Monday’s Person I Want To Be

11 May
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Sometimes, the Bear gets you.

This Monday, as I contemplate work as a composer outside of my own personal projects, I find myself thinking – in what mediums would I, personally, find the greatest satisfaction?  And, though “Movies” used to be the holy grail for all aspiring composers (well, outside of “Premiering at Lincoln Center” anyway), I have to say that for me, the most rewarding two mediums in which to work would be television and video games.  Television offers the chance to let your writing evolve over time, to really work with the themes for various characters and settings, and to get really creative on an episode-by-episode basis.  Video games, on the other hand, are a creative medium still in its infancy, and therefore offer unlimited potential for experimentation and change. Only one guy I can think of has got his foot squarely in both doors, and while that can’t be a comfortable position to hold for an extended period of time, master composer Bear McCreary makes it look easy.

As any regular Murfins reader knows, I am a big fan of Bear’s.  I first became aware of him, as did most of the rest of the planet, through his fascinating, idiosyncratic work on the TV program Battlestar Galactica.  From my first viewing, it was clear that this was a sci-fi show like no other, and the rippling, tribal themes, orchestras mixed with Taiko drums, sitars, and bagpipes, only heightened the show’s differentness.  For a couple of seasons, I watched the show, unaware of anything beyond the fact that the show’s composer had a weird name (“Bear” is up there with W.G. “Snuffy” Walden in the pantheon of TV Composers with memorably odd names).  Then, somewhere near the start of the third season, I learned about Bear’s Battlestar Blog, and with it, gained significant insight into the dude.

Bear's Battlestar Blog

Basically, Bear's Blog is Brilliant.

The amount of depth in McCreary’s blog cannot be overstated – here is a man who truly cares about music, who thinks about it endlessly, and who takes extra time out of his (no doubt insanely) busy schedule to write about it at length, to share it with his fans and fans of the shows he works on.  You can lose hours reading about his process, the techniques he used to make the sounds that so effortlessly evoke the atmosphere of BSG.  His post on the final season’s episode “Sometimes a Great Notion” is so brimming with content and insight, not only into the creation of the music, but into the show itself, that it should practically be required reading for serious Battlestar fans.

In addition to his work on BSG, reading Bear’s blog brought Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to my attention, and I honestly started watching it solely because of the cred it garnered by having McCreary on as the composer.  And while the show itself was very hit-or-miss for me, the music was never less than superb.  And when you think about it, tackling a series with music that is as indelibly imprinted on the nation’s consciousness as that of the Terminator series (“DUN-dun-dun-da-dun!  DUN-dun-dun-da-dun!”) takes some serious composing cajones.  But Bear did it, and added his own, wonderful theme on top of things, a soaring heroic theme that is just as moving and epic as that of the original movies.

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This young girl is working out the notes to "All Along The Watchtower," and will plug them into the GPS on her parents' van to lead them home.

Bear is currently scoring the new BSG spinoff series Caprica, which, despite some somewhat lackluster initial critical reactions, I’ll no doubt be watching when it airs in 2010.  He’s also made the leap into video games, creating the music for Capcom’s upcoming rocket-pack thrill ride Dark Void.  The game looks pretty cool, but it will be greatly helped along by Bear’s music – it’s probably the first time that the guy doing the score for a game has been brought out to do such heavy media rotation by the game’s publisher, which says something about Bear’s cred with the geekier among us.  His discussion of working on game music is also fascinating – how he’s required to change up his flow, and write shorter, more interchangeable themes, so that it can adjust to what’s going on onscreen.

And really, that encapsulates what I dig about the guy so much – Bear’s openeness with his process, and willingness to take the time to try to find the words to write about what he does are a great inspiration for me, both as a musician and as a writer.  I just respect the hell out of the guy – here’s someone who finds the time to work on two or three simultaneous professional projects, play accordion in a groovy gypsy jazz group (along with his super-awesome wife, vocalist Rya Yarborough), and write about all that he does with an astonishing degree of thoughtfulness and clarity.

Don’t let it be said that it’s impossible to truly make it in Hollywood anymore.  Bear McCreary is living proof that with an original voice, clarity of vision, and a little luck, a guy can still do incredible things in that town, and even have time left over to tell us all about how he does it.  Rock on, Bear.

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