They went Chattaway! –> The Caretaker’s Hoedown

Voyager Banjo Player

Well, for some reason, almost all of my Star Trek music got pushed toward the end of the tunequest, and believe me, I have nearly all of the Star Trek music except for the unreleased promo soundtrack to the Starfleet Academy video game. If anyone can point towards that, I’ll send you a digital high five or something, so the waters around here will be thick with Trekkin for a bit.

Today’s little nugget of musical trekdom comes from Jay Chattaway, a veteran composer of the post-Next Generation era with music credits on a total of 182 episodes of the franchise (second only to Dennis McCarthy’s 258). Chattaway has been actively writing music for Star Trek since The Next Generation’s 3rd season episode Tin Man, which has been cited by many Trek fans as one of his best contributions to the show’s musical heritage.

By the time Voyager’s first episode began production, he had seven combined seasons worth of titles under his belt (from both TNG and DS9), so it was natural that the show’s producers asked him to score the premiere though the show’s main theme was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who won an Emmy for his efforts. In general, Chattaway’s scores rely heavily on synthesizers and Caretaker is no different, much to its detriment. There’s some good music here, but most of it’s lost in a fog of artificial tones, chords and hums. I’m sure it’s effective on screen, but as stand-alone music, there’s not much that stands out. While listening to it, I couldn’t help but imagine it being performed by a larger, fuller orchestra for a more rewarding experience.

In the end though, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Fortunately, the soundtrack has a saving grace other than the Goldsmith theme. It features the complete banjo performance that was used in part of the episode. It’s pretty catchy and is probably the most unique two minutes in Star Trek’s musical repertoire. The Caretaker’s Howdown:

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tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

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Dennis McCarthy – Deep Space Nine: Emissary: An Unexpected Treat

In the pantheon of composers who have worked on Star Trek, none are more prolific than Dennis McCarthy, who has been working with the franchise since the debut episode of The Next Generation to the final episode of Enterprise. Of course, whether you think that's a good thing or bad depends on your opinion of his music.

With the rather large caveat that Mr. McCarthy's composing abilities were limited by the franchise’s producers and production capabilities, who placed less emphasis on bold thematic music in favor of reusable "mood" and "atmospheric" cues, I must admit that, on the whole, I've not been impressed. I know it's not the composer's fault, and that I'm probably unfairly comparing his work to the more grandiose Star Trek film scores, but it's hard to wrap my head around the largely ambient, mood-setting scoring. a similar complaint I have regarding the bulk of Christopher Franke's Babylon 5 music. Maybe it's just a general limitation of writing music for television.

However, I recently listened to McCarthy's score for the premiere episode of Deep Space Nine (Emissary) and was quite surprised at its musical complexity. Though I've never been a big fan of the lumbering syncopation of the show's main title, I can’t help but get caught up in its a magnificent crescendo. It’s a perfect segue into each episode.

While McCarthy's music for the Borg Battle at Wolf 359 is not nearly as menacing or action-packed as Ron Jones' from The Best of Both Worlds, it too ends on a dramatic note that works, both by itself and on screen as we see Sisko's escape pod leave the Saratoga just before its destruction.

The score, from there, delves into the backdrop zone until the track Cucumbers in Space, an oddly-named piece of futuristic head-bopping source music. The score reaches a highlight on Into the Wormhole which evokes Jerry Goldsmith's exquisite V'Ger flyover music from the first motion picture. Later, during Reconciliation there's a cue that's reminiscent of one of my favorite passages from the third movement of Mahler's sixth symphony.

All in all, I found the score to Emissary to be an unexpected treat.