Human Target: Rewind

SPOILERS AHEAD: Human Target‘s second episode airs tonight, now in its regular Wednesday timeslot.  Rewind takes Chance from a speeding train to a crashing jet, and also allows Chi McBride’s Winston to get involved in the action.  The pilot was scored with a pretty large orchestra, and surprisingly, Rewind was recorded with an even bigger ensemble.  As a result, the score is even more bombastic and powerful.  And where the pilot scored strove only to introduce the Chance Theme, here I have begun to expand the thematic texture of the series.

(Look, its Gaeta!)

While the episode is cleverly shown out of sequence, the basic story structure is still chronological.  In the beginning, Winston finds out from Felix Gaeta… I mean… um… some computer guy who looks like Felix Gaeta… that they need to protect a hacker named Casper who’s on a flight from San Diego to Seattle.  (During their conversation, I managed to resist the overwhelming urge to play a bit of Gaeta’s Theme from BSG.)

As Chance, Guerrero and Winston discuss the plan, the score builds up variations of the Main Ostinato:

[audio:|titles=Human Target – Ostinato]

The scene culminates as Winston realizes that he must go along on this adventure as well, unfortunately in disguise as a flight attendant.  This plot twist gave me the perfect opportunity to compose a Winston Theme:

[audio:|titles=Human Target – Winston Theme]

The first time this theme is used is when Chance and Winston decide to pull a “Crazy Eddie,” to cause a major distraction and see who’s too focused on committing a crime to notice.  (You may want to start a little dictionary of the humorous names for their plans, because its a recurring theme.)  Winston picks his victim: an annoying douche bag who enjoys bitching out flight attendants.  Here the woodwinds state the theme in a very playful arrangement.

Later in the episode, as Winston battles the air marshall, his theme is arranged in a more aggressive context, and it will return it subsequent episodes in other variations as well.

The action sequences in Rewind (of which there are many) are comprised of two thematic ideas.  The first of which is still the Main (aka Chance) Theme:

[audio:|titles=Human Target – Main Theme]

Variations of the A and B-Sections of this theme are woven throughout every cue.  In fact, one of the joys of scoring later episodes of this series has been in finding new and exotic ways to vary the theme and generate new material out of it.

However, the main musical motor for this episode comes from an energetic 9/8 groove I’ll call the Airplane Theme:

[audio:|titles=Human Target – Airplane Theme]

This rhythm is pounding away in the brass and percussion during the teaser.  But, the first time we really hear it stated fully is when Chance looks out his window and realizes that the plane is changing course.  This sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the plane getting set on fire, and so was the ideal place to introduce this riff.  At this moment, the celli and violas introduce the idea simply, before building in intensity and variation throughout the rest of the episode.

From here to the finish, the plane theme goes through dozens of variations, and its orchestration gets bigger and more bombastic.  The final sequence of flipping the plane is a gigantic variation of this groove, considerably bigger than the simple celli and viola arrangement that introduced it.

Rewind also introduces a musical idea that is first heard when Chance confronts Laura (the flight attendant who’s helped him the entire episode) in the wheel well.  This mysterious and somber melody is first played by a solo horn and trumpet, and I called it the Laura Theme:

[audio:|titles=Human Target – Laura’s Theme]

Ostensibly, the cue is commenting on Laura’s moral dilemma as Chance tries to convince her she has other options outside of a life of crime.  However, that wasn’t my motivation.  There’s a deeper subtext here.  This scene isn’t about Laura, it’s about Chance, and his mysterious past that we know very little about.  I’m actually planting a thematic seed here, that will come back and develop later as we learn more about Chance’s backstory.

The “Laura Theme” returns again in the last act, as Chance struggles to save her life.  He fails, and the theme descends into dark, tragic minor chords.  To the casual viewer, the score comments solely on the death of the episode’s leading lady.  But, in fact, its really about what’s going through Chance’s mind as he witnesses someone facing the same decisions he once faced, and choosing destruction over salvation.

[audio:|titles=Human Target – “Rewind” Finale]

The episode ends as our heroes, Chance and Winston, ride off into the sunset… well, not literally: they literally drive off into the pouring Seattle rain.  But, the opportunity for a heroic, sweeping fanfare was still there.  The Main Ostinato and Main Theme return in a triumphant arrangement that sends our heroes off with style, ready for the next adventure.


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UPDATED 11pm: Variety just ran a story on my Human Target score!  It’s too cool not to post here.  Check it out.

Live musicians preferred

‘Target’ uses more than any live-action series in years

That sound you’re hearing on Fox’s new action drama “Human Target”? It’s the noise that 50 or 60 musicians can make, something that’s all but disappeared from live-action television series.

It is the largest group of musicians to play on a live-action TV series in several years. Michael Giacchino’s scores for “Lost” feature 35 players, while Steve Jablonsky uses seven on “Desperate Housewives.” The animated “Simpsons” and “Family Guy” routinely enjoy 35- to 45-piece orchestras, but these shows are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to music.

The classic sound of real Hollywood musicians — not the synthesizers and samplers employed on most shows — was in “Human Target” exec producer Jonathan Steinberg’s mind from the start for the series from Warner Bros. Television. “At the first production meeting we had, even before the pilot, I said we must have an orchestra,” he noted at a recent recording session at Warner Bros.’ Eastwood Scoring Stage.

“This show is about an action hero,” Steinberg says. “It’s built out of the DNA of the movies I grew up on, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Raiders’ and ‘Star Trek.’ Those movies don’t work without that orchestra.”

Composer Bear McCreary (“Battlestar Galactica”) is conducting an average of 48 musicians in as many as 33 minutes of music each week. He had 60 players to record the main-title sequence and various versions of the series theme.

“The studio really believes in it,” says McCreary. “They understand that the music is adding a lot — not just to the overall production value but to establish the tone. It’s funny and adventurous and intense and scary,” says McCreary, who is also using live musicians (though far fewer) on his other shows this season, Syfy’s “Caprica” and NBC’s “Trauma.” “This is the kind of soundtrack music that people of my generation associate with action and adventure,” he says.

Years ago, Paramount’s “Star Trek” series (primarily “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager”) averaged 44 players but sometimes reached 60 for high-profile episodes. “Murder, She Wrote” had 34. Further back, composers recalled, “Dallas” averaged 22 and “Hawaii Five-0” 18. All won Emmys for their music.

Most composers dislike replacing real musicians with electronic sounds but are forced to use today’s high-tech tools for budgetary reasons. “Doing mocked-up ‘orchestral’ phrases is my idea of hell,” says McCreary. “It’s just really boring.”