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There is No Comparison: Talking “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” with Mike Matessino, Part 1

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If you’re a catalogue soundtrack fan, you doubtlessly know the name and work of Mike Matessino. For decades, Matessino has been among film score elite, serving ably as a producer, editor, mixer and writer for some of the best soundtrack catalogue titles. The New York University graduate first rose to prominence restoring the music of The Sound of Music and The King and I for 20th Century-Fox, then assembled with Nick Redman the most definitive CD releases of John Williams’ scores to the Star Wars trilogy. Since then, his discography has come to include holy grails like Intrada’s expansion of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score, Alan Silvestri’s Back to the FutureFilm Score Monthly’s astounding Superman box set, and expansions of the first six Star Trek motion picture scores.

Matessino, who also oversaw the reassembly of Star Trek: The Motion Picture for its 2001 “Director’s Edition” DVD, comes full circle this year, co-producing a tremendous triple-disc presentation of Goldsmith’s TMP score for La-La Land Records. It’s arguably the soundtrack title to beat for 2012, with even trade publication Variety taking notice.  Matessino will attend a screening of the film and panel discussion with soundtrack producer Bruce Botnick tonight at Hollywood’s Arclight Cinema – but recently, I had the incredible pleasure of talking to the producer about Trek and his illustrious career.

Matessino is, as this interview will doubtless show, one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic in his field. The first portion of what was a two-hour conversation is published today, and touches on the creation of one of the greatest science fiction scores of all time. The next part of the interview will focus on putting that score on CD in a most definitive manner.

We hope you enjoy this look at Star Trek: The Motion Picture with Mike Matessino, who truly has boldly gone where no one has gone before.

This week, after what I’m sure is a great amount of effort from many, this definitive edition of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture score will be available to the public. What does that feel like?

It’s a great relief because was a lot of hard work, it took a very long time, it was a very difficult project. so, in fact, it’s a big relief. Very gratifying to finally be able to share it with listeners. The whole point is to get it out there and know that people are enjoying it, that great film music is preserved, to know that there are people who this means so much to and makes them feel happier about their lives. That’s what I really enjoy.

But this was not the sort of usual, quick and easy project. It’s been almost a year that I’ve been working on it, and La La Land Records started the licensing process maybe two or three years ago. So it’s a big relief and very gratifying to have it out there.

Goldsmith’s main theme for the film is, next to Alexander Courage’s original television theme, the single most enduring piece of Trek music, utilized for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Goldsmith’s other Trek scores. What makes it so memorable?

The theme for Star Trek that Jerry came up with evokes a march, but it’s not militaristic. It evokes the romance and adventure of space, but it’s more heroic – but not the kind of thing he’d do for, say, First Knight. He really just nailed the whole idea of Star Trek and what kind of music was needed. He came up with a melody that is a rare commodity these days, that’s memorable and hummable. When you hear it it immediately brings to mind not just the movie he wrote it for, but all of Star Trek, in the same way that, if you think of Superman, you think of John Williams’ theme, even though that theme has only existed for half the life of the character. You retroactively apply it.

Also, a bit of insider information – the scoring sessions were paid for by Columbia Records in exchange for the album rights. The order of the day was to make a great soundtrack album, and that was not going to work unless you had a memorable theme. The mandate was to come up with a theme that was new to Star Trek but recognizable and would be popular with people and get them to buy albums. And Jerry really struggled to come up with something that was just right. At the end of the day, he did, and it’s endured for more than three decades. You could set a montage of the whole series to that theme, and it would work.

The same year that he recorded TMP, Goldsmith recorded another sci-fi score with decidedly different outcomes: Alien. The score was famously re-edited, with unrelated Goldsmith cues tracked into the film. Did that affect the TMP score in any way?

What you hear in Alien, in the music he originally wrote…He wanted to give it a romantic feeling; he obviously saw romance in space. But the movie’s called Alien. The package has to be clearly marked. It’s arguable as to who’s right, but Ridley Scott’s vision prevailed, and the package became clearly marked. When you see Alien, you hear music that’s alien. Fortunately, he had right on the heels of that another chance to do another space movie.

For such an iconic score, this package features a fantastic amount of early, ultimately rejected score material. Can you walk us through that?

You have to put it in context. It was the late 1970s; we were not to the point where we are now, where a composer will mock up the whole score and a director gets to hear it with a synthesized full orchestra before you go to a scoring stage with a real orchestra. The most you could get at the time was the director going to a composer’s home or studio and hearing a theme on the piano. You really wouldn’t know what it was going to sound like until you got to the scoring session. The most you could get is a sense of where you want music to stop and start, or how much music to include.

In the particular case of TMP, you had a movie with a notoriously large amount of production problems, particularly with the visual effects – and those were so important to piecing the film together. In order to meet the release date, Jerry had to start writing before a lot of those shots were completed. He wasn’t really getting a sense of what the final impact of the film was going to be, because he didn’t see it. He wrote a lot of these early cues to cards that said “scene missing,” or he’d look at storyboards. He did what he could to get a sense of it, but he had no choice but to do it early.

It’s interesting that it didn’t occur to him at that point to come up with some really solid, recognizable, hummable themes. Instead, he’s almost trying to make another try for what he’d attempted on Alien, which was ultimately rejected. A romantic, almost seafaring nautical approach. A lot of the early cues have that kind of feel to them.

He did have in place the love theme for the film. That was pretty rock solid from the beginning. The other component that was there was the blaster beam. But there weren’t too many electronics – those came later.

Then, by coincidence, there was a planned one-month break in the sessions while other scores were recorded. And during that interval, he’d come up with the main theme and rethought some of those early cues. The romantic approach is still there, to a degree, but he bought in other themes like the Vulcan motif and Starfleet theme. Also in that month, Craig Huxley started introducing Jerry to his synthesizer equipment. Robert Wise liked that stranger, otherworldly sound, so more and more electronics started creeping into the score.

For whatever reason, there was this false start that produced its own fantastic music that we now get to release for the first time. But it makes you appreciate the final score all these elements synergistically combining to this perfect score.

Keep reading after the jump to learn about the bond between Goldsmith and his director, and how Trek saved the composer from abandoning electronic music forever.

What was the relationship like between Jerry Goldsmith and TMP director Robert Wise?

Jerry and Bob were great friends since The Sand Pebbles. Getting Sand Pebbles was a big deal for Jerry. They stayed friends, and while it turned out that Bob liked to try diffferent things [and] never wanted to do the same thing twice – while their careers didn’t align, they remained very good friends. In fact, in the 1970s, when both men married their second wives, their two wives had been friends!

So on Star Trek, Jerry communicated very well with Robert Wise. The problem was the insane schedule – Bob was spending most of his mental energy trying to marshall these elaborate visual effects sequences, and trusted Jerry to do his thing.

After the first scoring session, Bob had to tell Jerry it wasn’t working. Jerry was crushed, not because of bob telling him that, but his inabiity to get it right on the first shot. I don’t doubt it was difficult, but they were both close friends and geniuses. Once they locked on a solid scene, Jerry just did went through his normal creative process, and the lightning was captured in the bottle. Jerry might liken it to his relationship with Franklin Schaefer, where they did masterpiece after masterpiece together. And even though they didn’t have a lot of credits together, it was a great relationship.

More than Alien, and more than many of its other contemporaries at the time, the TMP score dabbles in electronics and other unique sounds, like the “blaster beam” instrument that symbolizes V’Ger.

Prior to Star Wars there was an association with science fiction as futuristic, naturally leading people to think of electronics and computers squeaking and beeping. So you had this future-y kind of sound you could achieve with electronics. Jerry, in the 1970s, did experiment with electronics but always found it frustrating with where the technology was at that time. To appreciate the continuity of events leading to Star Trek and the integration of electronics in orchestra that Jerry became a master of later on, a very big clue is the score to Logan’s Run, a sci-fi movie that dealt with a society controlled by computers. So the electronic component became the voice of the computer that ran this city. If you listen to that score you can almost hear a battle between orchestra and electronics – and you have two characters who escape that city, and the electronics disappear, and it becomes purely orchestral.

But Jerry found that a difficult thing to work with. From then on he attempted to integrate electronics where necessary. but he went through a series of very tightly done scores that were very clear and direct (Magic, The Coma, Capricorn One); they had electronic components but a clarity where they announced themselves. And that was deliberate, that’s where he was at the time. You almost couldn’t even see something like Alien or TMP coming at the time.

By the time he got to Alien, Star Wars had been out, and was a purely acoustic score. The combo of that and Jerry’s frustration with electronics of the ‘70s led him to approach Alien without electronics and go deep into organic sounds. Jerry put his own stamp on that by coming up with the strangeness that you associate with futuristic films and doing it organically, but with strange instruments.

In the meantime, Star Trek was in pre-production, and that’s set in the future, not the “long time ago” of Star Wars. So the approach was, “Technology has advanced, our story has advanced, special effects techniques have advanced, so it’s got to be more futuristic.” They went into it initially with electronics in mind – you had the great Alan Howarth scoring teaser trailers entirely with electronics.

They also were searching around for people with unusual electronic instruments for the purpose of recording sound effects. One of whom was Francesco Lupica, this hippie playing this strange thing on the beach in Venice, kind of like a Chinese meditation gong, which he called the cosmic beam.

At some point, Jerry was told about it, and in the meantime, it had been taken further by Craig Huxley (who, under his real name, Craig Hundley, appeared in two episodes of the original series – and coincidentally was William Shatner’s musical director on his albums). He built on the cosmic beam by coming up with a beam that was tuned. It used  crystals to reverberate sound, so it had a very organic quality. It’s not an electronic instrument; you have to hook it up to an amplifier.  It was first used on Leonard Rosenman’s score to Prophecy for Paramount.

Craig has beams of different lengths; the one at our event tonight is 12 feet long, but he has one that’s 18 feet long. It’s basically a long, huge metal beam strung with wires. The crystals amplify the sound, then you take an empty artillery shell casing, you place it on top of the wires and you hit it with something. You move the casing up and down the wires, and you can tune it. Craig specializes in microtonalism – the idea of multiple tones, 50 or 100 or even more – over a scale. You get very precise and come up with different types of sounds and frequencies. Jerry, being experimental, fell in love with the sound and made it the signature sound for V’Ger.

Craig was also developing new synthesizers and was working with one, the Serge Modular. He showed it to Jerry and said, “Look, you don’t have to be limited by the kind of stuff you had on Logan’s Run.” You had much more flexibility with the electronics. It was as Robert Wise got exposed to that, that he liked the idea of making the score more strange-sounding. So Craig was tapped to provide that as well, programming his Serge Modular to play on cue while he’s running back and forth hitting the beam.

The key that was missing in electronics on old scores of Jerry’s: on those scores, electronics were wired into the mixing board in the booth. With Star Trek, the electronics were placed on stage, amplified and mic’d just as you would an acoustic instrument, and mixed live. So rather than patching the electronics directly through the booth, they came through as another instrument.

That had a lot to do with Bruce Botnick, who produced the sessions for Columbia and later became Jerry’s scoring engineer. Together they perfected that blend of electronics and orchestra in a way that really worked. It didn’t sound like overlaying electronics on a mixing board – it really had an organic quality. The sound moved through the air, into a microphone, and then into the mixing board with the orchestra as if they were instruments. So Star Trek was at the center of that whole progression of events. Because of Craig and Bruce, Jerry discovered a way to make electronics work, and then he stayed right on top of that technology for the rest of his career. He stayed cutting-edge all the way to the end.

Our chat with Mike Matessino is far from over! Coming up: the assembly of this spectacular set and thoughts on the soundtrack industry itself. You won’t want to miss it!

Written by Mike Duquette

June 4, 2012 at 12:00

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