Human Target: Salvage and Reclamation

SPOILERS BEYOND: The most recent episode of “Human Target,” Lockdown, allowed me to expand my compositional technique.  I made a conscious effort to write music with more layers and activity, that made better use of the diverse instruments within the orchestra.  The resultant score was more dynamic, effective and genuinely orchestral.  For Salvage and Reclamation, I pushed this approach considerably further.  In sheer scale and expression, this score blows away any of my previous orchestral compositions and will forever change the way “Human Target” sounds.

In addition to expanding both the size of the orchestra and the way I wrote for the ensemble, I also introduced the first use of ethnic colors to the score.  (This is the polar negative of the BSG score, where orchestral sounds snuck into the mostly ethnic score towards the end of the first season.)  Because the story takes place high up in the Andes in South America, I infused the score with traditional pan flutes, quena, latin percussion and mallet instruments.

These new ethnic sounds are introduced right from the beginning, over the episode’s title card.  The low strings, winds and harp state the first three notes of the Chance theme.  Then, the high strings and flutes finish the phrase three octaves higher.  (This is the inverse orchestration of the Embassy Row Title Card, which started the melody high and finished it low.)  As the title card fades away, the quena, marimbas and pan flutes swell up and transition us into the dark South American night:

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This opening scene introduces us to Chance’s protectee, Doug, an explorer who found a missing airplane full of gold and has fallen capture to a corrupt military dictator.  While dialog-heavy, this opening scene was vital to set the mood for the rest of the episode, especially to establish its exotic location and expanded scope.

I took advantage of this opportunity to write what felt to me like a feast of orchestral colors.  With each passage, I explored energetic celli lines, muted brass, fluttering woodwinds and anything else I could imagine.  This was the first episode that included a harpist, so this cue contains many instances of the harp as a soloist and as an accompaniment instrument.  This passage is a great example of these rapidly changing orchestral colors:

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The forboding string lines in the beginning underscore the dialog as Doug speaks with the mysterious Bertram.

Then, a piccolo, harp gliss and trombone cluster sting an unknown figure sneaking through the camp, taking out guards one by one.  As we cut back to Bertram, trilling strings descend as deep winds and strings present an ominous march.  A South American quena sneaks into the texture as well.  While the resultant music sounds gently ambient, listen closely and you’ll hear its the result of many distinct phrases layered carefully together, creating the patchwork.  I struggled to ensure that these neatly woven ideas did not become a jumbled, chaotic mess.  More than once I went back and deleted ideas that, while appealing conceptually, cluttered the cue.  Notice that, except for the title card, the Chance theme is nowhere to be found… yet.

Our unknown intruder enters the tent, revealing Christopher Chance.  I announced him with a playful harp and string gliss leading to Malcolm McNab’s light trumpet solo of the main theme:

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Quickly, the arrangement becomes more tense as Chance sneaks Doug out of the tent, attempting to rescue him.  Now that Chance’s involvement in the story is clear, his main theme is used more frequently.

After a failed attempt to outsmart a guard, Chance and Doug steal a jeep and try to blast their way out the military camp.  Here, the score picks up about 40 beats per minute and explodes into a fast action riff:

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This cue demonstrates I’ve become more confident with using brass writing, and also shows off the expanded horn section the producers splurged for on for this episode.  Just like with Lockdown, listen for how every instrument family is doing something unique here.  There’s virtually no doubling at all, forging a thick, complex and energetic cue.

Now the chase is on as the military is in close pursuit.  We learn a bit more about Bertram, as he strikes a bargain with the generalissimo (whom I lovingly nicknamed Latin American Freddie Mercury, because of his uncanny resemblance to my musical idol).

Here we get our first glimpse of the Bertram Theme:

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The Bertram Theme is a collection of woodwind clusters that generally jump up and down in minor or major thirds.  I didn’t bother notating it for the blog, because the actual notes don’t matter.  In fact, every time the theme is used, its a different set of pitches and chords.  The only thing that makes it a theme is the color, rhythm and general mood.  (And the fact that I’m calling it a theme.  So there!)

Doug and Chance make it to Maria’s bar, where he plans to stock up on supplies.  Earlier dialog hinted that he and Maria share some sort of past, and our suspicions are aroused that she may not be happy to see him again.  As he first walks into the bar, the strings give us a clear statement of the most important new theme of this episode, The Maria Theme:

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In our early discussions, executive producer Jonathan Steinberg and I decided that Maria required her own love theme, as opposed to using the previously established Katherine Walters Theme as a sort of “Generic Christopher Chance Love Theme.”  Not only did Maria deserve her own theme, but the Katherine Theme will continue to be thematically significant in future episodes.  And while I labored for hours to come up with the Katherine theme back in Sanctuary, this theme basically just poured out of my brain instantly.  To my surprise, it resulted in one of the most beautiful and elegant love themes I’ve ever written, and it provided the backbone of the entire Salvage score.

Steinberg was so thrilled with it, he told me “we have to bring Maria back in season 2, if for no other reason than that I can’t leave that theme on the shelf without coming back to it again.  Great stuff.” Let’s hope we get a Season 2 so you can hear this theme more!

Notice the big sting at the end of this clip?  That’s where the guys with guns suddenly surround Chance.  In the first take with the orchestra, some musicians were so shocked by the sudden bang they actually screamed… which of course made the rest of the orchestra burst into laughter.

(session photos courtesy of Andrew Craig)

Bertram’s hunch that they would be hiding out at Maria’s bar proves correct and he captures them.  Chance devises an escape plan that involves Doug scattering machine gun fire through the whole bar.  Bullets fly, glasses and windows shatter as everyone in the room ducks for cover.

I knew the sound design would be incredibly loud, so I didn’t even bother to write anything percussive.  Instead, I used trilling string clusters and a heroic brass fanfare to announce Doug’s heroics.  I then used pizzicato strings, ornamental woodwind lines and staccato brass accompaniment to play up the comedy in Chance and Maria’s escape:

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The introduction of Maria added both romantic and comedic layers to the story, and the score from this point on expands in both directions.  Later in the episode, she decides to help Chance and Doug make it to an airfield tucked away deep in dangerous rebel territory.  As she and Chance bicker over their next steps, the score is distinctly animated, evoking a Carl Stalling or Scott Bradley sound:

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Every little phrase, every single hit coincides with a gesture, facial expression or line of dialog.  The cue itself can feel kind of scattered, but in context, it blends pretty seamlessly into the comedy.

Another great comedic adventure cue underscores Winston and Guerrero’s adventures in the airplane.  They are trying to fly to the airfield to rescue Chance and Doug and are forced to navigate a dangerous pass known as The Devil’s Mouth with a hilariously inexperienced pilot.  As they frantically throw items off the plane to lose weight, the score adds energy, without overtly adding enough tension to kill the humor in the dialog:

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This moment gives us our first full statement of the Winston Theme since its creation for Rewind:

You’ll hear it first in the high woodwinds and trumpets, then again in a new key in the strings.  I brought back a rhythmic ostinato from Rewind in the strings, but also wrote a new one (the fast 16ths figure that sounds almost baroque or classical):

This new riff is so much fun, I may use it later as well, perhaps as a Winston Ostinato?

Once Doug, Maria and Chance enter uncharted rebel territory, the score amps up the ethnic instrumentation.  I wanted to create the feeling that these woods are even more dangerous than the ones controlled by the military, and remind the audience at all times that dangerous guerilla fighters could lurk behind any tree.

Unfortunately, Doug, Chance and Maria are captured by Bertram, who has joined forces with the rebels that control the territory (this guy seems to have friends everywhere!).  He forces Chance to lead them all through the forest to the location of the hidden gold.  As they venture further into the jungle, the exotic South American instruments lay the foundation over which orchestral woodwinds state the Bertram Theme:

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Chance leads them instead to an old mine field, and when the explosions start, they make a run for it.  Assuming that the explosions and gunfire would be loud as hell, I opted to score this sequence with blasting, staccato brass lines, hoping that some of them would cut through the chaos:

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At the end of the clip, you can hear things take a turn for the worse.  Chance hears an explosion and fears that Maria or Doug may have been killed.  The score swells with rising tension as he runs to Maria, laying on the ground.  He leans in to check for vital signs and she quickly makes a joke, informing us that she’s alive and well.

This transition was difficult because I wanted the ramp up to feel genuinely terrifying, suggesting that she really may be dead.  But it also had to be small enough that I could quickly pivot to romance (“Yay, she’s alive!”) and then to comedy (“You’re touching me!”).  As you can hear, the music pretty much covers all this ground in the span of about 15 seconds.

They make it to the airfield.  On the runway, Chance finally has a moment to explain to Maria why he left her all those years ago.  Their entire arc for this whole episode was building to this moment.  Chris Bleth’s solo oboe states the Maria Theme, while a solo horn plays the Chance theme underneath.  Then, the strings and wind ascend with staggered Maria Theme phrases:

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Their moment can’t last, however, because the military bursts on to the runway.  Here, I introduced a new action riff that will lay the foundation for the huge action cue to follow:

In the last act of Salvage and Reclamation, Chance tries to devise a skyhook escape while the military closes in on them.  The entire act is basically one epic cue, perhaps the biggest I’ve ever written.  It begins with pounding variations of the action riff introduced in that last clip.  Then, as Doug, Maria and Chance separate to accomplish their mission, the percussion subdivides into a faster triplet rhythm:

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The congas and pan flutes provide the rhythmic definition while various orchestral phrases flourish and bubble atop it.  I wanted to create a fluttery, intense energy, but not have it be a bombastic action cue.  This needed a stealthier approach.  In that last clip listen particularly to the use of open-to-stopped French horn chords as transitions, and muted trumpets and trombones as little punctuation marks.

Winston and Guerrero’s plane speeds ever closer, and the orchestra returns to full blast, with an even more energertic version of the action riff, horns and trumpets blaring:

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Despite all the chaos, Chance and Maria still talk about their previous relationship.  Chance struggles to be honest about his emotions because he really wants to communicate with her.  But, having been emotionally guarded for so many years, he simply can’t.  All the while, the military and Bertram close in, the plane approaches, and Doug struggles to help set up the net that will fly them to safety.

This was a difficult sequence to score.  At first, I considered scoring it with variations of the action riff and just thinking of it as an action cue.  But, I quickly realized that would be sacrificing the interesting narrative layer in order to serve the obvious one.  We’ve seen Chance get out of some prickly situations on many occasions.  However, I really wasn’t sure on the first viewing if he would ever have the courage to confess his feelings to Maria.  That was the genuinely suspenseful story line.

So, what would likely be a big action cue in a typical TV episode, became a love theme here.  The Maria Theme is stated first in the strings, then in a soaring French horn solo:

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The emotional music sits atop a bouncing latin percussion groove that keeps the suspense going.  The two Maria Theme phrases are punctuated briefly by suspenseful tremolo strings.  But, the focus of the score here is clearly about the relationship more than the action.

The entire episode has hinted that they will eventually kiss, yet every time they nearly do, something explodes or bullets fly.  Each time we are teased by them not kissing, it raises the bar for how romantic their final kiss will have to be.  However, at long last, despite the dangers around them, Chance and Maria kiss.  The score, I hope, lives up to the promise of a passionate, gorgeous love theme fulfilled:

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As far as I was concerned, the kiss was the climax of the entire episode.  Sure, we still had to escape the military and be swept away by an airplane, but I kept the score restrained.  I chose to ignore the danger and death-defying thrills and focused on the fact that two lovers shared one last kiss and said goodbye:

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A solo flute brings back a quiet version of the Maria Theme, beneath an elegant string counter line.  As Chance and Doug are picked up, the horns play the Chance Theme, beneath a sparkling waterfall of harp and woodwinds.  Chris Bleth’s solo oboe gives us a gentle Chance Theme as the plane flies away to safety.

That cue alone would be a big enough moment to end on, but, of course, my job wasn’t over yet.  Maria discovers Chance slipped her the coordinates to the missing gold before he left.  One final statement of the Maria Theme swells as she unravels the map and smiles:

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The episode ends the only way it possibly could, with our heroes flying off into the sunset.  At the first spotting session, this final shot was about 5 seconds long, leaving me only enough room to hold a single note or write some stupid stinger.  Though its completely against protocol to change the picture solely because the composer wants to, I assured Steinberg that any more time he could squeeze out of this shot would be returned to him in spades with a kick ass orchestral fanfare.  I was hoping for another 3 or 4 seconds.

Showing how much he truly believes in the score for this series, Steinberg returned to the cut and trimmed the episode back in order to give me 23 seconds for the fanfare!  I couldn’t believe he did this, and can’t imagine any other network series that would allow this much time without dialog or action.  After all, once you’ve seen the plane for 5 seconds, you have all the information about the story you need, just not all the emotion.  This move was solely to allow the music to soar and finish up this epic story.  And it soars into clouds:

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-Bear

PS:

Looking for the missing gold?  It’s right here!