The Music of Icarus

3/26/20245 min read

Writing custom music scores for a sci-fi battle while incorporating previously used themes is no easy feat. The intricacies and difficulties lie in striking the delicate balance between creating something fresh and innovative, while also staying true to the established musical identity of the genre. The composer must navigate through the vast expanse of possibilities, carefully selecting musical elements that will evoke the desired emotions and intensify the battle scenes. It requires a deep understanding of the science fiction genre and its iconic musical motifs, as well as the ability to seamlessly integrate them with new compositions. The challenge lies in crafting a score that captures the essence of the battle, immersing the audience in the futuristic world while paying homage to the familiar themes that have come to define it. We certainly had our work cut out for us with Icarus.

Since Icarus is a fan film and within the guidelines of the CBS requirements, I was able to deploy some of my favorite themes from Star Trek including the iconic "Star Trek" theme from Alexander Courage, the quintessential "Klingon" theme from Star Trek The Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith), and of course Alexander Bornstein's Axanar theme created for "Prelude to Axanar." However, due to the predominantly "battlefield" nature of the short, I opted to completely avoid the usual "Star Trek is exploration" sort of TNG, TOS or other series feeling, and went with James Horner's orchestrations for Star Trek II & III.

I was also able to use my brother's Blaster Beam in the score. What's a Beam? A 16' long piece of aluminum with 24 strings stretched across it. Originally, it was used in TMP as the "sound of V-GER." When struck with various metallic mallets, it creates an incredibly low, ominous tone which has found its way into Star Trek II, III, IV, Discovery, Picard, SNW , multiple Transformers movies. My brother built one over the course of the last 3 years, and it is an incredible instrument. You can hear me playing it on his youtube channel here:

Because of budgetary constraints, I wasn't able to hire any "players" to augment and enhance the digital samples I was using, so I had to take special care to ensure that the orchestrations I created sounded and felt as close to "the real thing" as I possibly could. As it turns out, Bornstein's theme shares many of the same notes as the Goldsmith "Klingon" theme, which I'm sure Alexander meant due to the heavy Klingon themes. So I was able to do a "theme and variations" of both themes throughout the anxious on-bridge moments which brought about a wonderful subconscious reminder that "those bastards are still out there."

I use Apple's Logic Pro exclusively to write music for picture and I've done so since 1994 (when it was on Atari and called Notator). The process is a simple protocol, but it requires a complex understanding of the orchestra, music-to-emotion and, of course, how to make digital samples sound "real."

We first start by marking all the spots in the picture where there needs to be a change in the emotion the audience is feeling. Since music is the best and most effective way to move an audience, we must first notate - without any musical consideration - where we want the audience to have a change in their emotions. I might even mark down a specific emotion if it isn't clear what they should be feeling. When I'm working as just a composer, I rely heavily on how I feel about a scene when I first watch it, because that gives me the truest sense of what a scene might be intrinsically creating an audience to emotionally step into. But being both the director AND the composer makes that very difficult. And in this case, I spent no small amount of time rethinking my notes about this.

Once the "spotting session" is done, we then go about the process of setting the musical tempo for each section. Not only do we have to find the right beat/timing for the music to evoke the right emotion, but we also must be sure that said timing has a music change land on some beat. It's a tedious process, but it is the MOST important process, since getting the tempo wrong makes it nearly impossible to coerce an audience into the emotion you want.

From there, the music composition begins - usually with theme writing. Because I had three incredible themes with which to work, I jumped right into the sketching. "Sketching" is like an architectural drawing of a building. It's just the outlines and the general gist, but it is not anything we'd want to live in by itself. The usual sketch for composer John Williams is a 20-line hand-written outline of music that is so detailed, his orchestrators have little to add - and instead they just do a "copy job" of his sketches into the score. Well. I'm no John Williams. I perform the important bits into a scratch piano track. This allows me to audition the general feeling of the piano against picture, and decide if the "architectural drawing" will hold up to the emotion I want the audience to feel. This is the most creative part of the composition process for me, and I'll add orchestration that occurs to me at the time (like the countermelody being on a violin instead of just a "general countermelody").

Once the sketch is done, it's time for the fun part: orchestration. Back to the top we go, and we start filling out the piano sketch with all the instruments of the orchestra. I generally do mixing of the sounds at the simultaneously so that by the time I'm to the end of the score, the overall sonic tapestry is 85% completed. I'll usually sleep on a completed orchestration as well, since my excitement/depression about what I'm doing can easily bias what's really happening in the music. Once I like it, I do the finishing touches on the mix, and I export what are called "stems." A stem is a downmix of a particular discipline of instruments into a single stereo track. For example: I might do stem of all high woodwinds, or a stem of orchestral percussion. This gives me maximum flexibility in the mix to keep the music as loud as possible while dialog and sound effects compete for sonic real estate. Many times, the french horn section will interfere with male dialog, and without the kind of control that a set of orchestral stems gives me, I have to pull down the entire music track or contour the music in a way that is unnatural. Icarus has 32 music stems on an orchestration with over 150 tracks in a load of samples over 50 GB in RAM.

I hope you enjoy my joyful efforts on this score, and that if you're writing music for picture you are inspired.

~ Mark Edward Lewis