51 Shades of Geek

Battlestar Galactica – music by Richard Gibbs

Battlestar Galactica soundtrackIf ever there was a case of musically “playing against type,” the score for 2003’s Battlestar Galactica miniseries is it. The music of the original series had such a foothold in the collective memory of the viewers that it’d be hard to avoid comparisons. And yet, as fitting as Stu Phillips’ exercise in sounding like John Williams was for the original 1978 miniseries and series, Richard Gibbs’ and Bear McCreary’s score for the new version is equally fitting. It’s a visceral, almost mournful, score for a new take on the series that seems to be, more than any SF project of the past few years, informed by the 9/11 experience and its attendant emotions.

There’s not a lot of orchestral writing, but contrary to some reports, there is some. Rather than going for a full-on western orchestral approach, Gibbs and McCreary mix orchestra with ethnic percussion and vocalizations. In the CD liner notes, Gibbs talks about how several scenes of the movie had been temp-tracked by director Michael Rymer with music from Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack for The Last Temptation Of Christ, and that’s a fairly good analogy for what the new Galactica wound up with. Gibbs and McCreary reined things in just a little bit, with a more traditional western feel than the aforementioned film score, but the Gabriel influence is clearly there: battle scenes tend to be tracked with Japanese taiko drums and a thunderous mix of other percussion. The scenes associated with the plight of the Colonials tend to be treated with wistful Middle Eastern vocals, a little bit of orchestra, and occasionally a bit of tuned percussion – Gabriel would be proud.

And it would seem that the composers took as many hints from Christopher Franke as they did from Peter Gabriel; the cue “Seal The Bulkheads” is given an epic-but-elegiac sound, as Commander Adama makes the decision to seal off a critically damaged portion of the ship, sacrificing the lives of several crewmembers still trapped inside. There’s no thundering action here (though the fast-cutting editing of that sequence and the show as a whole would have lent itself to that), but more of a funeral dirge for those lost.

When Gibbs arrived to work on Galactica, a scene had already been temp-tracked with a Sanskrit mantra loaned to the director by Edward James Olmos; Gibbs found that it was so hard to top that he phonetically transcribed the mantra and included it as a vocal for the track “To Kiss Or Not To Kiss”, which is easily the soundtrack’s most sensual cue; “The Lottery Ticket” and “The Storm And The Dead” tie for a close second in that department. I also liked some of the cues that are heard early in the miniseries, which build a sense of anticipation without really being specific about the end result of that anticipation being good or bad. (That “anticipation” motif shows up again in the final scenes, and the effect is altogether different – in that context, it’s almost like a musical demand for a series order.) My one regret is that the expansive main title for the miniseries seems to have been replaced with a more mournful piece to cover the main titles of the weekly series – but again, it fits with the tone of the series, whereas’ the miniseries’ main titles occurred before the real jeopardy of the story kicked in.

I’m a little torn on recommending the Battlestar Galactica miniseries soundtrack as an all-in-one-sitting listening experience – if you have it playing in the background and you’re not listening for the intricacies of the music, it all blurs together a bit. But a close listen makes it clear why this approach was chosen for the new Galactica – and it’s no surprise that the early episodes of the hourly series sound as though they may have 4 out of 4been tracked with this same material (fittingly enough, as the original Galactica was tracked from a limited library of music composed for a small handful of specific episodes).

Good stuff – let’s hope that the series is around long enough to get some more music, and maybe another CD or two, out of the composers.

Order this CD

  1. Are You Alive? / Battlestar Galactica Main Title (5:28)
  2. Goodbye, Baby (2:24)
  3. Starbuck Buck Buck (1:49)
  4. To Kiss Or Not To Kiss (2:42)
  5. Six Sex (1:48)
  6. Deep Sixed (1:59)
  7. The Day Comes (1:08)
  8. Counterattack (2:40)
  9. Cylons Fire (1:34)
  10. A Call To Arms (1:03)
  11. Apollo To The Rescue (1:56)
  12. Launch Vipers (4:26)
  13. Seal The Bulkheads (2:10)
  14. The Lottery Ticket (3:06)
  15. Eighty-Five Dead (1:23)
  16. Inbound (1:23)
  17. Apollo Is Gone / Starbuck Returns (2:19)
  18. The Storm And The Dead (2:40)
  19. Thousands Left Behind (2:09)
  20. Silica Pathways (3:32)
  21. Reunited (1:56)
  22. The Sense Of Six (3:01)
  23. Starbuck’s Recon (1:11)
  24. Battle (7:40)
  25. Good Night (2:38)
  26. By Your Command (1:56)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 67:04