An Interview with Shirley Walker by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.19/No.73/2000
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor Luc Van de Ven
With its strong emphasis on paranormal abilities of a group of individuals joined together to encounter and contend against proclamatory ghosts, alternative dimensions, and a mysterious, dark force, NBC’s new hourlong TV series, THE OTHERS, is part X-FILES, part MILLENNIUM, and part STIR OF ECHOES. Created by former X-FILES / SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND alumni James Wong and Glen Morgan, and featuring the directorial talents of genre favorites like Mick Garris and Tobe Hooper, the series reunites composer Shirley Walker with her former SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND producers.
Interviewed on February 22nd, while working on the show’s fifth episode, Shirley described her involvement with, and musical approach to, this speculative series.
I’m assuming you got the assignment due to your association with the producers from SPACE: ABOVE & BEYOND. What kind of music did they ask of you for this new series, and how did you approach the series’ sound design?
Glen Morgan originally was interested in a small acoustic performance group. We talked about a string quartet plus a few other instruments that would be classical in nature. We were both interested in the concept of the music having an identity of its own. The reality is that the pilot and the first few shows were temped with full orchestral music with choirs by Oscar-winning composers. Dreamworks made it clear that I should use the temp for guidance. I think that we will gradually be able to work towards our original concept for the music. The “Eyes” episode, which aired third, is our first “small orchestra plus synths” sounding score. l think the mystical qualities of the story telling are well served by sounds that have just a hint of musical emotion without the overwhelming “piece of music” effect you have with tonal creation.
I understand the show’s theme was modified from your own material into what has become the series’ main title. What happened, and who did the title music?
The theme for the show was done by Klaus Badelt, who is a Hans Zimmer / Media Ventures prodigy. Creating a theme that was acceptable to Steven Spielberg, as well as Glen and Jim, turned out to be something that eluded me. I made three attempts, none of which succeeded.
In terms of episodic scoring, are you using themes for characters or events which recur throughout the show, or is each episode scored individually as a standalone story?
I like the idea of having themes for the characters that recur throughout the series. The only character that I’ve found a way to do that for is the Albert character, the Vietnam veteran. The Satori character is evolving musically in a way that I think will eventually become a theme. Elmer has a deep didgeridoo, low voice and garbled guitar sound which emulates his primal power. Some of the stories are more stand-alone than others. In that case, I do a score which serves the episode itself and don’t try to work in everyone’s theme.
What kind of challenges are you facing with scoring this series, in terms of musical approach, amount of music needed and the time frame to write and record it? How large of an orchestra are you able to use?
We had, originally, talked about 18-20 minutes of music per episode. We are finding the shows are in the 22-32 minute range. The time frame, at its worst, is a one-week turnaround. The orchestra size ranges from three to fifteen musicians, depending on the story. The biggest challenge, for me, is the simulated orchestra requirements. I would be much happier using more real instruments.
What do you feel best about working on this new series? What do you hope for in coming episodes?
My continuing involvement with Glen and Jim’s films and projects is much appreciated. The more material we grapple with, together, the further refined our work becomes. As the birth pains of this new series subside, I am gradually redefining the use of music in the show. I am hoping I’ll be able to raise the amount of real players available to the show for our first full season.
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