Human Target: Sanctuary
February 4th, 2010
SPOILERS AHEAD: The gentle refrains of a boys choir float down, as if from a celestial balcony, as we are transported to a monastery in the mountains. The opening ten seconds of Sanctuary promise something special, and the rest of the episode does not disappoint. Here, the mythology behind the main characters is explored further and the score bursts across the episode with new character themes and a larger, more operatic approach.
(Session photography courtesy of Andrew Craig)
The element of the score that stands out the most is, of course, the boys choir. The producers and I wanted to open the episode strong, with music that simultaneously communicates fun, energy, adventure and a credible Catholic undertone, to help establish the monastery setting. I never thought we’d actually get a choir, because they are extremely expensive, but the series producers believed in the idea and made it happen. A Wednesday night idea, Thursday morning budget approval, Friday afternoon composition and Saturday orchestration led to a Sunday choral session!
The boys choir is first heard over the episode’s title card. I like to vary these title cards up with every episode, stating the Chance Theme with a different orchestration each time. And what could be a more unique introduction than having the boys choir sing the melody? Behind them, sul ponticello strings, harp and celeste descend in arpeggios before the low instruments enter with a deep, Brahms-ian chord progression:
From there, we dive right into the song. I wanted to write a melody that felt like an authentic hymn, so I restrained myself from throwing in any 7/8, diminished chords, polytonality, atonality, taiko drums, accordion or any of the other elements that tend to be found in my music. I just wanted to write a simple hymn, and I think I pulled it off.
Originally, I wanted to have the kids sing in Latin, to give it a traditional Catholic feel. But, I felt that choirs singing in Latin are a bit too pretentious for a show this fun (no offense to my BSG score, where they were pretty awesome). Latin would have undercut the element of “fun” that we were going for. Then, writer / producer Jon Steinberg suggested they sing Psalm 34 that Chance recites later in the episode, an idea I loved (not just because the executive producer suggested it… really, it was an awesome idea!).
This opening montage had several important functions. To establish the tone as I’d previously described was its first job, but honestly, any piece of choral music would have served. The second function was to lead us back from “fun choral music” to “Human Target music,” and remind the audience that we’re still the same show. Here is where a “needledrop” choral piece would have failed miserably, because you’d have to crossfade from the song into a score cue featuring the Chance Theme:
Since I was composing the choral tune from scratch, I could create a more sophisticated transition. The first two lines of the psalm melody are original, but the third line is a re-harmonized Chance Theme!
The Chance melody first sneaks in as we see a robed monk rounding a corner and walking towards camera. To further underline the transition from choral tune to Chance theme, the low brass and strings enter at this moment, and the boys are joined by the french horns.
As the melody ends, the Main Ostinato joins the arrangement:
This gives the otherwise pastoral choral piece the feel of a real score cue, which you can hear at the end of this clip:
Finally, as Chance reveals his face, the kids sing a hearty “AMEN!” over a IV-I plagal cadence (the typical “Amen” chord changes for anyone not familiar with church music).
From here, we dive into the real nuts and bolts of the plot, learning why Chance must infiltrate a monastery in order to rescue a criminal also in hiding as a monk.
Early on in the episode, the boys choir returns in a brief cue underscoring Chance giving a sermon. He’s put on the spot and has to speak to the monks. On the other side of the radio, Winston frantically searches online for a quotation to feed him. But, Chance surprises him and recites a psalm on his own.
The temp score laid in the cut was a comedy cue, merely playing up Winston’s surprise that Chance knew something religious. However, I saw here the opportunity to comment on something deeper about Chance’s character. The comedy of the scene wasn’t as interesting to me as the greater implications about Chance’s past. Why does he know this material? Is this something he memorized while prepping for this mission, or an indication he is searching for some kind of redemption? As I sketched this scene, I thought to bring back the boys choir melody from the teaser. The last time we heard this melody, it was being sung to these same words Chance is speaking. The choral tune very effectively underlined the emotion behind the scene, and was actually quite moving.
I pitched this idea to Steinberg, but he was concerned that the network and studio wanted to highlight the comedic elements in the episode, that scene in particular. Undaunted, I didn’t want to let my idea go and write some dumbass comedy cue when I knew we could do something more interesting. So, I set out to write a piece of music that conveys two distinctly different emotions:
First, the boys choir enters singing simple triadic chords while the violins play a clear statement of the opening montage song. The arrangement is warm and emotional. However, the phrases are punctuated by percussive arpeggios from pizzicato basses and celli, doubled with marimba. The choir and violins provide the emotional backdrop I wanted, while the lower voices accentuate Winston’s comedic reaction. As Chance finishes, Winston looks impressed. At this moment, a solo flute states a playful quotation of Chance’s theme, while the low pizzicatos and marimba state the first phrase of Winston’s theme:
This marks the first time in the score that these two themes have been arranged together. On the surface, this cue for Chance’s sermon is brief and simple, but in fact operates on multiple levels and helps tell two stories at once. Every once in a while I write a cue that assures me I’ve found my true calling in life, and this effective yet silly little gem was one of them.
Later in Act 1, the episode’s second plot is introduced. Guerrero meets a shady figure underneath a bridge who has hired him for a job. The particulars of the job are left unclear, but Guerrero asks the man where the money is coming from. They make an agreement that once the “item” has been delivered, the man will tell Guerrero who his boss is. At the end of the scene, its revealed that Guerrero has betrayed Chance and Winston and was waiting for them to be out of the country to strike a deal with this guy!
This scene reveals a lot about Guerrero, and I knew the music here had to reflect that. I wrote a two-chord melody that could almost be called the Guerrero Theme here, but let’s call it the Mystery Theme:
The use of distantly related minor chords (in the notated example Dm and Bbm) give this theme a dark, tonally ambiguous quality. The two phrases are distorted mirror images of one another. The first one starts on the fifth and descends. The second one ascends and lands on the fifth of the second chord. Scalar motion to and from the fifth of the scale is one of the simplest melodic conventions in music. However, the shifting minor chords and altered scale degrees (the raised fourth in the first chord) twist and distort this melody into a very sinister and ominous phrase.
Back at the monastery, Gray reveals to Chance and the abbot that he chose to hide in this particular monastery because the Nicene Chronicles were here. He goes on to detail why this religious MacGuffin is so valuable. Beneath this scene, I wrote a progression of shifting harmonies, underscoring the mystery, majesty and importance of this book. I orchestrated the chords entirely in muted strings, but added a few solo woodwinds, in particular bassoon and English horn, to color certain lines within the chords. The result makes those lines stand out almost as melodies, although they really just add emphasis to inner harmony lines I thought were especially exotic:
I wrote this passage quickly, so I could move on to the big action cue that follows. Nonetheless, my efforts resulted in the most harmonically interesting cue in the entire score.
As Gray’s description of the book ends, he apologizes for deceiving the monks. The slippery chord progression finally settles on an Eb major chord (the last chord in the audio example). This is a trick I learned scoring the opressively atonal teaser in “Battlestar Galactica’s” Sometimes a Great Notion: The appearance of a unison tonic or major chord is much more effective when preceded by chords with no clear tonal center.
In this case, Gray’s apology represents a moment of redemption where a career criminal has apologized to those he had sinned against. The Eb major here, appearing after the shifting harmonies from before, rings out like a bell and gives this moment added significance.
The parallels between Chance and Gray are clear, but become even more so when the abbot turns to Chance and says “I also sensed the good man, seeking a better path. If I can’t help a man like that what am I doing here?” This is the second time in the episode this line has been spoken in reference to Chance. The abbot’s words sink in for Chance, but he doesn’t respond. Instead, I wrote a haunting, minor version of the Chance Theme, played by Malcolm McNab’s solo trumpet, that modulates the melody in a way it never has before:
The music tells us what Chance tries to keep hidden: that he can relate to Gray’s situation all too well.
Meanwhile, Winston is at the base of the mountain, watching Fisher’s men take over the gondola. Here, I introduced a 3/4 ostinato in the low strings that functions throughout the story as a secondary Winston Theme, or Winston Ostinato:
This will likely not return in future episodes with any thematic meaning, nor does it take the place of the playful Winston Theme first introduced in Rewind. However, it underscores his stealthy surveillance and heroic moments throughout Sanctuary.
And there are some kick ass action sequences in this episode. One of the most amusing involves Chance fighting a henchman with a censer as if it were nunchucks! Just like the Spork Fight from Rewind, I accompanied this comedic moment with a huge, heroic statement of the Chance Theme.
While Chance and Gray search the catacombs of the monastery for the hidden book, Gray asks Chance about the woman he assumes was in his past that made him “feel like one of the good guys.” A solo oboe states a melody here that we’ve never heard before. Chance brushes the question off, replying “it just didn’t work out.” The oboe melody recedes back into the background, and could easily be interpreted as a meaningless orchestral phrase commenting on nothing more than their casual conversation. However, that same melody returns moments later in an entirely different context.
Guerrero breaks into Chance’s San Fransisco office, searching through his files. He finally finds the document he wanted and plays back one of Winston’s archive tapes. Winston’s describes “Case #001 with my new colleague Christopher Chance” and a woman named Katherine. Here, the low strings offer our first taste of a theme that will become more important at the end of the episode: the Katherine Theme. Then, the words “Police Department,” “Cause of Death” and “DECEASED” flash across the screen as the orchestra swells into the darker Chance B-Theme.
For the fourth act, I got my long-awaited chance to score the classic “Red Wire / Blue Wire” scenario. This is a scene we’ve all seen before, but Human Target puts its own spin on it. First, as Chance runs out the door to save Gray, he and Winston have a funny exchange as Winston continually reminds Chance he’s never disarmed a bomb before.
This dialog is underscored with a clear statement of Winston’s Theme, in its classic, comedic arrangement:
At the end of this audio clip, listen to how the score suddenly picks up speed, adding about 10 bpm (beats per minute) without warning. To remind the audience of the ever-increasing threat of the bomb detonating, this cue just continually gets faster and faster, even as we intercut with Chance running to save Gray. Over the course of 4 minutes, the music steadily increases from a breezy 122 bpm to a brisk 160. The orchestral musicians actually laughed out loud with disbelief when they came to the first tempo change. They couldn’t believe I was seriously asking 50 people to make perfectly calculated leaps in tempo together. But, I knew they could pull it off and with a few rehearsal takes, they hit each tempo shift perfectly.
The tempo peaks as Chance swings down the gondola cable like Errol Flynn. This moment was an easy one to score, because it clearly needed a huge, bombastic orchestration of the Chance Theme:
Sanctuary ends with a single cue unifying a larger montage, resulting in the most significant piece I’ve written yet for this series. It ties together multiple thematic threads and firmly establishes two new themes to the “Human Target” musical lexicon.
First, Chance speaks with Gray after he’s turned himself in to the police. He did so for the love of a woman, and he asks Chance if the decision will still make sense to him when he gets out prison.
“A girl gets you turned around like that?” Chance replies. “That doesn’t go away.”
At this moment, the violins and English horn state an unaccompanied, beautiful melody:
Ostensibly, this cue is about Gray and his girlfriend, right? Not really. In fact, this scene isn’t about them at all. It’s about Chance. The theme here is actually the Katherine Theme, first heard when Chance and Gray are talking in the catacombs and when Guerrero finds the hidden file earlier in the episode. The entire subplot about Gray’s relationship is a narrative device designed to give us a deeper look into Chance’s past.
Katherine’s Theme is not the only one firmly established in this montage. We cut to Guerrero giving the stolen documents to the shady figure. The Mystery Theme returns, this time played by double-reeds and flutes against a cascading backdrop of arpeggiated strings. We cut to Chance digging through his own files as the Katherine Theme swells in the strings. Returning to Guerrero, a solo trumpet states the Mystery Theme as he once again asks the bad guy to reveal the name of the person who hired him:
The guy refuses to disclose the name of his employer: a fatal mistake. Guerrero shoots him in the back, revealing he had never betrayed Chance at all, but was trying to track down the identity of someone who wanted this file. Now, it should be clear why I didn’t call this ominous melody the Guerrero Theme, because it wasn’t referring to him at all. This Mystery Theme actually refers to someone or something else that Guerrero is searching for.
Returning to Chance for a final time, we see him alone in his office, looking at the Katherine file. By himself, he is at his most vulnerable. This is a side of him we never see when he is around others. I wanted the score here to emphasize Chance now, over the Mystery or Katherine themes. So, I brought in the Chance B-Theme, a melody generally reserved for the darker or more emotional Chance moments. Here, the melody is elongated and set against quickly cascading strings. While this part of the theme is generally more emotional, it has never felt more conflicted or bittersweet than in this moment:
The episode ends as Guerrero executes the man who had hired him, making clear he will cross any line in order to protect his friend. Our questions of Guerrero’s loyalty have been answered, but many more about the series and the mythology have opened up. Likewise, the score has expanded into a dynamic and nearly operatic musical experience. Future episodes will continue this musical trajectory, and I am eager to see how far down this path I end up by the season finale.