A Conversation with David Shire by David Kraft
Originally published in CinemaScore #13/14, 1985
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher, Randall D. Larson
David Shire’s name is prominently featured in the credits of 2010 but, as it turns out, it isn’t a score for which Shire would like to take much credit. Film music buffs are aware of many scores that have been totally rejected and replaced by other scores, but unless a composer speaks out one never really knows how much or how little of the composer’s intention ends up in a film’s final release. In the case of 2010, executive manipulation dampened much of Shire’s intentions for the film’s score.
In an attempt to set the record straight on 2010, Mr. Shire agreed to the following interview. We talked at his Sherman Oaks, California, home at the end of March, enough time after 2010’s December 1984 release to allow for some perspective.
I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. Tony Banks, of the rock group Genesis, had first been signed to score 2010. How did you become involved?
I was on vacation when I got a call from my agents telling me to hurry back to town since director Peter Hyams was changing composers on 2010 and had asked about my availability. I had mixed feelings about doing it, even at the beginning. It was supposed to be a “Big movie” but I’m a little suspicious when another composer has worked for six months and it hasn’t worked out. Also, doing a sequel to a classic film with a classic score is something to be wary of. However, I felt I should at least go and talk to Peter. So I met with him and he told me how he’d worked with Banks for a long time and when some actual cues came in they were not what he wanted. That’s all I know about Tony Banks’ involvement.
Peter told me that it was a given that “Zarathustra” would open the movie and come in at the climax of the last cue. However, he did want a “2010 Theme” which we eventually called the “New Worlds Theme.” He wanted me to write an electronic score yet one that was “orchestral” – in other words not a futuristic or highly abstract electronic score but more like the Tomita/Vangelis school, using electronic instruments to get a rich, quasi-orchestral sound. It seemed like a reasonably good idea at the time. I did ask about doing an all-orchestral score but Hyams felt the score needed a bit of the “other-worldliness” that electronic realization would evoke. Also, this type of score would allow him to hear the work as it progressed, and this was important to him – he wanted that kind of on-going editorial control.
I had a good deal of experience working on this kind of electronic score when I worked for a couple of years on APOCALYPSE NOW (my score wasn’t used) so it wasn’t a strange area to me. But perhaps I was a little naive to think I could write a theme that would supplant “Zarathustra” in any way, and since the new theme I wrote was used so little in the movie, and not in the way I intended, there was really no contest.
Since you’re not known as a composer of electronic music, why did Hyams ask for you?
I asked Hyams at the outset why he’d come to me, and he said he liked my scores for THE CONVERSATION, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. He considers himself a real student of film scoring and is an amateur musician himself, so music is near and dear to him.
I was really torn whether or not to do the picture, but I have a ground rule that if it’s a toss-up between “yes” and “no”, it’s better to say “yes”. If you say “no” you never know what you might have been able to do. However, as it turned out, this was one of the least happy experiences I’ve had scoring a picture. It was long and hard work, which is okay, except the results were not anything like I’d intended. The album is the only record of what Craig Huxley and I set out to do as far as the whole score is concerned, as an integral piece of work.
How did the score develop?
First I had to pick a producer-synthesist collaborator and I eventually decided on Craig Huxley, after considering several possibilities. I’d worked with him briefly on a few projects and he and I are interested in many of the same areas of math, philosophy and music, plus I’ve admired his musicianship ever since he was a child jazz prodigy. The happiest part of working on 2010 was working with Craig. If he hadn’t been so congenial and such a good “psychiatrist” for me along the way I don’t know if I would have made it.
After Craig was set we worked on two major cues which would be “prototypes” for the rest of the score. We tried to find a “sound” for the film and spent a lot of time with Peter finding out anything he liked and didn’t like. Anything, for instance, that started to get too “electronic sounding” was rejected.
I felt the film was a two-theme movie, the first being the “New Worlds” theme which is expressive of the magic and mystery of the journey and what the astronauts are looking for even though they’re not sure what they’ll find. The second theme is the “Bowman” material. I felt the variations on the New Worlds theme should be heard first, progressively getting closer to the theme’s full statement at the end when the planet comes alive. That’s where the orchestral version comes in and is the only complete, out-and-out statement of the theme. Also, I was trying to find a way to link “Zarathustra” and my score. Peter kept telling me to forget about that, but I felt the score should at least try to have that consistency. If you begin with “Zarathustra” you need a score that has some relation to it.
For part of the Bowman material, Craig and I came up with what we refer to as the “morally-neutral third,” suggested by the fact that one point of the “Zarathustra” theme is the alternation of major and minor triads which sort of asks the musical question, to put it simplistically: “is the universe bad or is it good?” The triad we came up with has a third half-way between a major and a minor one and this makes for nice tension without sounding too ominous. Also, the “Bowman” theme itself uses 4 triads in different alternations, 2 major and 2 minor, that together use all 12 tones once each – another musical metaphor that links with the “Zarathustra” theme. However, not much of the New Worlds theme’s development ended up in the movie in a very hearable form. I had a ground plan for the whole score but I’m afraid you wouldn’t know it from seeing and hearing the movie – the music was so buried or fragmented. There was supposed to be a progression.
One of the first major cues we tackled was the “Probe” sequence which ran about four minutes (it’s the sequence where the first probe vehicle is sent down and there’s a flash of light – the suspense builds as the crew is huddled over the instruments). I was very happy with how that cue came out and I played it for Peter. He then told me he had decided now not to use music for that scene, just effects. He didn’t even try it at the dubbing. I don’t want this to sound like the usual sour grapes. Generally my collaborations with directors have been very good. I love to collaborate and am always playing material for directors whether they ask to hear it or not, but the collaboration with Peter was strange. We had worked very closely together every cue was played for him, every change he wanted was made. He seemed to be a fan of the score. That’s why I expected more of the score to end up in the final picture – and that’s why I was so disappointed when I went to the preview screening and heard the end result.
The reason I feel more of the score should have been used – cues like the probe sequence, for instance – is that I think it would have helped the picture dramatically. From the many reviews I’ve read of the film, most critics felt as I did, that from the start it was too “cold” and that one didn’t get involved with the characters enough. I tried to help that with the score. But Hyams cut out a lot of what I did in favor of an elaborate sound effects track. He was intent on using a lot of these effects from the beginning, including the sound of the humpback whale. I told him this was a sound I’ve heard in at least five other movies and it wasn’t as effective or mysterious as he thought since a lot of people are familiar with it. I couldn’t sway his thinking.
My main bone of contention is that Hyams took the tapes we gave him which contained (as he’d requested) all the separate elements we’d layed down (as well as the total mix) and, in effect, “re-composed” the score by using only certain tracks – not the complete mix we’d delivered. For example, on some cues he used only the bass line, and on others he’d only use a high, sustained sound so it sounded like a television score where the composer didn’t have enough time to do any better. I feel, as it stands now, the score has no unity and, except for the “Bowman” cue and the ending, it was pretty much decimated.
What do you think you’ve learned from this experience?
Well, if I had it to do all over again I’d try to do a mixed orchestral and synthesizer score, like Arthur B. Rubinstein did so very well in BLUE THUNDER. It’s hard to find a really fresh way to approach a purely electronic score. An orchestra might have better helped add warmth to the film, and it might have had a better chance with all the effects. I did like the idea of suddenly bringing in a real orchestra for the first time when the planet comes alive, but you heard so little of the preceding electronic part of the score that I don’t think it had the intended contrasting effect.
Also, you have to be very careful how you mix even simple electronic music with heavy effects. Otherwise you blot out that part of the sound spectrum, the harmonics, that makes the music sound special, leaving mainly the fundamentals, which sounds flat. Using an orchestra as well as synthesizers, I could have written more elaborate music when I felt it was needed, and it might have come off better in conjunction with all of Peter’s effects.
I learned a long time ago that when writing for synthesizers you need to write much more simply – three or four lines at the most. If you write more than that it starts sounding like an ice-skating rink organ.
My main bone of contention is that (Peter) Hyams took tapes we gave him and, in effect, ‘re-composed’ the score by using only certain tracks-not the complete mix. As it stands now, the score has no unity and except for the ‘Bowman’ cue and the ending, it was pretty much decimated. -David Shire