The Write Music.

starwars_lpI’m fairly certain that anybody who’s followed my antics for any length of time knows that I have a thing for film and television music. The very first album I remember buying with my own money was in 1977, and it was the original 2-record edition of John Williams’ score for Star Wars.

A few more would follow in that album’s footsteps: Superman: The Movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and so on. As I grew older and had more money to spend, my selection of titles expanded, and to this day such music accounts for a sizable percentage of my rather eclectic collection.

Later, when I started writing, and particularly with my writing an awful lot of Star Trek fiction (you may have heard me mention that, once or twice), I discovered that I really liked having film and TV music playing in the background as I worked. Then I started playing particular scores (or portions thereof) to help get me in the groove for writing certain stories or scenes. For writing Star Trek? Music from one of the television series or films is always in the rotation, but I also try to mix it up.

Lots of action? Star Wars, Star Trek, Black Hawk Down, Superman, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and so on just to name a few.

Quieter, moodier, and/or more contemplative scenes? The American President, The Shawshank Redemption, Jurassic Park, Alien, Outland, and so on.

(Oh, and don’t forget that individual pieces from any of these and so many others can work for end of the spectrum I’m describing, and everything in between.)

When I started buying these things, the formats of the era – LP vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and even :: gasp :: 8-track tapes – limited the amount of music which could be included on these commercial albums and still make them profitable for their publishers. Even when CDs began showing up, the average running time of these albums didn’t seem to increase to any real degree. It was a common thing to buy the album for a newly released movie, and discover that it doesn’t include one or two of what you realize are your favorite cues from the film itself.

STTMP-SoundtrackCoverThen, somebody somewhere got the amazing idea that selling expanded or complete scores for films which may only have received a truncated music release was something worth doing. Whoever that person is, they are a national treasure. They should be canonized, and their face carved into Mount Rushmore. Because of this admittedly niche market, I’ve been able to acquire complete scores for each of the Star Wars films, the entire original Star Trek series, Alien and Aliens, Outland, Rambo, Predator, and…of course…each of the Star Trek films, including an effort over 30 years in the making: Jerry Goldsmith’s wondrous complete score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Scores from the past few years that I’ve enjoyed adding to my stack include Interstellar, The Martian, John Wick, Captain America: The First Avenger, Mad Max: Fury Road, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Shape of Water, and the three most recent Star Trek films just to name several examples off the top of my head.

(Yes, I’m sure I didn’t list one that you think I should have included. Just pretend it’s there. I’ve got too many of these things to make a comprehensive list. 😀 )

Film and TV music helps me set the mood for writing, but I also just enjoy listening to this type of music just because. Hearing the composer’s work without it being drowned out or pushed aside by dialogue, sound effects, and other noise is an experience all its own. There are times you realize you’re truly hearing some of this music for the first time, and you realize that – as often as not – a mediocre film might possess a truly first-rate, all but unappreciated score.

Anybody got some favorites they want to share?

14 thoughts on “The Write Music.

  1. Yes, I also enjoy listening to movie soundtracks, I have most the James Bond soundtracks , I love the theme to the original Magnificent seven, and I and James Bond and James Bernard (he did a lot of the scores for the old hammer horror films) stations on Pandora.

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  2. VR.5 (good luck finding it). All the Blade Runners (even the Gongo version). Tron: Legacy. The Prisoner (1967 tv series; the main title is great when you’re pissed!). Westworld (and you can afford 10 hours to watch it, I’d say). David Lunch’s Dune… Twin Peaks… The Stand. Back to the Future (Time Bomb Town always makes me think of 9-11 now).

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  3. I’m pretty sure the “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” soundtrack was the first LP I ever bought with my own money. Because I was a little kid at the time, I couldn’t convince anyone to take me to see the movie, so for years I had to listen to the soundtrack and read the “Photostory” (remember those?) and *imagine* what the film was like. In my mind it was pretty awesome, which is a testament to Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing score. I still play it when I’m doing mindless things — formatting a long document or something like that — but it’s waaaaaaaaaay too sweeping and grandiose to inspire the kind of writing I do (which is mostly small-scale mysteries and Western-type stuff at the moment). When I want to be inspired these days, I listen to Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann or an occasional dollop of Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes scores. Then for the actual writing I have to switch to droning, melody-free New Age music. If it were Goldsmith, I’d end up humming along and thinking about the movie instead of putting words together!

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  4. Usually I listen to James Horner or Alan Silvestri scores as they provide a sense of adventure yet also action,my wheel of tracks that I always use personally when I have an idea for an inner monologue for myself usually includes The Launch from Apollo 13, A Promise from The Avengers,and Captain America March from The First Avenger which is actually one of my favorite pieces in recent memory from Alan Silvestri that i always enjoy.

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  5. The soundtrack from The Natural is a winner. A lot of my other favorites are already listed above.

    In terms of Star Trek music, the ST:TMP soundtrack was also one of my first LPs… along with Star Wars and Alien (are we all related?) More recently, the 50th anniversary concert tour CD recorded by the Czech National Symphony is pretty awesome (as was the concert itself.)

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  6. It all depends upon the mood I’m striving for. All the Star Trek ones are obvious but I am a sucker for John Williams so beyond Star Wars I feel his Superman the Movie is on a part. I also adore his Jurassic Park.

    Some other offbeat choices would be The Last Seduction and The Thomas Crown Affair (the remake).

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  7. Was there ever a better experience than bringing home your LP of ST:TMP back in 1979 and listening to the Klingon Battle for the first time? Awesome!! Over the years I’ve managed to pick up a large collection with Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and James Horner leading the pack. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the household who even acknowledges this material as music so this does cut down my listening time! Two more things to keep this from getting too long. If you don’t already have it, check out “Legend” from 1985 (the Goldsmith score – NOT the Tangerine Dream one!!). Nine of the ten worst movies ever, but great music. Also, if you collect these things, you probably already know about Intrada Records in SF. If not, look up Intrada. They’re the best in the business. I don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on music these days, but what I do tends to go there. I need to pick up Damnation Alley – another Goldsmith gem to a prize turkey – from them.

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  8. Oh, so many OSTs, so little time…

    Right now I’m running a playlist of Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises on a loop, as it has the right level of grimdark for what I’m currently writing.

    But I want to give a shout out to the music of Two Steps From Hell, Epic Score and Trailerhead, who specialize in epic trailer tracks that are guaranteed to get the blood pumping.

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  9. Cliff Martinez’s “Solaris” soundtrack is wondrously minimal, always evoking in me thoughts of a lonely journey through space. Somewhat like Zimmer’s “Interstellar” score, but with less black holes and wormholes, and more nebulae and star stuff.

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  10. Not so much listening to music while I write as more listening to it when I edit. I do have some soundtracks floating around, mostly James Bond, since my late father was James Bond aficionado. I think a good percentage of modern soundtracks these days don’t really contain good mood music like those mentioned above, but more of old commercial songs to convey the mood of the moment.

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