Beware SPOILERS for SGU's "Air," Parts 1 through 3 in this interview!
Music influences our entertainment more often than many of us seem to realize. A flat scene can be livened with color and substance with a single note. But too many notes can drown the meaning and destroy a sequence. It is a careful balance that must be weighed every step.
Joel Goldsmith has been charged with weighing every moment on Stargate going on 16 seasons . Baton in hand, he has braved the challenge of "reinventing the wheel" for this third live-action incarnation of the Stargate television series with fresh faces and a grittier atmosphere.
In GateWorld's exclusive interview, Joel reveals his struggle -- and ultimate satisfaction -- in finding SGU's voice after more than 300 hours of Stargate. He talks about his favorite moments in the pilot, weaving the tapestry of a more "minimalist" score, and gaining satisfaction from the unfolding plot.
GateWorld: What were some of the things you guys talked about when starting from scratch for this new show? Because in many ways the music feels like it's starting from scratch.
Joel Goldsmith: Rob [Cooper] and Brad [Wright] were specific in that they wanted a combination of electronic and organic elements for the show. And they specifically mentioned piano and guitar which I have utilized in the series quite a bit.
With a couple of exceptions, Iím not using any traditional woodwinds and Iím using less traditional brass than I have for previous shows. Instead Iím using ethnic winds, and electronic, Vangelis-type brass. Otherwise, I've been using strings, guitar, piano and various other electronic sounds.
We talked about it being a dark score because the show is fairly dark, but weíve been trying to keep kind of an open beauty to it. We've tried to be very aesthetic as well as being dark and I think that's important. I think that I've also kind of been playing on the loneliness of their isolation.
It's been a learning process for all of us. Certain things I've done that I thought they would hate, they loved. And certain things I thought they would love, they didn't like so much. But itís been a very successful collaboration with them so far.
When the Destiny emerges from FTL we are treated to SGU's six-note core theme.
I think one of the big differences on this show, also, in the developing stage is Rick Chadock, who's been the music editor since day one on Stargate SG-1. On SGU [he has] taken on the role as producer of the music as well. And it's been [a] very, very rewarding collaboration. He used to work from home, now he's coming to my studio every day. He commutes. He was spoiled for many years, being able to just work at home. He's now ever-present in the studio taking care of his music editorial chores as well as music production chores.
It's been a long time since I've worked with a music producer. Which generally a composer doesn't do and it wouldn't be appropriate really to do with a more traditional score. But in a lot of ways, there is a lot more contemporary music and we're kind of developing things in a contemporary way when it comes to recording the stuff.
And it's very helpful because a lot of the music is very minimalist. And minimalist music is very difficult to do because you just want to orchestrate. You almost feel like you're cheating by having things so empty and open. It's like, "I can't just leave it like that, I've got do some counterpoint ..."
GW: "They're paying me for this!"
JG: Yeah, exactly! "They're paying me for this." And Rick has been invaluable in helping me say "Hey, no, that's good. That's soulful." Because we've been trying to put a lot of soul into the music, which has a lot of electronics in it, being tempered again by the guitars and piano.
GW: My favorite movement in all the three hours is when Scott [Brian J. Smith] finds whatever it is that he's looking for in the third hour. He's getting up the courage to get back on his feet and someone is helping him. And we cut back to the crew and the ship and there's no dialog and it's just the struggle to accomplish the mission. And it just kind of took me aback how different it is from the other two shows in terms of sound but how human it is, none the less.
JG: Yeah, I'm fond of that piece as well. It was temped with a song. And then I went and scored it. I think we did a couple of passes at it. It was one of those situations where Rob sent me back to the drawing board. But I was very pleased with how it turned out.
I think that's actually a good example of using emotional counterpoint in scoring. Because traditionally I would have scored that scene in much more of a dramatic, desperate way where I simply played his emotions straight on and really didnít play the action at all. We've done that on numerous occasions. And I plan on using it more. Again, everything is developing as we go.
GW: When [the ship] stops, it initiates a countdown before it takes off again. Much like in the climax of this pilot you've got a ticking clock. Have you found that helps you in some of these episodes where that ticking clock element is present? Or is it a road block for you when you're creating the theme?
JG: It's helpful. For one, in the third episode I'm playing the ticking clock. I use that in the music. I have a ticking clock in the music. In other situations I donít. The ticking clock has actually given pace to the music even if it's not there, just because the audience is feeling that rhythm of the clock going.
A ticking clock will be a factor in many episodes where off-world travel occurs.
In the pilot and episode three, I have a lot of movement when the clock is ticking. But later I've done it without movement yet it almost seems like there's still movement there just because the clock is ticking. The audience is feeling that rhythm of the clock even though I've not established it in the music. So it has worked both ways. For various reasons I used it in the pilot and episode three as the clock was ticking.
GW: You do a lot of music with action and the pilot really only has one major action sequence. This show is going to be a lot ... I don't want to necessarily say slower moving but it's going to take time to explore characters. Is this allowing you to explore your musical abilities as well?
JG: I think relying more on emotionally-driven scenes rather than action-driven is very rewarding. [It] can be challenging at times but it also allows the music to be heard a little more. You have a lot of sound effects in action sequences and it can cover up the music quite a bit. I think that on a few situations in Stargate we did play action sequences in a more ethereal, kind of slow-moving way.
There is a lot of action in this show I should say, but obviously the action isn't the same kind of action as we had in earlier Stargate episodes. A lot of the action is just really mentally driven. It reveals itself in a more emotional way and in battles that are happening emotionally rather than physically.
GW: You don't have pompous snakeheads trying to take over the world every single week that we can go and fight. A lot of the time we're fighting each other.
JG: Yes! And as well as not physically fighting, often we are fighting emotional battles. And so it is conflict and it's just a little bit different and so it is changing. You know, Stargate Universe is a really, really good show and is progressively, as the shows go on, getting even better. It's one of those situations because it's such a character-driven show.
As you get to know the characters you get much more emotionally involved, personally involved. And I hope the audience will be giving the show a fair chance to do that. There are so many characters and they are being clever about the way they're doing it. So much is being revealed slowly through the show.
I'll watch a show -- I guess I'm starting on episode 11 now. All of a sudden something will come out and it'll be kind of casually put out there but I'll be, "Oh my God, this is a big deal." And it's going to be very exciting for the audience as things develop like that. As issues, people's issues, people's pasts come out and you find out what is happening. They're taking their time doing that but it's very exciting in its way.
"The show is not a comic strip by any means."
You know, the show is not a comic strip by any means. [Laughter] I loved SG-1 and Atlantis. But no matter what, there was a certain light-adventure about a lot of the stuff. These are real-world issues. This is a more mature team -- and I'm talking about the creative team making the show. We're dealing with more sophisticated issues, more sophisticated emotional issues. But still with a lot of humor. There's a lot of funny stuff that's happening. It gets funnier as it goes on. Have you only seen the first three episodes?
GW: I've seen the first three.
JG: There are some spectacular episodes coming that you're going to be very thrilled to see.
GW: David Blue [Eli Wallace] and I have already spoken and he already named "Life" and "Time" as two of his favorites. So there're definitely some good ones sticking out there.
JG: [I was] actually working on "Time" just right when you called. "Time" is just huge -- the end of "Time" is really quite something. I got to tell you, I'm loving the show.
You know, it took me a little time to switch gears from Atlantis to Universe. Before shooting began, I was sending Rob and Brad some ideas I had for the show. The first thing I sent, Brad called and said that he absolutely loved it. Unfortunately not for Universe. He said, he planned on using them for the next SG-1 movie, so I had to go back to the drawing board.