Bear McCreary - Creating The Coordinates Of Earth

Bear McCreary - Creating The Coordinates Of Earth

Postby Sionnach Glic » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:20 pm

Mark, Tsu, and anyone else who has not finished watching the show yet READ NO FURTHER! The following contains a discussion of the very end of the show, and one of the biggest revelations in the entire series. Read on at your peril.

From here.

*** Generating Kara's Coordinates ***

The music for the montage where Kara punches in the jump coordinates is important not just because the score sounds totally rockin', but because it literally makes an important story point and culminates the arc set in motion by Crossroads, Pt. II and Kara's piano epiphanies in Someone to Watch Over Me.

As I described in the my blog entry about that episode, I was intimately involved with David Weddle and Bradley Thompson's script because it required some musical knowledge and understanding. However, when they were finished, my work was not yet complete.

While I was on set last May helping production shoot that episode, I got a phone call from Bradley where he informed me that the music I arranged would be the guide that ultimately leads to the fleet to Earth. I just about dropped the phone in shock. My score had become such an integral part of the series that the producers were looking to me, the series composer, to generate the coordinates for Earth. It would be difficult to overstate my surprise.

I realized that what they wanted would not be easy to deliver. The idea that Kara gets the coordinates from the music itself is easy to convey in images and we also knew that the dramatic tension would be more about whether Galactica would escape from the black hole before it enveloped them. We couldn't slow down the narrative intensity for a music theory lesson.

(M.B.'s tabla became an integral part of the "Final Four Theme")

My first step was to ask series science advisor Kevin Grazier what kind of coordinates we would need to generate from the music. He replied:

"When we specify coordinates in astronomy, it's usually done with two angles - one that ranges 0 to 360 degrees, the other +90 to -90 degrees. Necessary also is the distance, but for astronomy the distance implied when we're looking for stars is "infinity." We're collectively used to this. In geography, it's latitude/longitude (distance implied - Earth's radius). In astronomy it's Right Ascension / Declination. In BSG, it's XXXcaromYYY, distance ZZZ.

'Now we've already established that one unit of measure used by Galactica is the SU, or Stellar Unit ("The Captain's Hand"), similar to the Astronomical Unit used in our Solar System. It's reasonable to assume that the Colonials use something similar to a light year as well - we'll call this a CLY (Colonial Light Year)

'There are 63495 Astronomical Units in one Light Year. Irrespective of the absolute sizes of the SU and CLY, the RATIO between those two is likely to be of the same order of magnitude as that of the AU/LY.

'So as I see it, we will need from the music: XXX carom YYY dist ZZZZZZ"

I was tasked with generating 12 single-digit numbers out of "All Along the Watchtower." Since The Final Four Theme had been firmly established as the piece of music Hera draws and the melody that Kara plays, it took a close look at the melody and tried to figure out how go about this unusual assignment:

I emailed everyone involved some possible solutions. This would be the first time in my television scoring career that the phrase "12-Tone Row" would be necessary in conversations with producers or writers. :)

(My original sketch for Hera's dots)

"GRAPHIC INTERPRETATION

You could take this series of dots and plot it on a star chart and have it mean something. But, we'd have to get enough information out of the notes to derive the relative scale, direction and size of the note heads. It would be the simplest visually (Kara takes Hera's drawing, slaps it on a star map and sees the way to Earth) but there are a million variables that could go wrong and it would be, frankly, pretty stupid.

12-TONE THEORY

Borrowing a bit from the post-WWII serialists, we can generate some numbers based on scale degrees. If you assign each chromatic scale degree in the C#m scale with a number, the melody would be written as such: 1 2 4 9 8 4 9 [8-9-8] 4 2 1. The parentheses represent the little triplet turnaround, which are the fastest of the notes. This series, though not a 12-tone row in the traditional sense, could still be inverted, retrograded and then have the inversion retrograded to give us four sets of related numbers:

PRIME: 1 2 4 9 8 4 9 [8-9-8] 4 2 1
RETROGRADE: 1 2 4 [8-9-8] 9 4 8 9 4 2 1
INVERSION: 12 11 9 4 5 9 4 [5-4-5] 9 11 12
RETROGRADE-INVERSION: 12 11 9 [5-4-5] 4 9 5 3 9 11 12

INTERVALIC DIFFERENCES

You can also generate numbers by looking at the spaces between the notes instead of the notes themselves. For example the space between C# and D is a single step, or "1." That series of numbers could also be retrograded, although not inverted since the inversion would be the exact same numbers ('1′ step up = '1′ step down):

PRIME: 1 2 5 1 4 5 1 1 1 4 2 1
RETROGRADE:1 2 4 1 1 1 5 4 1 5 2 1

Because the melody is mostly scalar, we see a lot of 1's and 2's. The bigger leaps become visually more apparent. The 4's and 5's seem to really stick out."

This process became so complicated, I began to empathize with Kara as she maddeningly tried to crack the code in the music.

Series writer and producer Bradley Thompson felt that most of these techniques would be too complex to communicate effectively onscreen.

"These are good thoughts, all great for Kara to wonder about," Thompson told me. "But, when Ron gets to her feeding the coordinates at the last second under the dire circumstances of Episode 21, we'll probably want an "oh-yeah!" moment that comes as a flash of simplicity. The jump computer needs input1, input2, and input3 (angular vector1, vector 2 and distance / power). The computer accepts a certain number of digits for these, which Kara determines from the intervals from the tonic (1) in Watchtower's melody. I'm sure Ron will have us in white-knuckle drama as the black hole sucks the decrepit Galactica into its hideous tidal stresses - so this won't be a wonderful time to spend thinking it out."

As Bradley made his case, I began to understand just little screen time we would have to communicate the abstract idea of Kara deriving coordinates from music.

"Remember, the gods have a hand in all this," Bradley explained. "They took that into account with Kara and which way Galactica's pointing for the starting point. Otherwise, we just have to add more digits from the tune as input0 (initial position and heading). We have only one ship jumping, so we don't actually need to transmit these coordinates to anybody else. That, and the audience's willing suspension of disbelief."

Bradley's words sunk in and I re-thought my approach, in search of the simplest solution possible. Using the 12-Tone method was too complex, and I decided to assign each note in the C# scale a number, excluding the chromatic notes between them. This is a diatonic approach instead of a chromatic one, (basically, I'm talking about the "Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do" scale).


(Steve Bartek and Ira Ingber lay down baritone guitars on "Kara's Coordinates")

This approach had several advantages. It produces only single digit numbers. It is also the most intuitive solution that someone with Kara's musical background would arrive at (in fact, my extensive musical training had me pursuing much more complicated ideas, missing the forest for the trees). "In basic ear training exercises they make you sing melodies with words or numbers corresponding to the notes," I wrote back to Bradley. "So, someone like Kara who was taught by a professional musician as a youth could be familiar with thinking of the tonic as '1', the second scale degree as '2' and so forth. It's believable that Kara might be humming the tune to herself as the numbers come to her mind."

With this philosophy in mind, I took a second look at the Final Five Theme. The melody is either 11 or 13 notes (depending on if you count the little triplet ornament figure that does not consistently appear with the theme). The easiest way to arrive at 12 notes was to discount the triplet figure and then repeat the first note, which is technically the way the phrase is looped in my arrangement of "Watchtower" anyway. Assigning numbers based on the diatonic scale system I described earlier yielded the following:

This generated the coordinates: 112 carom 365 dist 365321.

I sent this number to production and they prepared it for the on-camera computer playback. When I saw the finished cut, I was thrilled to see that my coordinates led them to Earth!

However, all of this work was simply laying the groundwork for this complex sequence. The next task fell to the editors. Andy Seklir crafted a beautiful montage, inter-cutting the pulse-pounding events in the CIC with images from Someone to Watch Over Me and Kara's other memories. He created the feeling that her father's spirit was returning one last time to guide her along her path.


(John Avila plays fretless bass for the ethereal introduction to "Watchtower." Yes, his strings are neon green. Sweet!)

In order to sell the idea that she was deriving the numbers from the notes her father had taught her to play, Andy inter-cut images of her fingers on the keypad with her fingers on the piano. He temped the sequence with layers of "Heeding the Call" and my arrangement of "Watchtower" from Season 3.

It was a brilliant narrative idea. But, it wasn't quite working properly. Fingers were landing on beats in the temp score, but a coherent musical message was not coming across. When I wrote the score for this scene, I lay down the foundation of my Indian-Heavy-Metal feel from "Watchtower," but put the Final Four Theme in Slick's Piano and the orchestral strings. The piano and strings hit huge, confident notes, allowing the melody to soar over the ever-crescendoing rhythm section.

Unfortunately, the timing was not lining up exactly. I called editor Andy Seklir and co-producer Paul Leonard and asked them if we could change the cut to match my music. If you're unfamiliar with the way TV and film scoring works, let me simply say this basically never happens. Composers are frequently subject to the picture changing while they're working, but never in step with what they are doing. In fact, composers dream of a situation where they could write freely and make the editors change the cut so that the music could be exactly what they envisioned!

Paul and Andy agreed that my idea was the best approach. Shortly before the final mix deadline, I took my cue into the Editorial Department and sat in Andy's cutting room, helping him re-cut the sequence. I showed him exactly where I envisioned each note to hit and where I thought the fingers should line up. Andy expertly tweaked the picture right before my eyes. The sequence was finally finished.


(Paul Cartwright is about to lay down a wicked electric violin solo!)

I've given all this technical detail and I have yet to touch upon the aesthetic beauty of this scene. This montage begins with surreal strings and harmonium, gently oscillating between C#m and Amajor. Then, Martin St. Pierre's erhu sings the signature Starbuck Destiny Theme:

This theme represented her spiritual journey throughout Seasons Three and Four, but once I got to Someone to Watch Over Me, it was supplanted by the Final Four Theme. This moment in Daybreak is the first time that the two themes representing Kara's ethereal path have been combined.

But, the erhu solo soon gives way to a building rock and roll backdrop. John Avila's slippery electric bass sneaks in, and if that isn't enough to tell audiences we're going to "Watchtower," then the entrance of the electric guitars must be.

(Nate Wood on the drums)

As the sequence reaches its climax, Nate Wood rips into a blistering drum fill and the whole rhythm section hits its stride, augmented with orchestral strings, ethnic soloists, taiko drums, tabla, dumbek and harmonium. My arrangement of "Watchtower" has been hinted at throughout Season Four, most overtly inSomeone to Watch Over Me, but this is the first time it's ever sounded this big.

Kara jumps the ship as we hear the outro lick of my "Watchtower" arrangement. The last time we heard this was at the conclusion of Season Three, when we saw Earth for the first time. And this time, we are taken there once again.

In the aftermath of the jump, Roslin asks "Where have you taken us, Kara?" As she looks at her coordinates, the score quotes one last statement of the Final Four Theme, played on Slick's Piano. This is the last time in the series you will hear either this theme or this instrument: the sound of her father's spirit leaving them.

The score builds to a monumental crescendo as Earth is revealed.


The music itself.
"You've all been selected for this mission because you each have a special skill. Professor Hawking, John Leslie, Phil Neville, the Wu-Tang Clan, Usher, the Sugar Puffs Monster and Daniel Day-Lewis! Welcome to Operation MindFuck!"
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Re: Bear McCreary - Creating The Coordinates Of Earth

Postby Sonic Glitch » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:07 am

I enjoyed reading that entry. As a musician myself and a lover of film score, I loved the fact that the composer of the series kept a blog about it. The whole visual sequence from "Jump the Ship!" "I don't have the Coordinates!" "Doesn't matter!" to "Where have you taken us Kara?" and the reveal of our Earth is one of my favorite edits ever. Also, "Kara's Coordinates" may be one of my favorite tracks on the Season IV Soundtrack. That, "Assault on the Colony,' "Farewell Apollo," and of course these two: "Heart of the Sun" and "An Easterly View"
"All this has happened before --"
"But it doesn't have to happen again. Not if we make up our minds to change. Take a different path. Right here, right now."
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Re: Bear McCreary - Creating The Coordinates Of Earth

Postby Sionnach Glic » Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:58 am

If you're into music, check out the link I posted to his blog. The bit I posted is just a small part of his discussion on the music of Daybreak.

I'm no musician myself, but I found the whole thing rather interesting. Quite clever to have the music hide actual numeric coordinates in it. :)
"You've all been selected for this mission because you each have a special skill. Professor Hawking, John Leslie, Phil Neville, the Wu-Tang Clan, Usher, the Sugar Puffs Monster and Daniel Day-Lewis! Welcome to Operation MindFuck!"
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Re: Bear McCreary - Creating The Coordinates Of Earth

Postby Sonic Glitch » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:44 pm

Sionnach Glic wrote:If you're into music, check out the link I posted to his blog. The bit I posted is just a small part of his discussion on the music of Daybreak.

I'm no musician myself, but I found the whole thing rather interesting. Quite clever to have the music hide actual numeric coordinates in it. :)

Oh I do check his blog quite regularly. In fact, I'm joining Kappa Kappa Psi the National Honorary Band Fraternity, and we have an "audition performance" for the chapter at the end of our performance and I hope to be performing an arrangement of "Roslin and Adama" for violin
"All this has happened before --"
"But it doesn't have to happen again. Not if we make up our minds to change. Take a different path. Right here, right now."
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