SPOILERS RUNNING AHEAD: Tonight’s episode of “Human Target,” Run, pits Chance against corrupt cops out to get a DA who would expose them. The score introduces a new theme and provides several epic action and dramatic cues.
Every episode’s opening title card features a unique orchestration of the Chance Theme. After last week’s exotic boys choir arrangement, this week’s is relatively simple. Violins and English horn state the melody against an ascending bass line:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101c.mp3|titles=Human Target – Run Title Card]
Immediately after the title, the low strings introduce the new theme for Run, the Alison Theme:
This dark variation of the Alison theme underscores Whitey Doyle’s opening voice over narration, and in fact, does not seem to connect to Alison at all at first. Of course, later in the episode it is revealed that she is secretly his daughter. So, the Alison Theme is really more like the “Alison and Her Father Theme.” On a second viewing, this opening cue will probably mean more to an astute soundtrack-aware viewer.
The Alison Theme is built from a repetitive series of moving 8th notes, centered around a Dm scale. Melodically, its actually kind of boring. The interest comes from the harmony, which avoids Dm at all costs, and generally hovers around A major and F major.
While woven throughout the entire episode’s score, the first significant statement of the Alison Theme is heard during their intimate conversation in the taxi cab. Here, it is voiced in the higher muted strings and winds. The sound is airy, delicate and inviting: the polar opposite from the opening cue’s dark, brooding colors. This cue is very active, harmonically and melodically. Variations of the Alison Theme melody splinter off and overlap constantly, creating a swirling bed of sound:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101h.mp3|titles=Human Target – Alison Theme Variation]
The harmonic contrapuntal lines in the second violins and violas slowly descend, working their way further and further down in pitch. Eventually, the celli and basses enter, adding weight and darkness. But I didn’t let them anchor us harmonically. Even the bass line shifts and weaves throughout the harmonies, refusing to be pinned down to the Dm the melody intrinsically wants.
The score is adding extra emotional weight to Alison’s past, more than my initial instincts would have allowed. However, this scene (like many throughout “Human Target”) is about more than what’s on the surface. This scene is also about Chance’s past, and the secret burden he appears to carry. This becomes apparent when Alison shifts the conversation and asks him what he is running from.
The orchestration of the cue has been building to this moment. Here, the melody, harmonic progession and contrapuntal lines finally crash together on D minor, after 2 full minutes of harmonic wandering. A solo clarinet then states the Chance Theme:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101i.mp3|titles=Human Target – Darker Alison Theme Variation]
Harmonic release after a long passage of tension, ambiguity or even atonality is becoming one of my favorite musical tools. I pulled this trick in last week’s Sanctuary, in a similar context: using the harmonic structure of a cue to help point a flashlight on Chance’s past, even as he tries to hide it from everyone.
With this tactic proving useful on a micro-level, spanning a cue for two or three minutes, I tried it on a macro-level, spanning the entire episode. The Alison Theme is always heard in multiple variations, with a broad range of moods. The variations are so diverse, it would be easy to miss the core melody entirely. In fact, the first time that the Alison Theme is heard clearly and precisely is at the end when she meets her father for the first time:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ht101b.mp3|titles=Human Target – Alison’s Theme]
Here, the melody is simple and the harmonic accompaniment restrained. On a subconscious level, this adds even more warmth and release to this climactic scene. After hearing these melodic Alison variations in darker and more ambiguous settings for nearly an hour, the sudden appearance of an elegant, clear statement as she reunites with her father feels even more powerful. At least, I think it does. You guys will have to tell me if this moment works as well as I suspect.
In addition to new thematic material for Alison, Run let me expand some of the other elements in the score. There were several great comedy moments, which I underscored with variations of the Main Ostinato:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ht100-ostinato.mp3|titles=Human Target – Ostinato]
My favorite of these was the scene where Chance went undercover as a lawyer in order to piss of Alison’s supervisor. We’ve seen this type of scene several times now, where Chance is put on the spot and suddenly pulls a wealth of knowledge out of thin air (He speaks Japanese! He knows a psalm!) but somehow its still charming every time I see it.
Listen in this cue for the muted trumpet solo that kicks off Chance’s speech. It creates a tiny little heroic fanfare embedded in a light comedy cue:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101d.mp3|titles=Human Target – Chance the Lawyer]
Another light variation of the Chance melody is heard in the scene preceding this one: a montage where Chance enters the courthouse while his narration explains the master plan. The thematic variations themselves aren’t particularly clever, but you can hear a new playfulness in this orchestration and arrangement.
This particularly buoyant version of Chance’s theme is a direct result of testing the emotional waters with the producers and seeing just how far down the orchestral path I could take this series. I would never have been ballsy enough to put a cue this fun in the pilot. Listen to the subtle upwards gliss in the violin melody towards the end of the audio clip for a great example of the kind of “forbidden fruit” of orchestral writing I’ve avoided for years because it isn’t “cool:”
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101k.mp3|titles=Human Target – Paint a Bullseye]
Composers don’t write like this anymore, because producers and studios don’t want to hear music like this anymore (a generalization about the entertainment industry backed up by undeniable fact). But, by this point I could see the creators of this show and I were in agreement about where to balance old school and contemporary orchestral technique. I knew that it would fit it in the “Human Target” universe because this series is my first project with the right balance of comedy and action to successfully pull this off.
Chance’s theme became more comedic this time, but Winston’s went the other way. While he talks to Al, trying to convince him to help their cause, he reminds him of why he quit the force in the first place. This is the first time we’ve heard Winston talk about why he retired from being a cop, and I wanted to comment on that. Of course, the scene wasn’t really about Winston, so I had to keep the tension up (will Al help?? What if he refuses??). But, I must confess, I was more interested in commenting on Winston’s backstory than on the tension in whether or not GuestStar McGoodCop would help them.
I scored the scene with an emotional variation of Winston’s Theme:
Winston’s Theme is harmonically and melodically constructed as the archetypical “comedic sidekick theme.” Remember, the first time we ever hear it was during his hilarious flight attendant adventures in Rewind. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have made the theme so funny, because it became difficult in this episode to adapt it. But, that ship had sailed and Winston’s theme was already established. So, I changed the mode of its accompanying harmonies and lowered the raised fourth that give the theme a particularly comedic sound. The result is a cue that effectively underscores the conversation with Al, but also comments on Winston’s past and character:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101g.mp3|titles=Human Target – Winston’s Past]
Themes are always fun, but we also played around with the orchestration of Run. Towards the end of the episode, the evil cop Gibson sneaks through a storage room, tracking down Alison (or so he thinks). Here, the score becomes menacing, dark, atonal and spooky.
This short passage features sul ponticello strings, glisses, pitch bends, quarter-tone trills and atonal clusters. Action cues are great and all, but sometimes I have more fun just focusing my imagination on weird colors and effects:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101e.mp3|titles=Human Target – Spooky Strings]
Speaking of action cues, Run has more than its share. The four minute car chase that ensues after they discover the tracking device was a bitch to score. I had to simultaneously keep the tension up because they were being followed, acknowledge the comedy of Alison taking off her clothes in the back seat and do it all without getting in the way of the non-stop dialog.
However, that cue was a breeze compared to the fight in the moving car, where Chance takes out Gibson and his henchman.
At only two minutes, this was one of the shorter cues in the episode. But, it was a mammoth amount of work. I wrote blistering woodwind and string arpeggiatons, blaring trumpet and horn lines and pounding percussion hoping that some of it would stick out above the inevitable overwhelming sound design of a high-impact car chase:
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ht101a.mp3|titles=Human Target – This is Awkward]
At the climax of the episode, Alison makes peace with her father, and speaks to Chance one last time, bringing their conversation in the taxi cab full circle. But, he’s already outside the building and on his way to the next adventure. Here, the score turns the “Epic Knob” up to 11 and I really went for it. The brass and high strings blast a triumphant, yet faintly tragic, statement of the Chance Theme. Harp glisses, woodwind and string apreggios flutter away as he vanishes into the crowd:[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ht101f.mp3|titles=Human Target – Run Finale]
I love the boldness of this show and how far they let me push the music. This cue would be perftecly appropriate at the end of a pilot, a season finale, or even a series finale. But, on “Human Target,” this is how we end a normal episode. Even after this huge send-off… we’ll be back next week.
PS: No video blog this week. I actually scored this episode out of air order, so we recorded it before we began the video blogs. There will be one next week, though.