Kronos Wartet, Sci-Fi Music, and Defiance

Defiance is both a television series and video game set in the same post-apocalyptic world
Defiance is both a television series and video game set in the same post-apocalyptic world

Defiance is both a television series and video game set in the same post-apocalyptic world

It’s been a good time for Sci-Fi music. With so many blockbuster films, television series, and video games becoming practically mainstream there’s no lack of scores being written. Of most interest to me, however, is diegetic music – music that appears in the film/tv/video game universe rather than the music that appears as a score to the productions.

This is music as would be heard by in-universe characters. For example, while everyone the Klingon Theme (called “Klingon Battle” in the score cue) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture with Klingons, it’s not necessarily music that in universe Klingons would recognize as part of their musical world or culture.

Compare to this in universe excerpt of the Klingon Opera, “Aktuh and Maylota”

And compare also with this cue, the Kronos Wartet (pun intended), from the score for the most recent Star Trek movie which may or may not be diegetic

One of the things that strikes me as odd–and this is as much a commentary on contemporary culture and how these forms of media seem to reflect it–is that there tends to be very little diegetic music being written (with a few exceptions) in many of these franchises.  Why I find that odd is that it says something about how writers view the role of music in the lives of the people inhabiting their worlds.  I’m going to talk a little about television rather than film and video games since there are quite a few relatively popular sci-fi themed series currently airing.

Post-apocalyptic series seem to be pretty popular these days.  The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Revolution, Defiance are currently airing series while some recent cancelled series like Terra Nova and Primeval: New World had an implicit post-apocalyptic future world as a backdrop to the modern or past settings (it should be noted that both the latter heavily involved time-travel and regularly featured dinosaurs–things that didn’t seem to help the rebooted V series or The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

With the exception of Defiance (notable for being launched as a video game and television series), there is next to no diegetic music portrayed within the series respective worlds.  It can be argued that in most of these series the inhabitants are spending too much time just trying to survive to worry much about, say, listening to music much less making it.  But I just can’t shake how full of song and music that, say, Tolkien’s Middle Earth is (some of which he started writing while he was in the trenches during WWI).  Is it fair comparing fantasy to sci-fi?  Well, how much diegetic music is in the popular Game of Thrones?  Or the recently ended Merlin series? Or recently cancelled Sinbad show?

The interesting thing about Bear McCreary and his work for Defiance is that he has to create specific musics for the various Votan races as well as creating the score for the episodes–in other words he is writing both in-universe and out-universe music and his blog about some of that creation process is fascinating and familiar (as I had to do similar in/out universe music for the Klingon Christmas Carol).  This brings us back to the Klingons at the beginning of the post–the Star Trek universe had copious amounts of diegetic music.  Klingon Opera became as ubiquitous a topic of conversation amongst characters and we have characters listening to or singing it as well as numerous other styles of Klingon music.

It’s not as if I’d want characters to spontaneously break out into song as in musicals (though interesting to note that musical movies have pretty much died out–Les Misérables film notwithstanding) but cultures seem more alive and 3-dimensional with active music participation.

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4 thoughts on “Kronos Wartet, Sci-Fi Music, and Defiance

  1. Ramblings:

    I think it’s just hard to find actors who can also play instruments well enough to be seen playing them, even when dubbed in. The Tolkien universe can get away with it since sung music on the page is essentially just poetry … or something …

    Alien music (I guess the Klingon stuff falls into this category) is a bit easier to manage since it’s alien and hell, you can throw together a glob of cacophony quickly that sounds damned weird and just call it “alien.” But the only instances of in-universe music I can think of in the Trek series involved either actors who could play the things (Frakes) or music that was safely in public domain.

    I guess the concept of in-universe music gets complex. Who writes it? Is it a work for hire? Who performs it? How expensive does this get? Why would a writer of words imagine that part of their job is to write music as well? Tolkien probably did it just because again, it looked like poetry on the page, and because he was an obsessive compulsive detail hack. :-)

    • I’ve discovered that there is a large pool of musicians who have agents and talent companies that hire them out for tv and movie appearances. One of the reasons I started growing the beard/hair out is because I saw a call for long-haired, bearded cellists for filming in season 3 of Game of Thrones back in October of last year. I realized even if I had the time to to go to Northern Ireland to film I didn’t have an appropriate headshot as it had been years since I’d had long hair and/or a full beard.

      In retrospect, I’m half glad I didn’t take the gig as I’m not sure I want to be remembered as the cellist who shot Rob Stark with a crossbow! :P

      In universe music is an interestingly complex phenomena. In some cases, such as with Bear McCreary–he writes and often records (or hires the artists to record) the in Universe musical selections. The lyrics are usually written by someone else and then translated into Castithan or Irathient by David J. Peterson, the creator of the languages (also the creator of the Navi language for James Cameron’s “Avatar” movie). In the Star Trek series, many of the in Universe Klingon numbers were written by producers (and whoever they hired to do the actual music writing and lyrics translation) rather than the score composer.

      The producer of Alien Nation, Kenneth Johnson, actually created the Tenctonese language for the series which is used in some of the actual songs heard in various scores for the episodes. Not being a linguist, his creation amounted to English words spelled backwards with a smattering of Russian and anagrams of his wife and daughter’s names. If I remember correctly the title song for the series specifically uses those family anagrams for the lyrics.

      It’s an interesting sub-culture of music and music production and I smell a paper to write about it! ;)

      • Neither did I until I started learning some of the tunes and then composing for some related productions and meeting some of the creative people involved at conventions! I’ll probably be writing more about things like this–especially since the cello gets the spotlight in so many of these things! :D

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