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The Language of Emotion
Beware SPOILERS for the Stargate Atlantis Season Five episode "The Lost Tribe" in the interview below.

Depending on where you live and how the network on which you have watched Atlantis handles the end credits, you may not have been able to catch the "Additional Music by Neal Acree" tile.

Since Season Eight of SG-1 and midway through Season Three of Atlantis Neal has been composing additional music for Stargate alongside the legendary Joel Goldsmith. GateWorld is proud to bring you our first interview with this young composer, who shares not only his insight into how he creates for the franchise, but has graciously shared unreleased samples of his Stargate work in the audio version!

Neal discusses musical selections which originally made him fall in love with the art, his journey to composing for the franchise and, of course, some of his favorite pieces. We also discuss the growing influence of the gaming industry and what the future may have in store for new entertainment mediums.

GateWorld's interview with Neal Acree runs 39 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe now to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.

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GateWorld: I've been reading your biography on your Web site. You've worked with a number of composers. Tell us about your origins with music. What really sparked this as a passion for you?

Neal Acree: I would have to say growing up in the era of "Star Wars" and "Superman," and "ET." "Indiana Jones," all of which were scored by John Williams. I think that planted the seed early on. It was pretty much my earliest memories were going to the drive-in.

That was the beginning of the blockbuster, and the big Hollywood score. The big pay-off moments with the big theme blaring and everything. It was just an exciting time for music and John Williams was, and is, and will always be, the king of film music.

I was three years old when Star Wars came out so I didn't exactly know what was going on musically but I knew that when the themes were playing I knew that that was something special.

GW: Well they were resonating for you on a personal level.

NA: Definitely. I always wanted to be involved with movies on some level, whether it was artistically or doing special effects or something, but at some point being involved with music that became the most obvious option.

Neal on the set of Stargate Atlantis.
GW: What colors do you like to play with when it comes to music? What are you more interested in working on? A more classical sounding? If you had your choice. Would you go for a more classical sounding project or would you go for something more mechanical, more industrial, more techno, more 21st century? If you had your pick of any project what would you really go after?

NA: When you said colors I was going to say fuchsia, but I think I might have missed ... [Laughter] I like the idea of variety, so it's hard to say that there is any one thing I'd love to do.

I also love the idea of doing a mixture of things in projects. Orchestral mixed with electronic, mixed with sounds that I've created from nothing or from manipulating real world sounds. That kind of thing's exciting for me. I think every composer wants to do something that's never been heard before, and that's the absolute hardest thing for any of us to do.

GW: Yeah, that magic formula is really far out there, isn't it? "Do something completely original!"

NA: Exactly. Every once in a while something will just pop out of nowhere and everyone will be like, "Why didn't I think of that?" It happens every once in a while and I guess we all want to have our own stab at that kind of thing.

GW: But isn't every musician influenced by any other musician that they listen to? Doesn't it all seep into your subconscious?

NA: Absolutely. All we are as creative people -- we take in everything that we see and hear. We process it in our own way and then come up with something that's sort of a conglomeration of all those things and we hope that it's at least worthy of being heard in the same context as some of the influences we have.

GW: Do you ever create a piece and then a few days later say, "Oh man, that sounds like something that I've heard before." I have a friend who's doing the Stargate Worlds score and he had been writing a piece for several days, and he played it back and it dawned on him that he had basically ripped off the entire dungeon theme for the classic Legend of Zelda. [Laughter]

NA: Sure! That does happen. Sometimes it happens while I'm writing it. It's usually better if it happens while I'm writing it. "Oh this sounds a lot like that. I'd better go get away from that while I can."

GW: Is that a constant scare of a composer, that you're ripping off someone else's work, or at some point do you just have to give up and say, "I'm doing the best I can with this, and I'm trying not to rip anyone off, but I'm only human."

NA: Every time you sign a contract you sign a certificate of authorship saying, "I wrote this and if the company gets sued for copyright infringement I'm taking full responsibility for that." So there's a legal fear of that. But more importantly nobody wants to be known as the guy who rips everyone off. There's that personal, professional feeling.

Neal Acree takes up the baton.
But at the same time film music is a language in a sense because every film score ever written sounds a little bit like the other ones, and there are certain musical phrases, chords, progressions that all sound slightly similar. You can't really do a sci-fi score or a horror score or an action score without borrowing from other people.

And if you don't you're going to end up with something that completely alienates the audience. Or if you're lucky you'll come up with a whole brand new approach. But you have to throw in a little bit of influence with other things.

GW: So what point in your youth, or post youth, did you decide that physical art, drawings and things like that, was not the direction that you wanted to go in and you wanted to go with music?

NA: Something about drawing -- art and music for me are both very interesting creative outlets but something about music, the fact that you can experience it. I'd rather listen to a piece of music for three minutes than stare at a piece of art for three minutes. Not to say that there isn't a lot to be gained from viewing a painting.

GW: No, that's your preference.

NA: Yeah. But also even better I'd love to listen to a piece of music combined with an image or series of images. I started to see how music, when combined with art or with pictures, became so much more powerful than a piece of music could be on its own.

It took on a whole new level of emotional and intellectual influence and just seemed so exciting, the idea of doing that kind of thing. The snowball started rolling and I really started to see how exciting music and especially music-to-picture would be.

GW: Tell us about the path that led you to Stargate. How'd that ball start to get rolling?

NA: A friend introduced me to Joel back in the day when I was setting up equipment and helping out other composers.

GW: What season of Stargate was this in when you were first introduced to Joel?

NA: I started right before Season Three [of SG-1]. He had just wrapped Season Two. He was moving to a new house and a new studio. I helped him move and get set up in his new studio and stayed on as his assistant, and over the years did everything from mixing to orchestrating to helping manage his sample library. Eventually ended up getting to write on the show which was a great opportunity.

GW: And when did that happen?

NA: Around Season Eight, I started on SG-1. And then for Atlantis I started about half way through Season Three.

GW: Now for writing on Stargate, how does this work? Do you pick up Joel's scraps where he didn't have a chance to get to, or does he say, "I'd like Neal to take a stab at this scene, either because I don't think it suits what I like to focus on or I don't have time for it or I think his tastes are perfect for this." How does this work?

" What's always fun for me is staying true to the themes that [Joel's] established over the years and finding a good payoff moment ..."
NA: We have a finely tuned machine at this point. Rick Chaddock -- the music editor -- and Joel will spot the show and decide where the music's going to go and will come up with a list of cues.

Basically Joel will usually see what kind of direction the show's going to go and if it involves a new character or a new vibe, or something that involves a new theme he'll develop that. And then based on that we'll see where our individual strengths or just what makes the best sense time-wise. I'll go in and basically fill in the gaps a lot of the time. Sometimes I'll get a chance to do something really exciting.

What's always fun for me is staying true to the themes that [Joel's] established over the years and finding a good payoff moment to bring in this persons' theme or that person's theme. The fact that the fans really are very keen on that kind of thing -- it's great inspiration knowing that they pay attention to that stuff and it's not lost on the audience.
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