan and Bear McCreary (photo courtesy of Dan Goldwasser)

Most of the orchestral music shows up in the fourth act of the episode, although there is also a particularly beautiful cue in the third act, when Lee and Kara are talking, sitting beneath the wing of a viper. [Update: This cue was released on the Season 3 soundtrack album, as "Under the Wing."]

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This scene actually quotes the third theme relevant to Starbuck, the Lee / Kara Love theme originally composed for Unfinished Business:

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In addition to the many emotional, lyrical and downright hallucinogenic sequences, Maelstrom also had its share of tense action sequences. There were two intense chase scenes that took place within a surging storm cloud.

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I lavished over these sequences, creating pulse-pounding, taiko-inspired score utilizing ethnic percussion, soloists as well as the orchestral strings to great effect. Surprisingly, this was the most visually incomplete episode I’ve ever scored. Most of the episodes I score are held together with place-holder animatics, rough computer generated sketches of what the final effects shots are going to look like. Believe it or not, the overwhelming majority of Maelstrom’s action shots looked like this when I scored them:

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Storyboards. Incredible, too, when I realized that the episode would be on the air within a matter of weeks. Still, the story was so powerful it was easy to visualize what the final shots would look like (which would be amazing, I might add) and write music that was equally exciting. In the end, I wrote action music worthy of the battle music I scored for Exodus Part II… and just like in that episode, it was completely obliterated by the blasting wind effects and other sound design. Intellectually, I knew this was going to happen, but it’s still a little painful to see all that hard work get buried beyond the point of recognition. Still, just like the Exodus music, you guys will love it on the Season 3 album!

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(Conducting the closing moments of “Maelstrom” (photo courtesy of Dan Goldwasser)

Scoring Kara’s nightmarish descent into madness or destiny (depending on how you look at it) was incredibly rewarding for me. Maelstrom is one of the strongest episodes we’ve done yet, and it was an honor to write such a lyrical and powerful score for it, one that is almost operatic in its use of themes.

Maelstrom also represents the last symphonic orchestra you’re going to hear in Battlestar Galactica’s third season. The music for the season finale is going in a different direction. Rest assured that you guys are in for a musical surprise. I’m in the studio all this week recording it! But, as I’ve said before, more on that later…

So Say We All,

-Bear