Sci-Fi music like you’ve never heard it before

When you think of the soundtrack to major science fiction works, you will most likely think of the big set-piece orchestral compositions. The bold music from Star Wars has become entirely iconic. And it’s easy to see why. Big instruments and dramatic musical scores seem like the perfect accompaniment to ‘out of this world’ TV and movie productions. However, one show has demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be this way…

Battlestar Galactica has become a hit in so many ways. The futuristic military drama is something of a re-hash from the 1970s television series. First hitting the screens in 2003, it has since become a major hit. A Peabody Award, numerous Emmy nominations and a placement within Time Magazine’s 100 Best TV Shows of All Time sum up the critical acclaim the series has received. However, a major part of this success has been the consistently varied and outstanding soundtrack, which has spanned four seasons.

Credit must go to the composer Bear McCreary, who was tasked with putting the soundtrack together from the very beginning. What he produced was quite remarkable. The music became a real hallmark of the show. And yet, he managed to produce something quite different for pretty much every series. In fact, producers encouraged him to constantly change the score, something he has described as an “extremely exciting creative prospect”. Consequently, although full orchestral support does feature in some of his Battlestar Galactica work, McCreary’s compositions also encompass a huge variety of ethnic influences and a mixture of human and militaristic themes. The resulting sound was often produced by collaboration of just 9-10 musicians.

The soundtrack to the first series was a conscious attempt by McCreary to move away from the bold brassy feel of science fiction music. As a result, it features plenty of percussion. More importantly though, it saw the introduction of many of the musical motifs, which have come to characterise Battlestar Galactica – The familiar passages of music which define a specific character, location, relationship or mood within the plot. For fans of the show, they are the shorthand to what is about to occur on screen. They are also featured in pretty much any associated product or marketing effort. For example, on this Battlestar Galactica slot review, it is clear that these musical motifs feature heavily in an online slot game based around the show.

In this initial series, viewers are introduced to the ‘Adama family theme,’ involving the main protagonists William and Lee Adama. Musically, it is dominated by a strong Gaelic theme, featuring pipes, flutes and even Irish Gaelic lyrics. Meanwhile, series one also features the ‘Cylon’ theme for the first time, in which a much more robotic sound is created. McCreary uses drums and unconventional items such as pots and pans to create this unique sound.

Of course, as the series evolved, so did the music, with new themes constantly created and the soundtrack discs themselves becoming extremely popular in their own right. Unsurprisingly perhaps, live performances of the music in 2008 and 2009 were sell-outs and a ballet set to the score enjoyed an incredible 13-week run!