GateWorld continues our interview with Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis composer Joel Goldsmith with a special musical salute to his work!
In Part 2 of our interview, Joel tells us more about the process that is behind bringing Stargate‘s music to our television sets. He takes us to the themes behind the Replicators, ascension, and more, and explores the origins of one of the most critical melodies to the city of Atlantis.
We also take a moment to visit the legacy of Jerry Goldsmith and his influence on the world. If you only listen to one GateWorld audio piece, make this the one.
GateWorld’s interview with Joel Goldsmith is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs over 24 minutes. It is also transcribed below. You can even download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: Are the visual effects still in production when you get the tapes?
Joel Goldsmith: Yes. The way that works is I get what’s called a “Producer’s Cut, Number One.” They send me a producer’s cut, which is early on. The vis effects on that, are almost like — well they’ve gotten better. At first it was basically a card that says “Spaceships flies from left to right.” Now we have kind of what would be a computer version of stick figures.
GW: Oh, so it’s an animatic!
JG: Yes. And you just kind of see it come across. That’s for the first producer’s cut. Then we get the first “locked cut,” which is where the vis effects have taken the next step. Generally they’ve rendered a lot more. They haven’t done any of the texturing or anything like that. But it’s rendered quite a bit more.
GW: You see the ships and stuff.
JG: Yeah. Usually a few days before I deliver we get another, a “rev,” with more updated effects, which is very good for space battles and things like that. It’s more accurate of when things actually hit. And the timings are more accurate.
And then we do two mixes. Then we do one mix. Our Day One mix, which is the first time they come in and they mix the sound effects, the music, the dialogue and the backgrounds all together. Then the producers look at that mix, and they make their notes, any changes they might want. Then we get another vis update, and those are really almost completed. It’s almost to where the show is that’s going to air. Not quite, but almost. And then we do a Day Two mix, which is where we come back in and then we refine the Day One mix to be what you actually hear on the air. So it’s a lot of files going back. We do everything electronically now.
GW: Oh, File Transfer Protocol.
JG: Well, we used to … For years, they would Federal Express me video tapes, and I would Federal Express them back tapes for the score, for them to mix with. And I would receive, every day during the entire season, every day I would receive these big Federal Express packs, usually getting four or five video tapes every day. And by the end of the season I would have literally hundreds of video tapes that I’d have to recycle.
JG: And then all of a sudden, as we all go higher bandwidth, then I just started delivering the music. I would send ProTools files directly to the sound house, to Sharpe Sound. We would just start sending our files directly to them. And then, just recently, they post the video and we download the video right over the Internet.
GW: Excellent. That has got to cut down on time.
JG: What we did is we discussed it, and I think it was a little more expensive to do it this way in the long run, actually, because of the high bandwidth lines, the T1 lines and stuff. But I think probably overall, the Federal Express building, they’ve saved money. But just the amount of fossil fuel, I think, that we’ve saved, is probably enough to power two or three trips to Atlantis and back. [Laughter] Just in the paper we’re saving and plastics we’re saving, I think everybody feels pretty good about it.
GW: But nevertheless, you have — for this year, at least — forty episodes a year. And you said four or five different processes. That’s like 200 different processes, Joel. How do you keep your head on straight?
JG: Well first off, Rick Chadock is all I can say. Rick Chadock. Rick Chadock is the music editor who started on episode number one, on “Children of the Gods.” Rick also is one of the foremost experts on SG-1 and Atlantis. He has this amazing memory. He can remember episode numbers, episode names, characters that were introduced, relationships, motivations, back-storys. I am constantly referring to his encyclopedic memory, where I can say “Who is this? What happened?” “Oh, well you don’t remember? In Season Two …” [Laughter] He’ll respond, “In Season Two you don’t remember?” I’m going “No!”
And Rick, as well, has being the Stargate historian for me; he also organizes — because not only that, we have our Day One mixes, we have our Day Two mixes. We also have seamless mixes, which is where we take the commercials out of the shows, and this is where it’s broadcast in Canada and also on the DVDs. We take the commercials out, and often I’ll have music that leads up to commercial. [Imitates a crescendo and a sudden stop], and then we go to commercial. Well that doesn’t work when you tie them together.
GW: Right, you have to remove the volume changes.
JG: You have to remove the swell, or the crescendo that’s going through the thing to the commercial. So we also have seamless-es that have to tie seamlessly together. Hence, seamless. [Laughter] And so there’s a huge amount of logistically organizing all of this for forty shows over the season. And really, that is really Rick Chadock’s. As well as Rick tracks several episodes a year as well, where Rick will take existing music from the past episodes and he will cut together new scores. Because we do that for several episodes a year. It’s just impossible to write 40 episodes. It’s just impossible.
GW: So what we see on a television screen is actually a different ProTools file than the music that is in a DVD copy of that same episode? Just been tweaked differently?
JG: Just for the scene crossovers. Just for where the commercials used to be. There always has to be, almost always, some tweaking. Because dramatically it changes. If you’re ending on a cliffhanger of a scene, but when you tie those scenes together and it’s seamless, sometimes the music needs to continue. Sometimes the music kind of comes out naturally. It’s hard to explain.
And also, sometimes when the music comes in from a commercial, because it’s coming in just cold from a commercial, it needs a music cue that will be playing. But if it’s tied together from the previous scenes, sometimes it doesn’t need a cue. It’s kind of an intangible. It’s hard to describe, and would have to be something I would have to show you visually to explain why you would need music and why you wouldn’t. It’s just a feeling that you get, which is part of Rick’s expertise.
GW: The Replicators. Very off-balanced. Very mechanized. It almost has an undertone of “Jaws.” What was your inspiration for the Replicators?
JG: Well I think you said it right there. I wanted kind of a mechanical. A machine. I wanted to sound like a machine down below, and I wanted to have that kind of mechanical, repetitive ostinato. And on top is where all the detail would go. And “mechanical” would be the key word for that.
JG: Yeah, it wasn’t too much because I wanted to drive home the point that it was still the Replicator. I wanted to tie that together. It was important for me to tie that together. And I felt that whether it was going to be subtle to the audience, I wanted to make that connection.
GW: One of the most important themes of the franchise is, in my opinion, that of the Ancients and the ascended beings. Orlin in “Ascension” Oma Desala had it, especially in “Meridian.” Has that thread been deliberately carried over into Atlantis when dealing with the Ancients there as well?
JG: Yes. And I’m doing a variation of it right now, which I can’t [discuss] because it would be a huge spoiler. As a matter of fact, today I’m writing another variation of the ascension, which I would love to tell you, but they would be so pissed. [Laughter]
GW: It’s that big, huh?
JG: It’s a big one. And it has to do with SG-1.
GW: Oh, great. “Lost City” and “Reckoning” Both two-parters had a great deal of finality woven into them. Many story arcs completing. Did you sit and find yourself culling over themes from the past to insert for one last hurrah in these episodes?
JG: Yeah, I did. If I remember correctly, I tied together a lot of thematic approaches on that.
GW: I was watching “Lost City” recently and it caught me, at the very end when Teal’c says “If this is not the lost city, where is it?” You injected Atlantis‘s basic melody at the very end of the show, before the score of the pilot had been written. How long had you been thinking about Atlantis?
JG: Well, you know it’s funny you say that because I remember that, and I wrote that and I had just written it for the show. God, it’s funny you mention that. And then later when Brad called me, Brad and Robert called me about Atlantis, I was fooling around with the Atlantis theme. Rick Chadock, again, said “That’s nice. That’s really nice.”
I had written the guts of the theme at that point. And then Rick said “Do you remember that scene at the end of ‘Lost City?'” Rick pointed to that scene. He said “There was a beautiful little motif in there.” And I said “Yeah, that’s right, there was.” I listened to it and used that. And then I went back to that and then interjected that into the theme. It’s quite astute that you picked that up. That was actually in the writing process, and it was actually Rick Chadock’s idea to bring back that theme.
I’d like to say that I planned it all in advance. “Okay, fine, I planned it all from the beginning. That’s the way it worked. [Laughter]
GW: Well I read it on your Web site. I think it was that portion of the bridge, that Brad and Rob fought you on that. And you were like, “No I want to keep that in there!” The choral movement before the reiteration of the A theme in that.
JG: Well, it was Brad. And, you know, Brad also. Brad’s amazing about themes. Because I can’t pull anything over Brad. He remembers. He’s “Oh, yeah, I remember that from ‘Meridian.” I said “What?! How do you remember that?” And Brad knew immediately where I had taken that motif from, or that section. He remembered that it was from “Lost City.” And he liked it. He loved it in “Lost City.” And he liked it.
When we were discussing taking that bridge out, because Brad didn’t want to put it back in. It was a compromise between — we only had a certain amount of time, and we wanted to develop the main title to have the proper impact, the proper build, the proper action approach, versus straight theme. That was all experimenting. “Let’s try pulling this out and extending that so we’re still within the time limit, and we may have a little more action.” I think that’s really what the approach was. Brad said “Well what if we pull out the choral part and then expand on the action part, or the Wraith kind of part?”
GW: Well you’ve already got the “action/adventure” in there. You have to have the bit of “wonder” of Atlantis, and that “mysterious.” That’s what that offers.
JG: Yeah, and that’s why I was adamant about having it. That’s why Brad, in his wisdom, decided to put it back in. [Laughter]
GW: That’s funny, because it was from “Lost City,” and now it’s such a big part of Atlantis. I can’t imagine that little melody, that [imitates melody], the series being without that.
JG: Yeah. To me it’s a very strong signature for Atlantis. Like you said, the mystery of Atlantis. What was the word you used?
JG: Wonder. Wonderment. It was wonderment. It’s just funny. Boy’s choir, and they’re doing that.
GW: Yes, exactly. Kind of like the ring. The theme of the ring in Lord of the Rings. The boy’s choir was very signature in mystery.
GW: Has Lord of the Rings ever been any inspiration for what’s been on Atlantis or SG-1?
JG: Not as much musically, even though I’m a Howard Shore fan. Not as much musically. Any of us who were involved in science fiction. We’re all influenced by Tolkien in one way or another.
GW: Speaking of influence, your father is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
JG: I think so.
GW: How much has he inspired you?
JG: Well, a lot. There’s no denying I was brought up listening to his music. It’s a strange thing with my Dad. Everyone’s Dad, to a certain extent, the complex relationship with every boy and his father. The love/hate, but generally love. The strong love. And everybody’s dad is their hero to them. And it’s bizarre when you have your dad, who’s your hero, and then all of a sudden there’s a lot of other people who say the same thing.
I talk to David Newman or I’ll talk to Peter Bernstein or something like that, going up to them and saying “Hey, we belong to the ‘sons of famous fathers,’ or ‘famous composer fathers club.'” And David Newman and Thomas Newman and Peter Bernstein, and Joey Williams and Mark Williams. All of us have that same kind of thing. Your famous father. You listen to your dad’s music, you’re moved by your dad’s music, and you’re influenced. I think Peter did a lot of orchestrating for Elmer. Peter did a lot of orchestrating for Elmer Bernstein.
You can’t help it. Yes, there’s a genetic thing in there that you’re influenced as well, but there’s a very emotional thing. It’s tied into your emotions with your father. It’s something that’s hard to describe. But I’m also very influenced by my father’s influences as well. That’s really where he was directing me a lot.
I got so many from the Academies. I got so many movie scores every year. My dad didn’t listen to them. I listened to them. He would give me the records. They were all records at that time when I was growing up, and every year I would get 20 or 30 film scores that the Academy would send out for promoting them for the Oscars. So I would listen to them.
And he was always encouraging me to stop listening to film scores and listen to their influences. He wanted me to listen to more Brahms, more Stravinsky, more Bartok. Really the influences by all of them. All of their influences. Which was a big help to me, actually. But Anybody who will sometimes listen to my music, they’re going to know that I listened to “The Wind and the Lion” a lot as a kid. They’re going to know that I liked “Planet of the Apes” quite a bit. Hopefully, they’re also going to know that I listened quite a lot of Mussorgsky. “Pictures at an Exhibition” was a big influence.
Do you know what I mean? Hopefully those are all influences. That was a very long-winded answer to your question of my father’s writing. But I’m also influenced by John Williams. I love John Williams. And Elmer. And Alex North.
GW: If I can help put it into perspective, I’ve got “First Contact” on my iPod, and I love to listen to it because when I was a young lad “First Contact” was in the theaters, and it scared the crap out of me. I got the soundtrack later on and discovered that you had done it with your dad. I think the Borg theme was your brainchild.
JG: Yeah, all the Borg stuff.
GW: I couldn’t believe how well you guys meshed that together. Two composers, one the son of the other, granted, but how well that came together, because it is one of my favorite soundtracks.
JG: Oh, thanks. I’m sure my father from somewhere is thanking you as well. I thought that the pastoral theme that he wrote for the theme of that was just so beautiful.
GW: Right, the Lily/Picard theme.
JG: Yes. It was just so beautiful. He wrote a lot of beautiful themes for Star Trek. The original motion picture, obviously.
GW: Right. Well that’s the biggest one of all! You probably buried that soundtrack with him.
JG: [Laughter] But it’s funny, the fanfare, the big theme that everybody seems to remember. That wasn’t my favorite. Was it Ilea’s theme?
GW: Oh Ilea’s theme. That alien, mystical …
JG: Yeah. It was just so moving to me. It was such a beautiful, beautiful theme.
GW: That was your favorite?
JG: Yeah, that was my favorite. That was just so moving and so beautiful. Probably one of the favorite things that was ever written, for me.
GW: Well, Joel, thank you for taking so much time to be with us. I really appreciate it. But before we close out, what can we look forward to in the second and latter half of Seasons Ten and Four? Err, Three? Scuse me. I’m already thinking of Season Four of Atlantis! What can we look forward to musically?
JG: I can’t do spoilers, but I’ll tell you one thing. Unbelievably, the shows just get better. I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but the last couple of seasons of SG-1 have really been some spectacular stuff.
GW: Mhmm. SCI FI made a mistake. Yeah.
JG: Yeah. But I mean really. It’s not like the quality of the show was dwindling. The quality has just been getting better. And the same thing with Atlantis. The shows are just so good. Atlantis especially — the characters — the development of the characters are so strong. The relationships are so strong. There are some really truly moving episodes. Very dramatic episodes. And believe me, I don’t know exactly where we are on broadcast right now, but the Wraith come back with a vengeance. I will say that. I will say that it gets very dramatic. For what’s coming up.
GW: I will say your score for “McKay and Mrs. Miller” was excellent.
JG: Oh thank you — wasn’t that a cool episode?
GW: That was hilarious. Martin Gero and I have talked about that extensively, and before the episode came out he said “You will not believe Joel’s score for this.” Because he knows I’m a music lover, and I was, like, “Okay. I trust him.” But I cannot wait to hear your score for “Sunday.” I really hope it doesn’t disappoint because everyone’s talking about it and saying it’s the biggest episode of the series.
JG: It’s intense. That’s all I can tell you. I am very proud about the score to “Sunday.”
GW: Good. I can’t wait to hear it.
The Official Joel Goldsmith Web site