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Fine Arts Friday: the art of the soundtrack

Today you’re in for a special treat. My friend Erika Franz is the author of today’s guest post on soundtracks, specifically the soundtracks of science fiction. The idea for the post was born of a conversation that came out of this post and the idea that movie soundtracks are the natural extension of operas and musical theater. (Incidentally, at some point I plan to write a post at some point at how science fiction stories are the epic stories of our times.) Erika has a great story blog with an interesting concept you should definitely check out. Enjoy this exploration of sci-fi soundtracks!

dumbledore music

I have broad taste in music—and I really mean that. I don’t just like top 40 plus a niche genre or two; I mean I listen to everything from ancient music archaeologists have attempted to recreate to modern rock, and most things in between. I draw the line at most post-modern clangers that are meant to deconstruct our notions of music — and I can’t get into Japanese opera — but give me medieval chants, Classical, Baroque, folk tunes, blues and bluegrass, country, rock, rap, more rock, and world rhythms and I can be pretty happy. I’m no expert, just an inexperienced dabbler.

Back in the 90s, when I was fast approaching voting age, I got into movie soundtracks — both the ones with songs that had lyrics and the ones that were largely symphonic. I probably owe a great deal of this to my young exposure to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and, er, James Bond movies (the latter TV edited and taped on a VHS, of course). I also believed in repeated exposure. By this I mean I watched Star Wars pretty much daily one summer. (My sister’s ex-boyfriend from high school confessed to me while we sat in the midnight premier of the Special Edition for A New Hope, aka Episode IV, that because I was babysat by the movie, they were able to be in the kitchen enjoying some alone time). My family also owned the record for Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark  but otherwise, my parents listened to nothing but classical music on tape, record, or public radio. I was in junior high before I started to listen to those radio stations other kids my age were listening to.

One of the first movie soundtracks I tried to track down was Medicine Man with all those great pan flutes and such. However, I think some of the best soundtracks are those for science fiction, both films and television shows. I might as well come clean and say that I think John Williams is phenomenal, one of the best, and maybe the best composer of sci-fi soundtracks. Of course, that doesn’t mean I think that everything should emulate him—that would be unoriginal.

But sci-fi soundtracks have achieved a certain grandeur reminiscent of Sergei Prokofiev, the Russian composer (Romeo and Juliet is my favorite of his), Carl Orff (Carmina Burana), and Aaron Copeland (especially Fanfare for the Common Man), to name a few. This makes sense that these modern composers who often wrote for ballets (or soundtracks on a different stage) would influence later film music.

So here is a little collection, by no means exhaustive, of some epic sci-fi soundtracks.

First, a non-exhaustive selection from Star Wars, the original trilogy (again, not exhaustive at all). The main theme (the one that brought so many of us into the fold):

“The Imperial March”

The climactic end (sorry, not the Ewoks, rather the final duel):

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From Star Trek, we look first at the TV themes/opening credits of all the various Star Trek shows. Maybe The Original Series theme is a bit questionable, but it’s also undoubtedly a product of its time. Ironically,  the last show themes don’t fit as well either. But hey, that’s pop culture evolution for you):

And the theme from Star Trek, The Motion Picture:

Blade Runner is from the gloomier side of sci-fi, to be sure. Ah, dark 80s sci-fi—but it’s got some great moments with tinges of 80s fantasy music and 80s saxophones and 80s synth. “Rachel’s Song” (all the above being stated, this is still the standout for me):

My man Hans Zimmer has made many a soundtrack that I have purchased, but this is a sci-fi post, so I’ll give you the Inception entry:

The Matrix Trilogy: I could do a lot with this, but for consistency I’m going to go with the opening theme.


Firefly because space cowboys, the main theme (again, because I can; although I actually enjoy the non-lyrical portions, this was my favorite):

What would you include?

3 responses to “Fine Arts Friday: the art of the soundtrack”

  1. April Avatar

    Not so much sci-fi, but still speculative fiction, the Lord of the Rings soundtrack is amazing. And the Harry Potter soundtrack is pretty cool, too. But LOTR is really in a category by itself.

  2. Cindy Watson Avatar
    Cindy Watson

    Love Firefly’s song. It was my ringtone for a bit until I got a new phone and my kids won’t help me find it and set it up. Sigh..technically challenged mom here.

    1. April Avatar

      Don’t they know that the deal is you give birth, they be on-call for all tech related issues? Forever?

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