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Battlestar Galactica (MiniSeries) Music Review

#1 User is offline   Zipper Icon

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 08:59 AM

February 07, 2005

Battlestar Galactica

Oingo Boingo's lesser-known alumnus crafts a score for the SCI FI miniseries that repays careful listening

Battlestar Galactica

Richard Gibbs, composer

La-La Land


MSRP: $13.98

By A.L. Sirois
So, what is it about Oingo Boingo? The band has produced two interesting and talented film composers—most notably Danny Elfman, but also dreadlocked ex-keyboardist Richard Gibbs, whose score for the Battlestar Galactica miniseries on the SCI FI Channel is fascinating, all the more so since Gibbs said, early on, before the score's debut, that he "wasn't terribly happy about it." Essentially what happened was that before securing Gibbs for the project, director Michael Rymer had scored a rough cut of the miniseries with a "temp" track consisting of Taiko drum passages and music from Peter Gabriel's The Last Temptation of Christ. Rymer had a concept in his head, and it didn't match up with what Gibbs wanted to do. As Gibbs said in an interview, "This just happened to be a perfect storm of temp love, network politics and too many chefs."

Subsequently, however, once the Malibu-dwelling Gibbs saw that the reviews for the music were generally positive, he decided that maybe it wasn't so bad after all. The listener may well agree with him, because the score Gibbs and his assistant Bear McCreary came up with, in a month of back-to-back writing, recording and editing sessions, happens to be absolutely delightful. It doesn't sound like Peter Gabriel, but some of that feeling is there.

In a post-9/11 world, it's harder and harder to fashion genuine escapist entertainment. Planet-busting space operas won't cut it anymore, Star Wars notwithstanding. (And it's probably good for George Lucas that the next—and last—installment in his epic series promises to be the darkest of all.) The music that Stu Phillips wrote for the original 1978 series was sweeping and grandiose. There's none of that in Gibbs and McCreary's score for the new downbeat version, though their music is no less fitting. What they've written is almost elegiac in some places and gut-wrenching in others, with a smattering of SF-soundtrack clichés, like blaster bleeps, almost as an attempt at humor. But it's black humor at best, informed as the show is by the 9/11 experience.

Time and again the cues in this minimalist score come across as unexpectedly emotional. There are a few passages of orchestral music, but not where one would expect them, in the action scenes. Those are carried by Kodo drumming. Overall there are no heavy statements of "main theme" in brass, such as in the original show. The main theme is an understated movement between two chords, often augmented by the various ethnic elements that pervade the disc: Persian and Bulgarian vocals, various ethnic flutes and, most surprisingly of all, double-note Tuvan throat singing, which really does sound creepy and utterly alien to those who have previously not heard it.

Surprisingly delightful

Among the most interesting cues in this score is the first one, Are You Alive?/Battlestar Galactica Main Title. Here the theme swells in on oceanic strings against temple bells, with chanting voices, a rumbling synth and the Taiko drums supporting it. The Taiko drums take over for the second segment to emphasize the battle-in-space concept. Violins make a few interjections, leading into an eerie string passage that eventually resolves to the tonic just before the coda, which trails off with voice.

To Kiss or Not to Kiss is a romantic piece, and possibly the best cue on the album. It utilizes a female vocalist singing Sanskrit lyrics from the Upanishads. Interestingly, this the same segment (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28) was used by Don Davis in the latter parts of The Matrix Revolutions, although this would seem merely to be a coincidence.

Also of more than passing interest is track 14, The Lottery Ticket, which deploys the disc's primary ethnic support—chants, flutes, strings and drums. Track 22, The Sense of Six, is characterized by an insistent 9/8 gamelan figure on one pitch.

Throughout, Gibbs and McCreary stuck to their mandate of not giving the cues a specific musical setting in time and place. There's a lot of playing around with odd time signatures, presumably for the same reason. As Gibbs says, "I didn't want it to sound like it had a home here and now. That was kind of the trick to make it seem unfamiliar yet comfortable too." This approach, plus the ethnic elements, works quite well.

To sum up, Richard Gibbs may not yet be a particularly well known film composer, despite his work on a number of halfway-decent flicks, including 28 Days, Doctor Dolittle and Queen of the Damned (which lead him to the gig on Battlestar Galactica), but if he can keep producing scores of BSG's caliber it shouldn't take him too long.

I was repeatedly surprised and delighted by this music. Don't come to the session expecting traditional space-opera scoring; you'll be disappointed if you do. But if you can appreciate something offbeat and atmospheric, you'll find a great deal here to enjoy. — Al
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Posted 16 January 2008 - 05:23 PM

Isn't it funny that Oingo-Boingo was actually a very good group for the early 80's. They have a cameo appearance in the classic comedy - Back to School. The group seems to have a greater affinity for classical composition then they do for rock and roll. Maybe if they applied the classical approach to Rock they could come out with a number one hit - again. I think Danny Elfman keeps outdoing himself. And each time he does something it has a unique signature - it is not a rehash of the same sound over and over again. I think my favorite, that I am aware of, compositions to date include, Batman, Spider-man, and the Simpsons.

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