The podcast is up and running and people are wondering how we made it.

(Also, I've always wanted to make a Making-Of).

A screenshot of the finished theme - note how many other instruments I tried and rejected! - in Garageband. It even looks like science fiction...

A screenshot of the finished theme - note how many other instruments I tried and rejected! - in Garageband. It even looks like science fiction...

Later on I'll be going through other musical and sound FX designs for this podcast, but this week it's all about the In Darkness Vast Theme Music.

It's the first thing you hear, and, as it happens, the first piece of music I wrote for the show (note: before Hammergrin embarked on this project the extent of my musical composition was pretty limited. I can play the guitar but not particularly well. So this is eminently doable for anyone).

It has to sound good, hold the listener for about 30 seconds, and go well with a voice on top of it.

Couldn't be that difficult, could it? Hundreds of people make music for 1000s of podcasts every week...

My first attempt, still learning the basics of Garageband and my keyboard instrument, produced this:

Not terrible, but not world-changing either (if anyone wants to use it, just wire hundreds of dollars to our music producer, Chaser of Grooves, via idv@hammergrin.com).

The In Darkness Vast theme needs a whole lot more, if people are going to stay beyond the first ten seconds. Ideally, as well as the above criteria, it must also:

  • conjure up the vastness of space
  • nod firmly to the Sci-Fi genre
  • convey a sense of wonder and foreboding
  • ...while retaining a sombre strait-laced tone because of the way the show's pitched
  • and ramp up towards a stinger-like ending

So... NO PRESSURE then.

Thankfully, I did have some seminal soundtracks in mind. 2001: A Space Odyssey is unavoidable, but in particular I wanted to echo the gleaming clarity of that melody for In Darkness Vast. I've a fondness for the theme from JFK too, which is much more stirring and emotive.

One other thing in the back of my mind was something Hammergrin's co-director, Sara-Jane Power, mentioned once when researching a Film Studies thesis: she told me that in music intervallic space (the gap in pitch between notes) is used in Westerns to convey the vastness of the American west. That landscape, both epic and inhuman, seems apt for space too.

So I wanted to make music with long notes, and long gaps between the notes.

I went back to basics and just chose an instrument that could best convey the spirit of the main character in In Darkness Vast, Palos. She's resilient, steely, but in a precarious position. She's obviously a clarinet.

It helps that the "Clarinet" instrument on Garageband sounds more real than other wind instruments on it - here's the isolated track:

It's a little bit wandering, the solo, so I added in a relentless percussion (isolated track below), which owes a lot to Zarathustra:

Combined, they make this, the glorious opening strains of In Darkness Vast, the Sci-Fi serial, theme:

And JUST like that, I could call myself a "musician". And there were only ten more pieces of music to put together for the season...

To check if I get the tone of the show right, and how the voice goes over it, have a listen to Season 1 of In Darkness Vast, being released in weekly installments. And check back here next week, for more Making-Of...


My quick hints:

  • Don't worry about planning a melody. I just improvised (if typing on a keyboard is improv).
  • I ignored the key signature, beats per minute and the in-built metronome. All of these can be addressed later, when there's a good piece of music to finesse.
  • Finally, keep everything, every track - some of the rejected stuff on my first effort ended up as the basis for a later track (listen to the Earth Theme, Episode VI onwards).

Comment