Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

SPOILERS ARE PLANNED: My score for Battlestar Galactica evolved dramatically over the 4 seasons. Character themes were introduced, developed and occasionally abandoned as various instrumentalists and soloists expanded the sonic palette of the music. The score progressively became more expansive, richer, and wildly varied with each episode. While this approach was musically inventive, it did result in certain musical threads being left incomplete.

The Plan, the newly-released straight-to-DVD movie and final swan song of the series afforded me a unique opportunity to return to the roots of the story arcs in the first two seasons and complete them with the thematic, instrumental and melodic material I had developed in Seasons 3 and 4.  “Retconning” is a term I’ve heard used to describe reinterpreting or re-envisioning past events.  Well, The Plan gave me the rare opportunity for some musical retconning, and I took it!

After a clever visual pun with the Universal logo (the planet in the background is Caprica, not Earth!), The Plan opens with a reprise of the opening title text, recited by the cylons themselves.  Over this sequence, the electric violin, duduk and yialli tanbur play in unison the first statement of the only new theme I wrote for this film, The Plan Theme:

This melody will play an important role throughout the film, especially in the attack on the colonies sequence.  It should be familiar to anyone who saw our House of Blues concerts last summer, where we performed the movie’s main theme as a world premiere.

As we zoom in on the Galactica, the story begins at the end of Season 2, when the two Brothers Cavil are escorted to the airlock.  As they march, Chris Bleth’s solo bansuri repeats a fluid statement of The Plan Theme.

The Cavils reach the airlock door as the score develops a simple chord progression that has evolved into the Cavil Theme:

This theme’s roots actually go back to No Exit, where I first introduced it as a scary theme to underscore Cavil’s intimidating interrogations of Ellen.  Cavil was one of the last characters to get a theme, but it was very late in the series.  I liked having the opportunity here to go back in the narrative chronology and re-score these earlier Cavil events with his theme.  In No Exit, the theme was almost entirely harmonic (just oscillating patterns of minor chords, Dm and Bbm for example), which is why I felt it didn’t merit a mention in the blog at the time.

However, in this scene, there is a clear melodic phrasex associated with Cavil.  It starts on the root of each chord and walks up to the minor third.  The third note of the first phrase acts as a pivot to get from one chord to the next.  In the above example, the third in the Dminor chord functions as the fifth in Bbm chord.  The use of two distantly related minor chords gives the passage a slippery, spooky quality that underscores the dual personalities that will develop within the Cavils over the course of this film.

The narrative leaps back to two weeks before the attack on the colonies, taking us to a resurrection ship housing the Final Five.  Even before we get inside the ship, I hope that Steve Bartek and Ira Ingber’s guitars playing the main riff from our version of “All Along the Watchtower” jump out at you:

Inside the ship, five goo tubs are revealed, holding new bodies of the final five.  This is just a random geek question, but did it occur to anyone else that since the living Final Five actually survived the attacks, these five “back up bodies” were never used?  Does this mean that they were just sitting there in this chamber for the duration of the series?  Its an interesting idea, one that shows its impossible to answer all these questions about the cylons without raising new ones.

John Avila’s electric bass and M.B. Gordy’s tabla join the guitars as the zhong hu and duduk together state the Final Five Theme:


Viewing the narrative events chronologically, this marks the earliest statement of the Final Five Theme in this series.  The Cavils begin to speak and the yialli tanbur enters playing the Cavil Theme.  Paul Cartwright’s electric violin sneaks in between the phrases with statements of The Plan Theme.

The score takes an unexpected harmonic shift to the relative major key and suddenly we cut to an image of Caprica, in the days before the attack.

Here, the score quotes the Earth Theme, which originally functioned as the Flashback Theme during the various flashbacks in the series finale:

(For an explanation of why the meaning of this theme changed so much, check out the Daybreak entry).  This theme is elegant, lyrical and atypically serene compared with the general tone of this series.  But, it was the perfect material to re-introduce us to the calm days before the cylon assault.  This shot would function as a bridge to re-introduce material from the miniseries, and some of Richard Gibbs’ score from the mini will in fact return in this film.  But, I felt that this particular shot should reference Daybreak, because we are viewing this as a flashback, not current events.  I felt the score in these re-assembled flashback sequences should always add a new perspective, or a new feeling.  After all, the point of this film is to witness events we’ve already seen through a different lens, and the music should help underline this idea.

When I finally saw the completed film on the big screen last week, I noticed that producer Harvey Frand’s credit lands exactly on this shot, which couldn’t have been an accident.  Harvey passed away last summer, on the day of our first Music of Battlestar Galactica concert in San Diego, triggering the friday night show to become an impromptu tribute to him.  I was moved to see the producers chose to put his credit at this exact moment, because it is literally the most peaceful, serene and beautiful musical phrase in the entire film.  I’m honored that the Earth Theme can help say farewell to Harvey during his final credit.

However, like all things serene on Battlestar Galactica, it is not to last.  We are quickly thrust into a jaw-dropping sequence that depicts in graphic detail the cylon assault on the colonies of man.  Underscoring this event is the heavy metal / taiko inspired bad ass cue I called “Apocalypse.”

The piece, which had its premiere in San Diego last summer, begins as source music, playing in the background at the strip club while Ellen talks to Cavil.  At first, it just sounds like loud rock music, but astute listeners will pick up the electric violin and duduk in the track, playing an aggressive version of The Plan Theme, first introduced in the Main Title.

We cut into space, as legions of basestars jump away.  Here, the track simmers down to nothing but a gamelan and solo percussionist. (Don’t worry, the rock is coming back.)  I wanted something gentle and hypnotic to underscore the hybrid’s eerie monolog.  We all know how this is going to end, so rather than playing constant suspense, I wanted to try something a little more poetic and interesting.

The baseships jump into orbit around Caprica and the heavy metal sneaks back in.  But, now its genuine score, not source music, adding an energy and menace reminiscent of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Black Market” or “Kara’s Coordinates.”  Before long, the heavy taikos blast in and the guitars double in power, playing a raging metal riff unique to “Apocalypse:”

So much power and it’s only two notes!  From here, “Apocalypse” will continue to build in momentum and energy for the next 5 minutes, resulting in one of the most relentless, hardcore cues I’ve ever written.  The ethnic soloists wail out The Plan Theme on top of the guitars, creating an eerie, suspenseful and simultaneously beautiful cue.

In the moments right before the bombs fall, while we’re watching Anders and his team practice, listen for a bitchin’ Avila bass solo that really rips.  The intensity continues to build until at last the nukes drop and chaos begins.

Anders is knocked to the ground and, for a fleeting moment, nearly remembers his cylon past.  “This has happened before,” he says, while the yialli tanbur and bansuri echoe the Final Five Theme, that will haunt him throughout Season 4.

The hybrid introduces us to the destruction of the colonies, as the score plays hypnotic and funereal variations on The Plan Theme.  Again, to add a new perspective, my emphasis was not on the darkness, but on the hideous beauty of the sequence.  And “beauty” is the correct word, because the visual effects department have yet again outdone themselves.

Cavil finds Ellen buried in the rubble, echoing Saul finding her back on Earth 2,000 years ago.  To help underscore these two ideas, the electric violin and duduk state the Ellen Tigh Theme, originally developed in Escape Velocity.

The narrative is now fully interwoven with the events in the miniseries and a unique opportunity arose to tie multiple re-tellings of the same event together.  Adama’s “Call to Arms” speech in the miniseries is seen again here.  While that was one of my favorite cues I contributed to the miniseries score, I felt it was tonally inappropriate for this sequence.  Instead, I musically connected this speech with the assault on the scorpion shipyards from Razor.

That sequence from Razor was underscored with a unique 3/4 taiko groove set beneath a repetitive harmonic progression of Cm, Ebm and Db.  The result was music with energy, drive and a distinctly dark emotional quality.  I played around with it here and found that it underscored Adama’s speech perfectly.  Plus, I like to think that the shipyards attack was happening at this exact moment in time, and the score is connecting Adama’s plight with that of Admiral Cain.  Obviously, this connection is very subtle and I don’t expect that anyone noticed this on a first viewing.  But, on the forthcoming Razor / The Plan soundtrack album, due out in February, the connection between the cues will be clear, especially with the benefit of having them on the same album.

The cue tapers out as Anders and his team spy on the centurions from a bridge.  Here, Chris Bleth’s bansuri states the Kara / Anders Love Theme (originally written for The Farm), that functions as the Anders Theme for this film:

With the stage set, the film now explores the complex interpersonal relationships between the featured Cylons and allowed me many opportunities to develop musical themes.  In particular, the Boomer Theme gets a lot of screen time during the sequences with Cavil and Sharon.  I would love to break this film apart scene by scene for you guys, but honestly don’t want to ruin the fun of dissecting this movie for all the little goodies that the writers, editors, director and I have snuck in here.

Every sequence you think is taken directly from an old episode, you’ll find is actually visually, emotionally and structurally different.  And the music is different as well, always underlining the new perspective on the scene we didn’t have the first time around.

One of the most exciting opportunities I had with The Plan was to go back and retcon the Starbuck / Leoben musical arc.  Their story began in Flesh and Bone, but really took on a new spiritual direction in the beginning of Season 3.  It was for the Season 3 premiere, Occupation, that I first composed what would become the Kara Destiny Theme:


Throughout Season 3 and 4, this developed into one of the most prominent musical themes of the entire series.  It was nearly always played by Martin St. Pierre on a Chinese stringed instrument called an erhu, that has a distinctly ethereal, vocal quality.  (The best examples of album versions of the theme are found in Season 3’s “Deathbed and Maelstrom” and Season 4’s “Among the Ruins.”)

However, I was always a little bummed that I didn’t compose the Kara Destiny Theme for Season 1’s Flesh and Bone, so that the musical arc could begin with the narrative arc.  The problem was, I had no idea how important their relationship would become when I scored Season 1.  Not to mention the fact that I hadn’t even met Martin yet, so I couldn’t have called him in anyway.

At last, in the final two hours of my work on the series, I had an opportunity to go back and fix this.  There are several sequences where we witness Leoben listening over the wireless to Kara’s voice and feeling drawn to her.  These scenes ultimately lead up to their first meeting, and are scored with the Kara Destiny Theme.  Finally, I was able to write that signature erhu riff over the images of Leoben and Kara from Season 1.  It felt great, but I still incorporated some of the signature ethnic guitar sounds from Flesh and Bone for the sake of musical consistency.  It was my last chance to bring that erhu theme full circle.

Speaking of last chances, someone here on the blog wrote in a few weeks before the series finale aired that they hoped I’d bring back “Something Dark is Coming” from Season 2.  Unfortunately, it was literally one of the only themes I didn’t find a home for in Daybreak. But I found a place for it here.  Anders has a heartfelt conversation with Cavil (um… call him “Good Cavil” I guess?) and I started playing the bass line from “Something Dark” over it while I was sketching.  It worked beautifully, so I decided that the theme needed one more moment to shine.

After many twists and turns, the film wraps up with the events leading up to the end of Season 2.  The fates of the two Cavils ultimately diverge in a life-or-death montage where “Bad” Cavil viciously stabs an innocent boy through the gut and “Good” Cavil spares the life of Kara Thrace.  This sequence is underscored with a particularly spooky version of The Plan Theme, sung in a haunting performance by Raya Yarbrough.

We set the melody to a simple text, one that has its roots in He That Believeth. Raya simply repeats “blode ond lieġe,” which is Anglo-Saxon for “blood and flame,” a line taken from the religious chant “The Cult of Baltar,” a piece that she also sang on that episode.  This cue is interesting and particularly upsetting because the melody is constantly re-harmonized over an increasingly dissonant chord structure as it repeats.  What started off as a strong heavy-metal inspired lead line has devolved into a spooky, almost atonal melody.  For me, this sequence is both the climax and the apex of darkness for this film.

The last big thematic moment in the film comes towards the end as the last two Cavils are stopped in the hallway and realize they are in the presence of the Final Five.  Using the Final Five Theme here was a pretty obvious choice.  In fact, I think if I hadn’t quoted here, I’d have gotten some blistering comments from blog readers wanting to know why I didn’t!  But, I wanted to up the ante for this final sequence so I threw an instrument into the mix that had not been in the film thus far:

Yup, listen carefully and you’ll hear Kara’s dad on the piano, plucking out the melody on the same dusty upright from Someone to Watch Over Me, playing alongside Chris Bleth on the duduk.  I love it!

Bringing the film full-circle, the two Cavils are taken to the airlock and await their death.  The score returns to a similar feel from the same scene in the opening.  Variations of the Cavil Theme spill on top of one another, as the energy builds.  But this time, the music is bigger and more resolved, helping to culminate this event which wraps up all the disparate story lines.  The percussion section picks up energy, playing an aggressive rhythm that sounds a lot like the groove at the end of Season 3’s “The Temple of Five.”  I honestly don’t remember now if I did that on purpose or not, but it seems like a cool musical connection either way.

The Cavils are blasted out the airlock and float into space.  The film ends and you can now experience the end credits, which feature a very special piece of music.  It begins with a haunting solo vocal by Raya Yarbrough, singing the Gayatri Mantra from the Main Title.  Then, more Raya vocals enter, building a choir.  The contrapuntal lines are complexly woven, almost baroque.  The piece is a gentle and delicate recreation of the main title chant… until the guitars come in, that is.

Suddenly, the track explodes into “Apocalypse” and Raya sings the Mantra again, this time over the slamming drums, guitars and heavy metal riff heard during the assault on the colonies.  This version of “Apocalypse” is frakkin’ brutal and will probably forever remain among my personal favorite cues I’ve ever written for the series.  When I saw this at the screening last week, I actually witnessed the body language of the entire audience jump up as this unexpected twist in the credits music blasted over them.  It made me smile and may have been the highlight of the whole night for me.

To me, this end credit piece is the definitive version of “Apocalypse,” and its the one we performed live at the concerts last July.  Having Raya and my ensemble perform this new arrangement of the Gayatri Mantra brings the entire series full circle.  The melody is recognizably the Gayatri Mantra, and yet the setting is clearly the result of my four years of musical development on this series.  It’s Season 1 with a Season 4 spin.  It was my gift to Eddie, to the cast, the crew, the producers… and to you guys, the fans.  I wanted the last thing you experienced in this series to be great, so The Plan end credits had to be special.

And with that, my time aboard Galactica has now officially ended.  But, not really, of course.  We’ve got more albums, live concerts and other events coming up.  There are already tentative events on the calendar for 2010 that I will announce as soon as they are solidified.  I’m hopeful we’ll continue playing this music live in concert as long as there are fans out there who want to experience it.

I owe a big thank you to everyone who’s been reading this blog, and especially to those of you chiming in and offering feedback.  It’s been a wonderful way to communicate with you guys and I truly hope that as I score other projects, you will keep checking the blog out.  I’ve got several great projects on the horizon and look forward to letting you guys know all about them.

So Say We All!


PS: I still have some super-cool BSG soundtrack news that I’m hoping to unveil today, as soon as it becomes official!  Stay tuned here!  🙂