The Themes of “Caprica”
April 23rd, 2009
MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD: The two-hour pilot / movie “Caprica” was released on DVD this week, and it gives us our first glimpse into the series that will expand the “Battlestar Galactica” universe. I was fortunate to write music for this exciting project, because it provided the opportunity to create a totally unique sound, one that pays tribute to “Battlestar Galactica” without imitating it.
The varied entries on my blog are a testament to the evolution and growth that my “Battlestar Galactica” score went through over the show’s four seasons. I incorporated an ever-expanding palette of ethnic instruments from all over the world, as the fleet plunged deeper into uncharted space.
My approach for “Caprica” would be the polar opposite. After all, the events of this series take place in an entirely different environment. Caprica City is a familiar society at its most decadent and opulent peak, hardly a rag-tag fleet of refugees struggling for resources. The audience knows that doomsday looms on the horizon for citizens of Caprica City, but the characters themselves do not. “Caprica was a city that on the outside was modern, structured, and efficient,” director Jeffrey Reiner told me. “However, on the inside, things were rotten.”
To highlight this idea, I stripped away the urgent, tribal, primitive and mystical elements of the “Battlestar Galactica” soundtrack to distance this new series from those taiko-drum-inspired pulses.
Eliminating what would not be in the “Caprica” score was simple. But, deciding what instruments to use proved to be more difficult. Clearly, this series needed to be tonally and instrumentally different than “Battlestar.” But, the music of “Battlestar” had been carefully constructed to be different from everything else! Employing some weird, backwards logic, I concluded that to make the “Caprica” score more “different,” I had to make it more “normal.”
As a result, “Caprica” is scored with an intimate, contemporary chamber orchestra, recorded at the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage last January. Yes, there are many moments where ethnic percussion or solos sneak into the texture, but the score is, in essence, entirely orchestral. “Bear sent me very complete demos against picture that worked great,” Jeff Reiner recalled. “But it wasn’t until I sat in the scoring stage at Warner Bros., and heard the maestro conduct his orchestra, that I was blown away.”
My harmonic language for “Caprica” is far more lyrical and rich than the simple drones and dissonant clusters that permeate the majority of “Galactica.” In fact, I must admit that “Caprica” had an undeniable influence on my score for the “Battlestar” finale: Daybreak. The tight post-production schedule forced me to commence writing music for the “Battlestar” finale within days of finishing “Caprica.” I couldn’t get the lush harmonies out of my head! So, I threw caution to the wind and applied the orchestral sensibilities I used on “Caprica” to Daybreak, creating the best score of my “Battlestar” career. Ironically, my experiences on “Caprica” forced me to expand the harmonic language of “Galactica.” I think the similarities in tone between “Caprica” and Daybreak are quite obvious, which makes sense since I had to write both of them within the same five-week span.
Despite my goal of distancing “Caprica” from “Galactica,” the similarities do not end with the harmonic language. The instrumentation may be totally different, but my approach to these complex story arcs was very similar. I avoided making overt or obvious emotional statements, and allowed the drama on screen to unfold naturally.
Just like in “Galactica,” our characters in “Caprica” are deeply flawed. There is no “hero,” in the traditional sense. “The film is filled with the emotions of loss and the struggles with guilt,” Jeff Reiner explained. “I wanted the music to drive the story in a unrelenting manner, but evoke the inner emotions of the characters with out falling into schmaltz.”
Rather than trying to compensate for this ambiguity, I embraced it with the score. Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adama are restrained characters, even during the most turbulent of family crises. Their emotions are kept hidden, out of sight from their peers and visible only to those closest to them. With the score, I strove to reach beneath their muted exteriors and reveal the longing, brooding emotions within. Having taken my cue from the nuanced writing and acting performances, the score is restrained and subtle, bittersweet and elegant. I reserved the sweeping, emotional phrases for only the most important moments.
“It’s always nerve-wracking engaging in a new relationship with composer,” Jeff Reiner admitted. “But, Bear erased any doubt when we talked story. He liked the ideas that I approached him with, but most importantly he seemed to have a deep understanding of the characters’ inner lives. He also has a great command of an orchestra and an instinct for using the right instruments.”
Another similarity between the music of “Galactica” and “Caprica” is my use of character themes. If you read my blog entries about recent “Galactica” episodes, you know that literally every character has their own theme. However, this was not always the case. In Season One, themes were not so loosely connected to a single character, but tied to emotional arcs, or narrative lines. The musical themes of “Caprica” also begin this way.
The story is about two families, and so I wrote two thematically meaningful melodies: The Graystone Theme and The Tauron Theme. These melodies are held together with a series of ostinatos that are thematically connected with each family. (MUSIC TRIVIA: “ostinato” is a musical term that refers to an idea that repeats. In previous entries, I’ve called them “riffs” or “grooves,” but you guys are seemingly not turned off by my technical music jargon, so from here on out I’m using the proper term!)
Before I show you these themes and ostinatos, I want to clarify that I don’t yet know how they will evolve over the course of the first season. Try not to think of the Graystone Theme as the “Daniel Theme” or the “Zoe Theme.” It is simply a musical idea that represents their entire world, isolated from the melody signifying the world of the Tauron gangsters. As I move forward and score the series you’ll see next year, I’m certain that these themes will change and evolve, and that I will compose new ones as well.
*** THE GRAYSTONE OSTINATO ***
This simple oscillating pattern is woven throughout the score, serving as the canvas upon which the longer melodies are painted. Usually appearing in the harp, piano and gamelan, at its simplest, the ostinato is a minor third and major third (or diminished fourth, as its technically notated):
Play this lick on a piano and you’ll get a strong sense of G minor, since all of these pitches appear in that scale. However, I wanted to capture the moral ambiguity of the characters, and so I discovered an exciting way of harmonizing this simple figure, creating an infinitely more interesting harmony:
The obvious G minor tonality is nowhere to be found, even though the D augmented and Eb major could easily resolve there. This gives the pattern a slippery, seductive quality. You can never quite tell where it’s going emotionally.
The longer notes in the above four-chord pattern were often played by the harp, piano and gamelan as well, although I frequently put them in the winds and strings to highlight the chords more.
(JoAnn Turovsky plays harp on “Caprica”)
This harmonic progression and ostinato frequently underscored Zoe-A’s conversations with Lacey and Daniel. As I was writing, I thought of this as the “Zoe Theme,” although I hesitate to brand it as such now for the reasons I discussed earlier, because this ostinato also accompanies scenes with other characters.
*** THE GRAYSTONE THEME ***
This melody is the de facto “Caprica” theme, since it is woven throughout the film:
Not coincidentally, it fits nicely over the Graystone Ostinato. (All the chords from the Ostinato in the theme appear as well.) This melody was the first thing I wrote when I began scoring the movie. I feel that it captures the complex characters and arcs in a single elegant melody.
A few weeks ago, I was in Germany for the premiere of my ballet and performed this theme on the piano in an interview with Caprica-City.de. In this clip you can also hear the Graystone Ostinato (after the first statement of the theme):
The first place in the film you can really hear the Graystone Theme prominently is in the montage immediately following the train explosion, when the parents grieve.
*** AMANDA THEME ***
Here I go, doing exactly what I said I wouldn’t do and naming a theme after a character. Damnit!
I didn’t use this theme much, because the vast majority of Amanda’s storyline was cut out of the film. (Are those scenes included in the DVD release? I don’t actually know). However, I know that she will be an important character moving forward, so I wanted to attach a melodic theme to her. I like this piece because it really isn’t a theme, just a unique set of ascending scales, with the top note descending in each statement. More often than not, I used it as an ostinato underneath other themes, but I featured it prominently in each of the key scenes involving Amanda.
The most prominent appearance is at the beginning of the montage where Daniel and Amanda make love while Sam kills the defense minister.
(Chris Bleth puts down his duduks and bansuris to play mostly orchestral woodwinds on “Caprica”)
It’s played in an English Horn solo by “Galactica” woodwind maestro Chris Bleth. It also accompanies Durham questioning Amanda at her office.
*** ZOE CHORDS ***
Since I mentioned Amanda’s Theme, I remembered that there actually is one other theme distinctly associated with a character, Zoe. This progression of four chords is first heard when Lacey discovers Zoe-A in the V-Club after the flesh and blood Zoe was killed. Lacey is scared at first, but gradually comes to embrace Zoe-A. As the new relationship forms between the girls, this progression is stated in the score:
(It was technically played a half-step higher, in Db, but the notation was quite horrific, with double flats all over the place, so I moved it down to C to make it easier to read.)
Zoe’s Chords make two other appearances in the film: once when Daniel first embraces Zoe-A and finally as the U87 with Zoe’s data installed sputters to life before Daniel’s eyes. Each of these scenes is related narratively. They are about the people in Zoe’s life coming to terms with her new state. It made perfect sense that a single musical idea connected these scenes. However, this is technically not a theme in the traditional melodic sense, because it never appears with the same melody twice. Each time this chord progression is used, it is in a different meter or with different melodic lines. Nevertheless, the unique contour of the ascending line in the harmony (in the above example, the G to G# to A, and back down to Ab) makes this chord progression easy to recognize and remember. It undeniably connects these three important Zoe moments. So, in that respect, the chords function as a Zoe Theme.
*** DANIEL OSTINATO ***
As Daniel begins to suspect that Lacey knows something about his daughter that he does not, the score gradually introduces a simple, repetitive figure that signifies his increasing obsession with Zoe:
Early in the film, it is stated by a solo harp. But, as he becomes more ruthless in his pursuit of the secret of Zoe’s avatar, the ostinato is handed over to the low strings, where it has much more energy.
This thematic idea reaches its peak when Daniel downloads Zoe-A into a memory stick and kicks Lacey out of his house. That moment was the turning point where he begins a transformation from grieving father to a crazy Dr. Frankenstein figure. I needed an aggressive, dissonant ostinato that could represent his growing madness.
*** THE TAURON OSTINATO ***
This accompanimental figure is connected with Joseph Adama’s storyline:
It is first heard beneath his tale of arriving on Caprica for the first time.
However, its most prominent appearance is during the montage when Sam kills the defense minister, underscoring Sam’s ominous trek up the staircase and playing out through the whole sequence. After our orchestral recording session, Jeff Reiner recalled “the first piece I heard was the montage where Sam kills the Minister of Defense while Amanda and Daniel make love, not to mention, Joseph breaking down in tears because of guilt and the loss of his family. The score drove the scene, while evoking the intimacy of love, the rage of a gangland killing, and the struggle with ethnic identity. Try that at home!”
The Tauron Ostinato always leads into a statement of…
*** THE TAURON THEME ***
This theme signifies Joseph’s connection to the Tauron mob, and also to his ancestral family lineage:
Unlike the Graystone Theme, which feels very classically Western, the Tauron theme has a distinctly ethnic, modal flavor.
(Paul Cartwright plays the Tauron Theme)
It is played either by Paul Cartwright on the acoustic fiddle, or by Chris Bleth on the Chinese membrane flute. I wanted it to capture the mood of Tauron the same way Nino Rota’s “Godfather” theme evokes Italy. My task was relatively easy because Tauron and its musical traditions are entirely fictional, so I could make Tauronese music sound like whatever I wanted. I drew my inspirations from Russian folk music, and asked Paul Cartwright to play in that style as opposed to the Scottish Fiddle feel he so frequently evokes for “Roslin and Adama” on “Battlestar.”
Most of the major themes from “Caprica” can be heard in the film’s end credit suite, bootlegs of which are floating around the internet in so many places, I might as well just link to one here:
The first sound you hear is Paul Cartwright’s solo fiddle playing the Tauron Theme. At 0:25, the chamber orchestra sneaks in playing the Graystone Theme. At 1:02, after the theme is fully stated, the low strings enter with an ominous version of the Graystone Ostinato.
From there, a harp begins the Tauron Ostinato at 1:22. A solo flute introduces a full statement of the Tauron Theme, at 1:30, and the orchestra begins cascading variations of that melody and ostinato, building intensity.
At 2:44, the strings and bassoons burst into an energetic version of the Daniel Ostinato that gradually fades out at the end of the track.
*** FAMILIAR THEMES ***
That covers the majority of the original material from which I constructed the score to “Caprica.” However, the music also features elements that should be more familiar to “Battlestar” fans. The most obvious (I hope) to any reader of my blog is the appearance of “Wander My Friends” at the moment where Joseph tells Willy of his true last name and Tauron heritage:
I was given no creative direction from the producers whether or not to reference themes from “Battlestar,” but this moment was too perfect to resist. After all, the first time I used this theme was in Hand of God, when Adama and Lee discuss Joseph’s lighter (see Season One Soundtrack: “A Good Lighter”). Now, we witness the moment when Adama, as a young man, learns his true name. It seemed perfect that the strings swell with a subtle statement of “Wander My Friends” at this moment.
This scene gave me chills when I finally saw it completed. I must confess that the familiar melody in the score made an already excellent scene even more effective. My hope is that hearing this melody subconsciously makes an audience that has seen “Galactica” remember Lee, Kara, Roslin and all the incredibly emotional experiences that this little boy doesn’t yet know he will see one day. I am very curious to know if BG fans out there noticed this little musical cameo.
The other direct musical reference to “Galactica” is not at a theme at all, but is a set of instruments. There are two sequences where we witness the U87 (the cylon prototype, not the similarly named Neumann microphone!) in a testing procedure. The visual effects designers obviously referenced the look of the cylons from “Galactica,” so I followed their lead and allowed the music to clearly pay homage to the music in “Battlestar.”
These sequences are the only scenes where I brought in the full ethnic percussion ensemble I used for practically every cue in “Galactica.”
(M.B. Gordy plays nagado daiko for the cylon test scene)
Resident percussionist M.B. Gordy brought in all the taikos, frame drums, dumbeks, chang changs, tsuzumis and other toys that give “Galactica” such a unique, percussive identity.
However, I intentionally kept these cues relatively small. In fact, the train sequence and the ending scene were scored almost entirely with small hand-percussion, such as shakers, claves and shime daiko. The big taiko drums were used very sparingly. For all the action cues in “Caprica,” I avoided the bagpipes, erhu, zhong hu, duduk, bansuri, shamisen, biwa, orchestra, vocals and rock band that have all combined into mega-action-cues for “Galactica.” After all, we’re watching a prototype cylon, so I wanted the score to sound like prototype “Battlestar” music. It’s more raw, edgy and unpolished.
One of the reasons this pilot score is so intimate is that I want to leave somewhere for us to build to. Should “Caprica” last three or four seasons, it will move chronologically in time closer and closer to the events in the “Battlestar Galactica” miniseries. My long-term goal is that the score to “Caprica” slowly devolve from the crisp, classical chamber orchestra you hear now back to the tribal percussion and ethnic soloists of “Battlestar” over the course of several seasons. If my plan works, then the last episode of “Caprica” may have a soundtrack that sounds like the first episode of “Galactica.”
Naturally, there are many creative decisions out of my control in this process. That idea may take several detours before my work on this series is finished. But, I like the concept very much. With that in mind, I knew that the score to the “Caprica” pilot had to be as different from “Galactica” as possible, so that, from here on out, we will slowly inch our way back towards the beginning.
*** SOUNDTRACK UPDATE ***
La La Land Records is releasing my score for “Caprica” on June 16. Pre-orders are already available at Amazon.com. As soon as the final artwork is approved, I’ll show you guys the CD cover, but so far it’s looking beautiful. I just signed off on the final mixes and mastering, and must confess that the album sounds wonderful and represents virtually every minute of score I wrote. I think it will make a lovely companion piece to the upcoming “Battlestar Galactica: Season 4″ CD.
Here’s the official track listing. You saw it here first:
- The Graystone Family
- Terrorism On The Lev
- Lacey and Zoe-A
- Cybernetic Life Form Node
- Zoe’s Avatar
- Daniel Captures the Code
- A Tauron Sacrifice
- Amanda Graystone
- Joseph and Daniel
- Tamara’s Heartbeat
- Delivering the Message
- Monotheism At The Athena Academy
- Children of Caprica
- Irrecoverable Error
- The Adama Name
- Zoe Awakens
- CAPRICA End Credits
I am very proud of the work that my music team and I accomplished on this pilot. I hope that BG fans out there enjoy this score, even though it is very different from my other work. Like the rest of you, I eagerly await watching the new series next year and seeing where the writers decide to take us.
“Bear is a talented man with a strange name,” Jeff Reiner said after scoring was completed. “I can’t imagine the movie without his score.”
So Say We All!
PS: Session photos courtesy of Andrew Craig.