GateWorld continues to celebrate 10 years of Stargate SG-1 with exclusive new interviews. It seemed only fitting to take time to talk with one of the men who has been the most influential in tugging at our feelings over the past decade: Stargate composer Joel Goldsmith.
Responsible for both SG-1 and Atlantis, Joel has been tasked with kicking out music for 40 episodes each season for the past two years. He is likely looking forward to a bit of a break in 2007!
In Part 1 of our interview, Joel talks about spring-boarding to SG-1 from The Outer Limits, the origins of the Stargate themes in David Arnold’s feature film score, and his feelings about the shows being largely ignored in major awards circles. He also takes time to talk to us about the music behind the Ori.
Be sure to return next week for Part 2, in which Joel discusses multiple themes significant to the Stargate universe, with musical examples for the audio version!
GateWorld’s interview with Joel Goldsmith is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs 20 minutes. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m on the telephone with Mr. Joel Goldsmith, composer for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Joel, this is truly a pleasure.
Joel Goldsmith: Oh, thank you. I’m flattered.
GW: You’ve been writing music for Stargate since Day One of SG-1: “Children of the Gods.” What got you roped in to this franchise to begin with?
JG: Well I wouldn’t consider it roped into the franchise, but I had worked with Jonathan and Brad when they were doing Outer Limits. We had not actually met on Outer Limits. There was always some kind of a liaison between us. But they called me for SG-1.
GW: Alright. So how long had you been working on Outer Limits? The new series, right?
JG: Yes. I think none of us are quite that old to have worked on the original.
GW: Had you been working on that since Season One?
JG: On Outer Limits?
JG: No, I believe I came on the second season of Outer Limits. I believe it was the Second Season.
GW: What do you think were some of the qualities that you had that they wanted to transfer over to SG-1?
JG: You know, I don’t know. That would be something you would have to ask them. Not one of the scores on Outer Limits kind of related to SG-1, really at all.
GW: Right. It’s very alien-sounding.
JG: Yeah. And Outer Limits, they were very eclectic scores, because they were different stories.
GW: Right. Do you think that SG-1 has a more human quality to it?
JG: Than Outer Limits? I think that, actually, I think that some of the shows that Brad and Jonathan wrote for Outer Limts were really quite personal, and very emotional. I think that SG-1 has continued with that.
GW: When you started off with SG-1 what was your first objective? Did you meet David Arnold or have a dialogue with him regarding his theatrical score?
JG: David and I had chatted. It was a bit different simply because David had the [London Symphony Orchestra] to work with, and the budgets were quite different. But I chatted. I had talked about using a few themes, and Brad had mentioned that they wanted to have the signature from SG-1, the musical signature, and it was fun to adapt that. The first few seasons I used it a lot more than I do now. Now it’s a lot less.
GW: The musical scores from the film — I imagine you wanted to use them more often earlier on to make that leap from the film to the series.
JG: You know, I think I did. And what happened is earlier on, obviously we were a little closer to the film, and especially with the Goa’uld storyline. So a lot of those themes were really quite appropriate to use. Then as we started to add more of our own characters, Thor, et cetera, then I started to develop more themes of my own. Also I didn’t want to pound David’s themes into the ground. They’re very recognizable themes, and they’re terrific, but I also didn’t just want to just completely bash the audience over the head with them every week.
GW: Right. Exactly. Well SG-1 is its own entity, you know, and I’m sure you wanted to grow out from that.
JG: Yeah, we definitely did. And we were finding our own voice. That was one of the reasons that I wrote a unique end title for SG-1. We wanted to have our own voice. Somewhat of our own voice. Something that was going to establish that we were our own entity.
GW: Was the end title one of the first things that you did?
JG: Yeah it was. The main title of SG-1 was a little medley, almost, of the Stargate themes, and I did that. I arranged that and presented that to the guys, and they were happy with that. And then I said, “Hey, well, can I write an end title?” And they said “Sure.” And I wrote and end title, and they liked it, and we put it in.
GW: It seems as though Arnold’s main title for “Stargate” was more like an overture of the adventure, whereas for Abydos, but your end title for SG-1 is a more militaristic, more upbeat, spunky rendition of something that would be more equated to a team going through the gate on an adventure.
JG: Actually I think that’s pretty accurate, and I think that was the approach that I was taking when writing it. David’s main title is very exotic as well. It’s terrific, and it’s very evocative. I just wanted to do something a little bit different but still with signature.
GW: Right. Sound enough like it to be the same series but different enough to open all sorts of doors.
JG: Yes, exactly.
GW: Could you tell us about the process that you have to go through to kick out a typical episode? The time that you have and so forth? What exactly goes on?
JG: Well it’s different often. Sometimes I’ll get a couple weeks for a show and sometimes it won’t be, depending on — we get log-jammed sometimes. I’ll get a show. We will discuss it. Sometimes we will simply have a conversation about it with Brad or Robert, and sometimes we will go specifically through and spot it traditionally and kind of take it scene by scene and discuss what’s going to happen musically. Then I will go and try to, if there’s going to be specific themes for the show, I approach those themes and go on from there. It tends to be pretty grueling in the midst of the season.
GW: Two weeks notice, I would imagine so. Is that the tightest that it can get?
JG: No, it can be about a week. Generally in the heat of the season it’s about a week per episode that we have.
GW: Writer’s block must be dangerous.
JG: There’s really no time for it. Its really, simply, I just don’t have the luxury of having writer’s block. I just don’t. I have the luxury of recently been — Neal Acree has been a huge help, and has helped writing on the shows. He’s been a terrific help.
GW: Is he an aid?
JG: You know, Neil started off as my assistant and proved to be a very gifted composer, and has been a huge help to me.
GW: How much lead time have you been given for some of the bigger episodes like “Lost City,” as opposed to two weeks. Do you have months in advance at any point?
JG: No. Theoretically as they start finishing shows, yes, there is some lead time on shows. But because, especially since I’m doing both shows, Atlantis and SG-1, it’s a production line. I’m just going to have to take them one at a time. This is very traditional for episodic television. This is not unique to SG-1. And as a matter of fact, in many ways for SG-1 we have more time then, say, somebody who’s doing C.S.I.
But because we are doing full symphonic scores, it tends to be a little more time-consuming than a score that’s using a smaller ensemble or, really, an electronic, atmospheric approach to scores. It can be very tedious. It can be very intricate, what we do. So therefore we need that little bit of extra time to do it.
GW: Well you’re not just book-ending a commercial break. These are very operatic.
JG: Yes. I like to think so.
GW: Ten years of the show. The length of time SG-1 has been on. Does that help you compose, or does that hinder you? With the amount of stuff that’s been done?
JG: It helps in many, many ways. There’s a huge pool of themes to dip into. When you have that much material, you can rely on certain approaches. Everything I have, if it’s the Daedalus, I know where to go with the Daedalus. If it’s an Asgard, I know where I’m going to go. Now if it’s Ori. Do you know what I mean? There’s a thematic approach to everything we’re doing.
GW: Right. It all has its own identity, right down to the costuming on screen, your music really provides the backbone for the emotional end.
JG: I like to think so. I like to think that we are. It’s really a shame with science fiction. Sometimes for some reason, I really can’t say why — I wish I could know why. Science fiction does not necessarily get the credibility and respect that it deserves. Some of the shows that we’ve done are so emotional, are so well-written, and the characters so three-dimensional, it baffles me why science fiction tends to get pigeonholed into something that’s maybe less serious than straight drama. It baffles me. To answer your question, yes I do believe that I am an important emotional voice of the show, but often what I’m really doing is I’m accompanying the emotion that the writers and the actors are giving me.
GW: You said that sometimes you’ll have conversations with the producers and their input tends to vary. How often will they come to you with “This is the kind of sound that we want,” and how often do they let you take complete creative control?
JG: Well I would say that I never have complete creative control. As far as control goes, I think that what they want me to do is they want my creative vision on whatever it is, and then they have the control. And they keep it under control. But generally, if we don’t have a big discussion about a specific show, It’s because after all these years, we know. The communication level is that, and the trust is there, they kind of know where I’m going to go with it and I know what they want. And there’s certain things. When there’s something that’s near and dear to someone’s heart — more than usual, because everyone takes the show very seriously — then we’ll have a little more of an expanded conversation.
GW: That sixth sense has got to be very rewarding creatively, because not only do you know where they kind of want to go, but you can also inject your own personal signature to it.
JG:Yes, I think it definitely is, and it’s very rare. Nobody works on a show for ten years. It’s unheard of. Nobody has this experience. When Robert [C. Cooper] came on it took a little bit of time, and I remember because after a show I get notes. They watch the show and they give notes to everyone. To the sound effects, and ADR and music. And all of a sudden I started getting notes from this guy named Robert. [Laughter] And I was kind of “Who the hell’s Robert? What’s this?” All of a sudden.
GW: Is it simply a matter of budget that you’re granted the use of an orchestra only for the pilots, or is it more of a personal preference?
JG: It’s budget. It’s all about budget. Brad, Robert and I would like to do every score with an orchestra. We would love that. But they would also love to shoot probably for ninety days for each episode. We just can’t do it. It’s not realistic.
GW: Well I’m going to be perfectly honest with you here. This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves of the series. I’m not trying to slam synth-generated music, but you can’t beat an orchestra. And you turn around and you look at Battlestar Galactica, who are inviting these guest soloists and everything, and I’m like, “I wish that we had the money to do that on SG-1, because it is such a rich environment for that.”
JG: Well Battlestar Galactica, I’m really not terribly familiar, but it’s also not a full symphony orchestra that they’re using, generally, on Battlestar Galactica, are they?
GW: I don’t know.
JG: I think it tends to be more ethnic. They’re doing a lot of world music approach towards things, and it’s not like a full — where everything — our voice is basically an 80-piece symphony orchestra. That’s my palette that I use. I don’t think Battlestar Galactica has any kind of larger budget than we have, it’s just a different approach of what our voice is. Our voice is this full symphony orchestra. I believe theirs is more of an ethnic approach where it can be handled electronically as well. We’ve spent a lot of time, and there’s a lot of skill, in simulating the orchestra as well as we do. “Let’s do the best we can.”
GW: Is there anything that fans can do to push for getting an orchestra during the season finale or the season opener? Is there anything that we as a voice of interest can do to push that?
JG: I don’t think any more than Brad and I can. As a matter of fact, just last night Brad and I were talking about how we’re going to work live orchestra into the movies.
GW: The two TV miniseries?
JG: And we were just discussing that and how, logistically, we were going to do that. Because there is a little more budget on that. So we can do it.
GW: Will you also be given more time for that?
JG: Oh yeah. That’s a different thing, I believe.
GW: Okay. Besides the two pilots, what has been the hardest score to compose that sticks out in your mind?
JG: Hmm … That’s a good one. That’s a good question. I would probably say, and I’m horrible at remembering episode names. The first Ori episode. What would that be?
GW: When they were first introduced?
GW: They came in in an episode called “Avalon, Part 2” [That’s] when the Prior was introduced.
JG: Was it “Avalon, Part 2” or “Part 1?”
JG: — is the first time we saw the Prior?
GW: That’s right.
JG: I would say that that was probably — that’s when I had so much thematically, I remember, that I had to develop. And that’s when the heavy writing is. When you’re doing thematic stuff that’s when it gets pretty heavy. And I believe, probably, “Avalon Part 2” then, it would probably be.
GW: The Ori. Their themes are so choral oriented. Religious background. What is your inspiration behind that?
JG: Well there are certain parallels to what’s happening today, in modern day, in the story line of the Ori.
GW: Right. The religious wars going on today.
JG: Yeah. And there’s something definitely gothic and definitely something Gregorian. I tried to take a few different styles, I should say, and kind of meld them. There’s definitely a Christian tone to them.
GW: Mhmm. Catholic.
JG: Yeah, I would say.
GW: Was that a daunting task, or was that freeing from the Goa’uld that you’d dealt with for so long?
JG: Neither, it was just fun. I never see that as daunting. I think that the daunting task is when we see “that many minutes of music has to be written.” That’s the most. Just like the writers, when they see how many pages they have to write, and I see how many minutes I have to write, and the director sees how many pages he has to shoot, those are the daunting tasks. You know? Everything else is fun. This is what we live for.
GW: Right. Exactly.
The Official Joel Goldsmith Web site