2014: Potpourri
on September 4, 2017
  • original music

Although MONSTER TRACKS handled a number of notable assignments in 2014, I've decided to dedicate this week's blog to some favorite tracks that for one reason or other never quite reached the promised land.

One such project came about when I was contacted by a friend of a friend at Paramount, who explained that the studio was interested in updating the original Star Trek TV theme for use during the end credits of the 2002 feature Star Trek: Nemesis. This would signal that a Trek reboot was in the works (J.J. Abrams' 2009 film), but Nemesis composer Jerry Goldsmith was adamant that his score play during the credits so the studio was thinking of commissioning a remake and inserting it into the film. I knew it would be a long shot, but stranger things have happened, and as a lifelong Star Trek fan (who named his son Kirk!) I couldn't allow the opportunity to pass.

It was truly a labor of love. I began by transcribing the original Alexander Courage orchestration and updating his chord progression with some subtle reharmonization. I then built a driving rhythm track using elements borrowed from EDM and Nu metal, and added a modified intro and a new bridge featuring snippets of dialog from the show. Recording the melody turned out to be the most challenging aspect of the production; to approximate the soaring vocal on the original recording I asked guitarist Jeff Kay to use an EBow, a device that vibrates the guitar's strings to create an effect similar to bowing a violin. The device is difficult to control, and it took considerable effort to get each note of the melody to "sing." Once I had a mix together I visited a local roller skating rink to check playback on a high-powered audio system similar to those in movie theaters. The closing line from the episode "Mirror, Mirror" inspired me to title the arrangement "Star Trek: Revolution."

My contact at Paramount was impressed and sent some Trek merchandise in appreciation, but Goldsmith ultimately prevailed and his score ran throughout the credits. I considered releasing my track independently, but the legal hurdles proved too daunting. So aside from a few (non-profit) performances at Star Trek conventions, the track has boldly gone . . . nowhere.

Some tracks I produce are not meant to go anywhere. For example, as a music technology consultant I often receive new software instruments to evaluate, and sometimes compose pieces to "test drive" these products. Here's one I created using a plug-in that offers sampled sounds from various world cultures. I call it "EthnoTechnicity."

And not all of my ad work winds up on the air. One of my favorite demos was a Nu metal piece that LevLane asked me to create for the Philadelphia KiXX indoor soccer team in 2002. Jeff Kay provided his usual stellar guitar work, and Jordan Myers and I had great fun co-writing his rap. The piece would have been featured in the arena during matches and in the team's broadcast advertising; I don't recall why it didn't fly, but I suspect it would have been popular with fans.

A unique piece I produced for Dave Blazek didn't fare much better. When The Philadelphia Inquirer completed a dramatic redesign of their Inquirer Magazine supplement, Dave wanted to create a radio spot that was equally innovative and gave me free creative rein. I took the opportunity to compose a "thought poem" in the style of Laurie Anderson that would be unlike anything on the air. Larry Bellimo dropped a trancey, trip-hop drum track that supports an eclectic blend of sound design elements, and Eileen Brady delivered a wonderfully Anderson-esque vocal performance. Unfortunately, the track left the higher ups at the paper scratching their heads, and the decision was made to go with a more traditional ad. Dave loved my approach though, and recalls running it on one station just so that it wouldn't go unused.

I'm fortunate that I don't have more stories like these to tell. Songwriters typically compose many more songs than they ever sell, and most commercial composers spend hours producing ad demos and library pieces that never see the light of day. I'd like to think that my unusually high success rate is a direct result of the effort I make to understand my clients' expectations before I write a single note.

Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.