BG4: “Islanded in a Stream of Stars”
March 7th, 2009
This week’s episode is the last regular-length episode of the series (next week’s hour is technically the first of the three-hour finale). This episode is a transitional story, used to set in motion events that will transpire in the finale. And after the trials and tribulations of scoring last week’s musically complex Someone to Watch Over Me, Islanded in a Stream of Stars was a welcome return to more traditional scoring for me.
This episode is all about internal conflict. We witness each character struggling with their own personal demons and making difficult decisions. Rather than simply scoring the immediate action or dialog, I wanted the music to help summarize the intense journey we’ve made with these characters: to remind the audience of where they’ve been as we prepare to move forward to the finish line. I avoided writing any new themes, but re-imagined and adapted familiar themes into new contexts.
The episode opens with a trippy sequence where Hera plays with ship models in the CIC. Is it a dream? A prophecy intended for the audience only? The answer is never made clear, nor does it matter. I knew that the highly stylized introduction would require an interesting musical approach.
The score begins with an ambient bed of synths and strings playing a very dissonant cluster. In the background, wailing choral voices bring to mind the blaring vocal accompaniment to Roslin, Athena and Six’s “Opera House Dream” sequences. Buried within this atonal mush, Eric Rigler recorded frenzied overdubs of non-pitched ethnic wind instruments. His instruments will later reveal themselves to be thematically connected to The Colony (more on this later).
The most prominent instrument in the score at this moment is actually Slick’s Piano, playing an obvious and deliberate statement of the Final Four Theme (new name tbd):
During the process of scoring Someone to Watch Over Me, I sampled the piano on the Joe’s Bar set so I could use it in the scoring of that episode. I never thought about using it in future scores, but this opportunity was clearly perfect for it. Last week, Hera was revealed as being connected to the universe in unknown cosmic ways. This was made clear to us through Kara playing this exact melody on the piano in Joe’s Bar. How fitting that the instrument introduced within the universe of the show has now made its way into the score! This theme and this instrument continue to weave back and forth between their reality and our own. (How many composers in television have opportunities like this??)
Using the piano in a trippy opening montage was an obvious choice. But, I took the concept one step further by incorporating it into a typical underscore piece. Slick’s piano returns in the next cue as Kara explains to Adama “Hera wrote the notes to a song.” At this moment, the score quotes those exact notes on the exact instrument Kara played them on. I was worried that this might be confusing; that perhaps the audience would think the piano was in the room. So, I had Chris Bleth double the melody on the duduk. This rooted the piano firmly in the realm of underscore.
The following scene picks up the tattered threads of Athena and Helo’s relationship. As Helo realizes that Athena may never forgive him for what he did (who could blame her?), the gamelan and bansuri state a dark, melancholy refrain of the Boomer / Athena Theme:
This theme was originally composed in 33 to be the Boomer Theme. It was later expanded to be the Athena Theme. At the end of Islanded, it also underscores Hera crying out for Boomer, a moment that marks the theme’s transformation again into the de facto Hera Theme (it will function as such in the finale as well). Like many of my themes in Battlestar, the originally titled “Boomer Theme” has outgrown its name.
Islanded also marks the return of Athena, Roslin and Six’s Opera House Visions. These visions were originally introduced in Crossroads, Part I and in that episode I scored them with wailing choir clusters. The dissonant vocal harmonies return here, but this time the tension is augmented with Eric Rigler’s wailing ethnic wind instruments.
Eric Rigler typically plays Irish whistles and various bagpipes on Battlestar Galactica. But, I asked him to bring stranger instruments for Islanded because I wanted to use them to represent The Colony. He brought various ancient wind instruments, including the sipsi, shofar and conch.
He had originally picked these up for playing on the soundtrack to Troy, and admitted to having little opportunity to record them since. This was understandable, since it is virtually impossible to control the pitch of the instruments at all. Basically, you get what you get when playing these things.
Rather than vainly attempting to play one of them in a particular key, I went the opposite route and asked him to layer every instrument at once. The resultant combination was a wave of wailing, screaming tones that would rank among the most cacophonic sounds I’ve ever created for a soundtrack. Mixer Steve Kaplan was able to blend them together into an ambient, washy drone that perfectly captures the creepy and awe-inspiring reveal of the Colony at the end of the episode. These instruments will return next week in the finale as well.
In Islanded, every character must come to terms with the difference between who they want to be and who they are in reality. The only character more conflicted in this regard than Kara Thrace is Gaius Baltar.
His sermon about angels is interesting, because he’s essentially admitting to the fleet that he sees Head Six, although never directly. But, his candor about his dark secret eventually draws Kara to him to admit her own.
The sermon is underscored first with gamelan and bansuri, stating the Baltar Religious Theme:
The theme is later picked up by the solo erhu, before Baltar catches up with Caprica Six. This exchange is the first between the two of them since Season Three and their performances are masterful. Gaius genuinely makes an offer to help her, but simply comes across like a sleaze and is refused.
I underscored this conversation with two warring themes. First, the duduk states the original Baltar Theme, first composed for Season One’s Six Degrees of Separation:
Weaving in between statements of that theme, the gamelan states his Religious Theme. The original Baltar Theme represents the self-centered, egomaniacal Gaius, the one Caprica Six remembers. The Religious Theme represents the fledgling spiritual leader struggling in vain to overcome his natural tendencies. The scene and score both broil with delightful, near schizophrenic, internal conflict.
Later in the episode, Gaius’ storyline crosses paths with that of Kara Thrace in an unanticipated turn. First, Kara admits to him that she found her body on Earth and burned it. This is the first time she’s admitted this fact (to a flesh and blood real human at least).
Accompanying this moment, Martin St. Pierre plays the Kara Destiny Theme on the erhu, the signature instrument it usually is heard from:
This marks the first time we’ve heard this theme at all since she found her body in Sometimes a Great Notion. We hear it once again as Baltar holds her dog tags in the air and reveals her dark secret to everyone at the funeral ceremony.
As he continues speaking, frame drums and nagado daiko begin a steady crescendo that peaks the instant before Kara delivers him a fierce slap across the face. (Note to Gaius: when a woman confides in you that she’s actually dead, don’t turn and tell practically the entire human race.)
In addition to the Kara Destiny Theme and the Final Four Theme as played by Slick’s piano, Starbuck has three other themes associated with her. All of them appear in this episode.
First, the Kara / Anders Love Theme makes an appearance as she shares a quiet moment with Hybrid Sam:
This theme was introduced by a string quartet in Season 2’s The Farm, and has since represented her tumultuous relationship with Anders. Here, it’s played gently by two solo fiddles, an instrumental setting that harks back to the quartet from Season 2. Their relationship has come so far and has ended up in this most unexpected situation. I wanted the score not to highlight the bizarre reality of the scene, but to remind us all of where their love began.
The next Starbuck-centric theme is the Kara / Lee Love Theme:
First introduced in Season Three’s Unfinished Business, it has since come to represent their tumultuous relationship. Tonight, it can be heard as Lee speaks with Kara in the memorial hallway, after her secret was made public. Eric Rigler plays this theme on the Irish whistle for the first time since Maelstrom’s “Under The Wing,” creating a deliberate connection between these two intimate moments.
After Lee leaves, Kara places her picture on the memorial wall beside Kat and Dualla.
This is an incredibly important moment for her, as she makes peace with the fact that she’s dead. She doesn’t yet know what she is, but the important choice to let go of her former material self has been made. Underscoring this powerful shift, Chris Bleth’s duduk states an uplifting and lyrical Starbuck Theme:
This theme usually represents the more heroic, dominant side of her personality. In Someone to Watch Over Me, it was adapted to accompany the warm and bittersweet memories of her childhood. I used it again in this context, because it is that child, that former person now gone, whom she releases.
Gaius and Kara are not the only characters dealing with internal conflict. Another personal struggle exists within Col. Tigh. He still refuses to come to terms with his cylon identity and aligns himself with fierce loyalty to Adama and the Galactica. In a poignant and chilling scene, Ellen reminds him that he is, in fact, the father of millions of cylons. The Saul / Ellen Theme underscores this scene, played again by Paul Cartwright on the electric violin:
Later in the episode, the Helo storyline continues. One of the most touching and devastating scenes in Islanded is between Helo and Adama, when Helo begs the admiral for a raptor to search for his kidnapped daughter.
The brooding minor chords swelling gently beneath the exchange comprise the Helo Theme:
This theme goes all the way back to the first episode, 33, and has since been featured in Helo-centric storylines. I wanted this scene, which I believe is Tahmoh Penikett’s greatest achievement yet, to be the culmination of the incredible journey we’ve taken with this character. Like with the Kara / Anders scene, my goal was to simultaneously capture the tone of the current scene and subconsciously bring back all our memories of the characters.
From Helo’s scene, we cut to a montage of the funeral service for the crewmembers killed in the accident. I’ve scored many funerals on this series, each with the Religious Ceremony Theme:
This melody was originally composed for Season One’s Act of Contrition and was performed by Chris Bleth on duduk. It is featured on the first season soundtrack album as “Two Funerals.” This theme has since functioned nearly as source music, accompanying funerals or death scenes for Admiral Cain, Crashdown, Cally and others. I’ve always wanted it to feel like the characters know this mournful melody, that it offers them some peace of mind in these difficult ceremonies.
The funeral in Islanded is the first since Act of Contrition to feature the second half of “Two Funerals,” the B-Theme that has also functioned as Zak Adama’s Theme:
The last time this theme was used was in He That Believeth, when Adama and Lee discuss Zak. I’ve always saved this theme for the most emotional and dramatic moments, and this funeral montage seemed an appropriate place for it. There is something heartbreakingly elegant in seeing cylons and humans coming together to mourn the dead.
While each character struggles with intense personal decisions, perhaps the most conflicted character in Islanded in a Stream of Stars is William Adama.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the scene he shares with Laura Roslin in sickbay. Paul Cartwright’s solo fiddle performs their iconic love theme, “Roslin and Adama,” beneath their dialog:
The arrangement is sparse and simple. The melody has been elongated. I didn’t want the score to intrude at all, despite the fact that this is a major shift in Adama’s arc, both within the episode and in the series as a whole. In this moment, Roslin gets through to him and he begins seriously considering abandoning Galactica.
Later in the episode, “Roslin and Adama” returns, played, as always, by Paul Cartwright’s fiddle. It underscores Adama’s lonely walk through the ship and breakdown in the head. I deliberately chose “Roslin and Adama” to accompany these scenes because I wanted to equate the loss of Roslin and the loss of Galactica. Both are hitting him at the same time, and he’s powerless to prevent either from happening. Even though Roslin isn’t seen or mentioned in the scene, I believe Adama is thinking about her and the music highlights this interpretation.
After Adama comes to terms with what he must do, he breaks the news to Col. Tigh. The Military Theme was the obvious choice to underscore this scene, since it accompanies all the moments between these two life-long friends. However, when I played around with the scene, I felt that the Military Theme lacked the proper emotional punch. This final scene needed to give audiences chills down the spine, and it simply wasn’t working for me.
The theme I believe accomplished this turned out to be “Wander My Friends:”
Eric Rigler put down the shofar, sipsi and conch and played a heartbreakingly simple solo statement of it on the Irish whistle, taking us over the cut to black.
“Wander My Friends” is typically reserved for storylines about Adama’s family, but I realized here that Tigh, the crew and the Galactica are his family now. My hope is that hearing this melody against this scene subconsciously brought this idea to mind for the audience.
And as for the “chills down the spine” I was hoping for, this scene certainly works for me now.
One of the biggest challenges of Islanded was actually scoring two different versions of it. In addition to the version you just watched, I also scored an extended version for the DVD release. Not only are many of the dialog scenes expanded, but there are several scenes that were cut entirely from the show that required substantial original music. One of these scenes established that Tyrol is now in the brig for his role in Boomer’s escape and kidnapping of Hera. I was disappointed that this story point was cut from the episode, since Chief’s arc last week was so emotionally powerful.
And with that, you’ve now seen the final “normal” episode of Galactica. Next week, the first hour of the three-hour finale airs.
I’m still in Germany right now, for the premiere of my ballet, based on the music of Galactica, entitled “Prelude to War,” in Hagen. Rehearsals have been incredible, and I hope that all of you in Europe can come check it out, either at tonight’s premiere or one of the weekly performances over the next 13 weeks. Since I’m still abroad, I will likely not post an entry next week. Instead, I will write an entry for the complete three-hour finale the following week. I am very eager to see what you guys think of the finale, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
So Say We All…