Caprica: Rebirth

SPOILERS BEYOND: After the intimate two-hour pilot film that established the major characters and themes, Caprica now takes off and expands the world and characters.The appropriately-titled Rebirth is the first of several episodes that pushes the boundaries of the narrative beyond the world of the Graystones and Adamas, and gives us our first real glimpses of Caprican society.We witness snippets of Caprican television broadcasts, a huge pyramid match, Tamara’s high school, the Dive Bar and the city center where thousands of citizens gather to mourn the victims of the terrorist bombing.

This series presents a unique set of challenges for me.I have all the usual jobs of a television composer: match the mood of each scene, bring to the surface emotional arcs that may not be coming across, write and develop character themes as necessary and stay tastefully out of the way of dialog and sound effects.However, I also have the added duties of helping to realize Caprican society by writing and producing source pieces for every environment where they may be helpful.

At the pyramid game, the citizens rise for the National Anthem.Well, what does that sound like?Clarice buries her sorrows in smoke at the Dive Bar listening to the music playing there.What does that sound like?Daniel Graystone plays classical music on a piano in his office.What music is he playing?What songs blast through the V-Club and what can they tell us about the kids hacking in?

These questions make my job on Caprica more complex, but also more rewarding.Like BSG, I have the opportunity to help shape the sound of the characters’ world, to fill in the cultural details that visuals, dialog and sound effects leave out.However, unlike BSG, I am able to introduce these ideas right from the beginning, instead of gradually over many seasons.  In the first seven episodes alone, I have written, produced or selected over a dozen songs, each of which tells us something different about Caprican society.

The most important piece of music introduced in Rebirth is the Caprica Main Title:

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I worked on this piece for months, hoping for a track that captures the various shades and tones of the series.  The earliest versions I wrote were just sketches, free of the constraints of matching picture.  Then, I scored the earliest animatic version of the title.  That demo laid the foundation for what would be the final version you heard tonight.

The title begins with a pounding percussion fill that introduces the Main Theme (technically the Graystone Theme), played by Chris Bleth on flute.  The track builds in intensity, incorporating electric guitars and bass, played by Steve Bartek and Mike Valerio respectively.  Towards the end, a distorted drum kit enters (played by Nate Wood) that gives the track a hard-rock feel, completely unique from anything we heard in the pilot.  I wanted to give our delicate, plaintive melody a bad ass metal backbone, representative of the V-Clubs and cultural underbelly of Caprica City that the series depicts.

The flute and harps signify the Graystones, and Paul Cartwright’s fiddle in the distant background represents the Taurons.  While the drum kit and guitars may sound out of place now, this distorted hard rock sound will enter into the score thematically in a few episodes.  So for now, consider it musical foreshadowing of events to come.

After all the work that was put in, I’m thrilled with how the Caprica Main Title turned out.  Scoring the pilot, I never would have guessed that the title sequence would be so frakkin’ bad ass.  Now, the Caprica Main Title Theme sounds like a perfect track to play at our next live concert, because it’ll bring the house down!

Rebirth begins by introducing a new narrative concept: the notion that the audience will occasionally see Zoe as a human being when, in fact, she’s inside the U-87.Visual effects, sound design and clever editing play a crucial role in establishing this narrative device.

The score also contributes to establishing this idea.The first shot of Zoe revealed as a human is accompanied by a subtle cymbal scrape in the score: the same musical introduction often given to Number Six in BSG, a character who also appeared in unusual circumstances.

Zoe’s appearances as or within the U-87 are underscored with her themes from the pilot, including the Graystone Ostinato:

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And the Graystone Theme:

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The third musical idea connected to Zoe (part of her musical trinity I suppose) are the Zoe Chords.  This progression appears in Rebirth, again playing as Lacey and Zoe bond.In the pilot, this theme was lushly orchestrated, creating a powerful, uplifting emotion.For this scene, the tone is more restrained, even a bit darker.

In the closing moments, Lacey hugs Zoe in a tender moment that ran the risk of being comedic (we’re supposed to feel genuine emotion as a teenage girl hugs a giant killer robot??).However, the scene works beautifully, and the score adds additional layers.The uplifting Zoe Chords return, beneath a gentle and cascading flute solo, and the music ends on a major chord:

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But, there’s an undercurrent of darkness to the cue that helps shade the entire scene in mystery and danger.Yes, it’s wonderful that these two friends have reconnected, but we can also sense that Lacey is getting involved with a dangerous mission, perhaps one she doesn’t fully understand.A layered and nuanced scene like this is where the tonal similarities between Caprica and BSG become most apparent.

Executive producer David Eick and I discussed at length the idea of creating a signature melodic stamp for Caprica, one that would help establish it as its own musical universe. The Graystone Theme is woven throughout this episode (indeed, this entire series) like a thread, tying all these events together.Even short transitional cues, designed to take us from one scene to the next, feature clearly identifiable melodic statements of the theme.

The Tauron story line will continue to be central to the series, so Rebirth also contains the Tauron Ostinato:

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And the Tauron Theme:

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These two musical ideas underscore Joseph, Sam and Willie Adama’s storylines, establishing the concept of Tauron traditions and culture.As in the pilot, the Tauron music is more ethnic and less orchestral, signifying the roots of the Adama family tree.

The theme is most powerful in the scene where Joseph confronts Willie on the meaning of family.As Willie says “Its hard being part of a family, dad… when there is no family,” a solo fiddle sneaks in, stating the theme, as always played by Paul Cartwright.Joseph grabs his son’s arm and stops him from walking away, and the harps and gamelan shift to a major chord, signifying Joseph’s anger dissipating.

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As the scene ends, Willie cracks a subtle smile.  The score shifts to an unexpected minor chord with a tam tam roll and bowed cymbal.The sudden ominous tone suggests that Willie is playing his dad’s emotions to get out of trouble, and doesn’t really believe what he is saying.

Amanda’s Theme plays a prominent role in this episode, underscoring her gradual unraveling of her daughter’s hidden life.In her earliest scenes, her theme is simply melancholy and sad, played longingly by Chris Bleth on the English Horn, which is slowing becoming her signature instrument:

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However, with each progressive Amanda scene, her theme is injected with more percussive energy, creating a sensation of acceleration as she stumbles closer and closer to the truth.

In the episode’s climactic scene, all three major character themes collide.First, Amanda realizes fully that her daughter was a member of the STO.At this precise moment, the gamelan, harps, piano and small percussion begin a steady groove that builds momentum steadily all the way to the end of the act.At first, statements of the Graystone Ostinato and the Graystone Theme underscore Amanda’s shock.

Then, the Tauron Ostinato and Theme underscore Daniel and Joseph’s conversation.

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The episode ultimately ends with an intense statement of the Graystone Theme over a blasting wall of percussion as an angry mob chases Daniel and Amanda away.

Rebirth also introduces a new theme to the Caprica score, the Clarice Theme:

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This theme will soon branch out and represent the entire STO conspiracy.However, in this episode, it simply underscores Clarice trying to get close to Lacey and her own personal troubles with her spouses.

The score to Rebirth alone would be enough to keep any composer busy for a while, but I also had the added responsibility of delivering many source tunes as well.

The most exciting piece of music I wrote for this episode has to be “Caprica Abides (The Caprica National Anthem).”You can hear the last few phrases of this song at the Pyramid Game, as operatic tenor Steve Amerson belts out the final lyrics: “So say we all!So say we all!Caprica Abides!”I actually wrote, produced and recorded a complete anthem, over 3 minutes long, but for now that’s all you got to hear of it.(Perhaps the rest will end up on soundtrack album one day?)

I composed the Caprica National Anthem last summer.Jane Espenson called and asked if I could write it before production began so they could play it back on set.I was in the final week of rehearsals for the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra concerts in San Diego, so the timing wasn’t exactly convenient.But, I could not resist the opportunity to compose an official national anthem!

Jane wrote the lyrics and sent them to me, and I composed the music, restructuring the words slightly in the process.I wanted the melody to feel regal and symphonic, with all the grandeur one would expect from a society as proud as Caprica.The music almost reminds me of something that Elmer Bernstein would write: patriotic and bombastic, but also quite beautiful.Too bad you can’t hear much of it in this episode.But, you will eventually, I promise.

I suspect that even this short snippet of the anthem does its job, though.At the playback of the episode’s mix, producers David Eick and Jonas Pate leapt out of their chairs and applauded when they heard the rousing vocals and orchestra.I’ve never seen a reaction like that from producers in my entire life!So I knew I must have done something right.

Last summer, Jane also told me about the piano in Daniel’s workspace, which Eric Stoltz would occasionally play from time to time.Eric and I discussed at length what kind of music Daniel would play.  This opportunity was exciting because it would allow the source music and score to be intimately connected.

Jane asked me what classical music on Caprica might sound like.I had to laugh a little when I realized that I must know more about Caprican music than the series creators!I told Jane that so far only a handful of “classical music” compositions had been introduced in the BSG mythology, the best of which is “Nomion’s Third.”

“Nomion’s Third” was established in Someone to Watch Over Me as a famous piece of classical music that Slick used as his creative springboard.  Kara recognized it and called him on it.(If you haven’t read the massive blog entries on that episode, I suggest starting with this one.)The piece she referred to as Nomion’s Third was, in fact, a quotation of “Exploration,” written by Stu Phillips for the original Battlestar Galactica:

I had arranged a longer piano solo version of “Exploration” for Slick to play in that scene, but Kara recognized it after a few bars.I was always a bit disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to hear more of the arrangement in that episode of BSG.Well, now you can, because Daniel is playing “Nomion’s Third Sonata, Second Movement” at the piano while working on the U-87 problem in his lab!Like a famous Beethoven Sonata for us today, “Nomion’s Third” is now established as a work that dates back at least 65 years before Slick ever played it, probably much further.

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I didn’t want the quotation to be distracting, so I took extreme liberties re-harmonizing it.Much of the harmonic language for these brief passages was borrowed from my newly composed “Colonial Anthem Variations” that I wrote for Stu Phillips’ 80th Birthday Concert with the Golden State Pops last October.  I hope a few of the die-hard BSG fans out there were able to pick up on it!

There were several other great opportunities for source music.I got to write the “Caprica Buccaneers Theme Song” for the ESPN-like broadcast of the pyramid game.

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We layered pounding taiko drums and cheesy Super-Bowl inspired electric guitars and drum kit for a distinctly Caprican sports anthem.Regrettably, in the final episode broadcast, this music was completely obliterated by the sound of 100,000 screaming fans.But, it’s there and adds to the realism of the scene.

For the pilot, I had no input on the V-Club music, but in the series I have more control over how the music functions in this important environment.I turned to my friend Jonathan Snipes and his band Captain Ahab to provide the pulsating beats of the V-Club.His music is a perfect fit for this club, so you’ll hear lots more Captain Ahab songs in the V-Club in the coming episodes.The newest Ahab record (to which I contributed some killer orchestral arrangements) debuts soon, and actually contains some of the tracks you will hear on Caprica.  I’ll blog more about that as the release date gets closer.I think you guys will love it!

I also had a lot of fun writing a source piece for the Dive Bar.Clarice goes to the bar to smoke up, and we hear a groovy 70s rock tune playing in the bar as she talks with the bartender.

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Once she lights up, the visuals become distorted and trippy.Here, the ambient background song comes to the forefront, transitioning from source song to score.The track is suddenly filled with wailing feedback guitars, reminiscent of a crazy Jimi Hendrix solo.The result was incredibly effective and quickly communicated not only the drug-induced haze, but also Clarice’s despair.  And yes, its true: sometimes the most obvious musical clichés really work better than anything else.

Unlike BSG, Caprica relies more heavily on songs and source music to help establish its busy, urban and V-World environments.This puts a lot of work on my plate for each episode, but also results in some great tracks.There was enough exciting music in Rebirth to fill an entire soundtrack album.However, there are many more album-worthy cues and songs ahead in the upcoming episodes.I hope you’ll stick around and check out the rest of the season, because it’s a really dynamic and interesting series that is only just getting started.

So Say We All! Caprica Abides!

-Bear