Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

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      Tonight and tomorrow are the two-night premiere of Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the newest series to showcase my original score.  I’m not going to spoil any plot points here, but just give a quick introduction to the music of the series.  

      I got involved with Sarah last summer.  I was still deep in the throes of finishing Eureka, and preparing to dive into Battlestar Galactica: Razor.  But, when I got the call that the producers wanted to meet with me, I leapt at the opportunity to get involved.

      The films of James Cameron are one of the principal reasons I got into the film music business in the first place.  I had always adored movies and music, but seeing Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2 and The Abyss in my formative years turned a daydream into a burning desire.  When I was 9 years old, my mom got me a Yamaha PSR keyboard (which I still have in my closet to this day) and when I figured out how to work the sequencer, the first thing I programmed in… was the Terminator theme.

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      Fast-forward to last summer, when I met with producers Josh Friedman, James Middleton and John Wirth.  They asked me how I would approach the music to the series.  I said that Cameron’s Terminator movies mean so much to me that I wouldn’t allow them to put a Terminator  show on the air with crappy music.  And I got the job.  :)

     In my mind, the Terminator mythology already has a musical identity, that is sonic and textural, but not necessarily melodic (meaning the instrumental “style” is equally important as any themes).  I wanted to score the show by keeping this inherent Terminator sound intact… in essence, to make this series feel like a credible follow-up to Terminator and Terminator 2.  I set out to honor the sound that Brad Fiedel pioneered in the first two films, but to also push the boundaries of the energy, warmth and depth of the score.  

      This is the polar opposite of my approach to Battlestar Galactica, where I go out of my way to avoid the orchestral colors of the original series.  But Galactica is a remake that struggled in its early days to establish itself as a completely new entity.  Sarah Connor is a direct sequel to Terminator 2, so tonally it should be as consistent with that film as possible.

      First, the percussion.  Galactica’s percussion arsenal is very organic, and acoustic.  But, I knew the Sarah Connor percussion had to be metallic, cold and more aggressive.  I spent all summer assembling my music team and we started recording metal… LOTS of metal.  I brought in Battlestar‘s taiko maestro M.B. Gordy and together we recorded oil cans, whale drums, chains, anvils, brake drums, garbage cans, thundersheets, tin cans… anything we could get our hands on.  I edited samples most of the summer, creating my own custom library of metallic drums.  But, these metallic samples are just the beginning of the process.  For every episode, we go back to M.B.’s studio and record live metal percussion elements on top of the electronics.  I also collaborate with Jonathan Snipes (the mad genius behind Captain Ahab with whom I also collaborated on Wrong Turn 2) who beefs up all the electronics and loops with his own unique style.  The combined result is a barrage of incredibly powerful metallic percussion.  

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“M.B. angry… M.B. smash!!!!

      The string pads were another issue.  The Brad Fiedel scores were constructed with very expressive synthesizers (the T2 Main Title, for example, could easily be mistaken as performed by a live orchestra) and even though synths have improved greatly over the years, doing the score entirely with synths just didn’t excite me.  So, I’ve filled out the orchestration with a very unique ensemble of electric strings.  This quartet plays together as an ensemble, but rather than being mic’ed in a room, they play through pick ups that run into amplifiers, and we mic the amps instead.  Finding performers who not only have the gear to pull this off, but know how to get a good sound out of it would normally be a challenge, but I happen to know very talented string players who are used to this, including Paul Cartwright (frequent Galactica soloist), Benedikt BrydernRobert Anderson and Jacob Szekely.

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L-R: Benedikt Brydern (electric violin), Jacob Szekely (electric cello), Robert Anderson (electric baritone violin).

      The “electric quartet” is featured prominently in every episode.  In fact, you’ll hear them in the opening seconds of the Main Title.  Speaking of the Main Title, I can answer everyone’s question right now: Yes, we are using the iconic Brad Fiedel theme.  However, it is only used briefly over the Main Title card.  The rest of the opening title (and subsequent episodic scores) are entirely my original themes.

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     Unlike Galactica and it’s sprawling cast, you’ll find Sarah Connor is a much more contained show.  There really are only four or five principal characters.  As a result, the musical themes will be much easier to identify.  I first wrote a theme for Sarah.  Realistically, the films never developed a theme for her anyway; in the first Terminator, there was a happy piano tune representing  her everyday life as a waitress before Arnold got to her, but it never evolved into her bad-ass phase.  I also wrote themes for John, Cameron and Ellison.  A few other mystery characters get original themes, some of whom may be characters returning from certain movies.  But, like I said, I don’t want to give anything away!

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     Terminator  fans will be pleasantly surprised by how loyal this series is to the films.  I know I was, and I was as skeptical as any of you before I saw the pilot.  Everybody involved with the show believes in it, and has worked incredibly hard to bring to the screen a saga worthy of the name Terminator.  And the soundtrack CD is going to kick ass. :)