A Matter of Honor #134
In another Rob Bowman-directed episode, Riker engages in an officer exchange program and serves as first officer on a Klingon bird-of-prey—but the Klingon commander becomes convinced Riker is a traitor when a microbiotic bacteria colony begins to eat into the hull of the ship. The series’ second “Klingon episode” leaves Worf at the periphery and shows the warrior race through Riker’s eyes, as he must adjust his attitudes and tactics to match Klingon concepts of honor and duty. Well-written, suspenseful and funny, “A Matter of Honor” shows the series sharpening its focus on character while examining the fascinating differences between cultures.
“A Matter of Honor” marked the peak of Jones’s barbaric approach to the Klingons, and he relished the opportunity to return to material he had devised previously. “The Klingon shows gave me a lot of time to really evolve the Klingon music. It was like opera, like a Wagner thing where you get into the second or third season and Q or the Borg would come back or the Klingons, and you’d taste an idea and I’d have a fragment and I could take that and really develop it.”
Jones used the percussive Klingon music to explore the characters of Capt. Kargan (Christopher Collins) and his second officer, Klag (Brian Thompson)—but notably, there is no “Riker theme”: “I just felt like playing the environment Riker was in played against him—whereas if I wrote anything for him it would be like supporting him, and I wanted him to dangle out there like he’d been thrown into a culture he’d never been in before, like a bunch of headhunters or something, and he wouldn’t get any emotional support from the score. I wanted to isolate him and make him further away from help, because the Enterprise takes off and leaves him with these guys.”
To achieve a darker color, Jones altered the string section of his orchestra—eliminating violins and using 10 violas, 8 celli and 6 basses. Traditionally the first-chair violinist is the concertmaster (the liaison between the musicians and the conductor), but the absence of violins led to a humorous moment: “The violas came in and [prinicpal violist] Pamela Goldsmith looked at the chairs and said, ‘Where’s the concertmaster going to sit?’ I said, ‘You’re the concertmaster.’”
Jones got to write some good old-fashioned hand-to-hand fight music in “Challenge to Authority,” when Riker takes on Klag early in the story. “Even though we had a fairly good orchestra you still had to do TV-type things, and you hear that in the fight music when you have the woodwinds doubled with the strings. On a feature you have enough strings you can write a different kind of string part. Here it’s more like a pit orchestra, the kind of thing you had to do with Hanna-Barbera or Trek where you didn’t have quite enough forces to make it happen.”
As always, Jones was careful to blend his colors with the sound design: “I remember I asked for the sound effects for the Klingon bridge that they would loop to write pitches around them, so that wouldn’t conflict with their telemetry. Every ship and every culture had a different set of telemetry and you had to write around that.”
When Kargan suspects the Enterprise has sabotaged his ship and prepares to take the bird-of-prey into battle against the Starfleet vessel (“This Means War,” “Riker Takes Command”), Jones intensifies the suspense and momentum with layers of percussion and rhythmic development. “These angklungs would have 24 [pitches], and we had metal ones made of brass, and cellos striking with the back of the bow, so we’d get something more barbaric going in the strings and then go back to Gustav Holst. We did flutter-tongue on the Alpine horn—anything that a Neanderthal might do, we’d try to do. There are all these moments where as the story evolved, these strata would change—the Klingons would do something so there’s rhythmic movement but there had to be changes to reflect what was going on from moment to moment. It’s almost Mickey-Mousing. I would map it out visually and emotionally, say from here to here they’re building toward something, and then here’s where something would happen, so my cue sheets would have all those areas marked and then once I had a tempo I would turn the picture off and just write to those emotions.”
In addition to the contrast between human and Klingon, the show also brings a self-important Benzite aboard the Enterprise whose best intentions are undermined by his insistence on following Benzite protocols. Jones created a delicate electronic pattern for the “B story” of the “Bacterial Colony,” a motive he could also slow down to represent the Benzite named Mendon (John Putch).
“A Matter of Honor” is one of the few Next Generation episodes to feature no music at all during its opening teaser—by design. Not planned, however, were a handful of short, tracked Dennis McCarthy cues that appear late in the episode. This was due to a scheduling conflict for Jones, as he was obliged to score a DuckTales special for Disney during the same period. Jones called Albert Lloyd Olson and Terry Plumieri to help orchestrate “A Matter of Honor,” but in the end had to abandon four short cues spotted toward the end of the episode; the score as recorded concludes with “Riker Takes Command.” In addition, Jones had to skip his next scheduled episode, “The Dauphin,” asking Dennis McCarthy to score it instead.
“It was one of those crunches where everything was happening at once and the little cues that weren’t done were like playoffs or cuts to the ship. Even if there’s not a scheduling problem I’ll spend three or four days on thematic material and then three or four days on the first couple of cues so that the well is starting to pump. Once you have the Tinkertoy set of what you’re going to do, and I set my mind into that thing, then you have 10 days to write 18–30 minutes of music. It doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart.”
The Royale #138
While investigating spacecraft wreckage and a mysterious structure on an uninhabitable planet nearby, Riker, Data and Worf become trapped in what appears to be a 20th century Las Vegas casino. They eventually discover that the environment is the creation of an alien race who captured a human astronaut. Eager to provide their visitor with familiar surroundings, the aliens took imagery from a potboiler novel he was reading—dooming him to a lifetime of boredom.
“The Royale” is one of The Next Generation’s strangest entries. Originally written by Tracy Tormé as an out-and-out comedy, Maurice Hurley rewrote the story to remove many of its surreal and comic elements. (The idea is similar to one in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a human placed in what appears to be a hotel environment by aliens attempting to reproduce what they believe to be familiar elements derived from his mind.) In “The Royale,” the revelation about the origin of the casino comes 30 minutes into the episode, leaving another 15 minutes for Data to gamble the away team out of their predicament, amid stock Vegas characters—and an emphatic Nelson Riddle–style score by Ron Jones.
With a static situation in a 20th-century environment—and an episode that pleased no one in the production—Jones took the opportunity to write a pastiche of cheesy Vegas-band scoring, the sort of format-breaking move that would be unthinkable during the show’s later years. “On that one they all came in and said, ‘This show sucks, Ron. What are you going to do with it?’” Jones recalled in 1992. “They didn’t even care what I did with it! They just knew ‘Ron’s going to do something different.’ That was the one time they said, ‘Thank God Ron’s here.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m actually going to score it like it’s a story, like you’re in the novel, and then everything outside of it will be kind of synthetic and lonely, like they’re out there looking in on this thing.’”
Jones’s big band scoring provides badly needed momentum and comic energy. He introduces it breezily for melodramatic scenes involving casino personnel and a gangster named “Mickey D”—apparent throwaways, as initially they appear to be of no importance to the Enterprise crew. But when Riker, Data and Worf realize the hotel characters’ tedious problems are the key to escaping the hotel environment—the away team members impersonate the “foreign investors” who leave at the novel’s end, thus allowing them to exit the hotel—Jones’s big band scoring attaches to them as well. As a result, “The Royale” is one of the quintessential turkeys from TNG’s first two seasons that nonetheless possesses a strange kind of staying power—you may forget the umpteenth episode involving aliens with bumpy foreheads, but somehow you remember Data busting the house in craps (“Hot Hands” and “Done Deal”).
“They wanted kind of a Rat Pack approach, the big bands and so on, so I hired the big band and then we used the B orchestra for the rest of it,” Jones recalls. “I’d done arrangements like that for Hanna-Barbera before—I always had to be ready to do anything for them. I was just trying to play the whole thing real and play it serious and let Data be a fish out of water and let all that play by itself. There’s a thing where you can kind of have it be free-form and not have a definite rhythm to it, you can do these fermatas. With the rhythms I was trying to make it more rhythmically interesting and youthful instead of being old school the whole way.”
The jazz-flavored cues required an orchestra of 35 musicians: 8 violins, 1 bass, 4 French horns, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, 4 saxophones (doubling clarinet and oboe), 1 EWI (doubling woodwinds), 1 guitar, 3 keyboards and 5 percussion. This left the “straight” score to be played by the B orchestra of mostly synthesizers and percussion—creating an eerie, minimalist aura that complemented the episode’s surrealist aesthetic. A ticking motive played electronically and taken up by acoustic instruments is particularly effective as Riker, Worf and Data realize they are trapped in the casino (“Not Alive” and “No Exit”).
Jones’s original music for the revelation of the astronaut’s dead body (“Now We Understand”) went unused in the finished episode, replaced by the opening of “Spits Riker Out” from “Skin of Evil” (originally written to accompany Worf staying aboard the Enterprise in the aftermath of Tasha Yar’s death). “I think I got more emotional than Berman wanted,” Jones says. “On a lot of the shows there’s a lot of harmonic complexity against the theme and then at a moment where you’d reveal something that would fall away and you’d get to a moment of clarity—instead of putting the theme against something you’d just put it in five octaves. Most people would try to get up to that point and make it more complex, but I would make it the straight melody with no harmony, no accompaniment, no rhythmic thing against it and just say ‘this was that thing that we alluded to.’ Almost the way someone writes a story and they know what the climax is going to be so they work backwards to construct the story.”
The Icarus Factor #140
When Starfleet offers Riker his first command, he finds that the officer charged with briefing him is his estranged father, Kyle Riker. “The Icarus Factor” attempts to dispense with action and suspense, basing an episode entirely on character—with the only “jeopardy” situation being whether Riker will choose to remain aboard the Enterprise (a foregone conclusion). Nevertheless, the episode does commit to its concept, adding subplots such as Kyle Riker’s former relationship with Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) and Worf’s “Rite of Ascension,” a Klingon ceremony duplicated on the holodeck. Entertainment Tonight hyped the episode when host (and musician) John Tesh—an enthusiastic Trekker—volunteered to play a Klingon in the Rite of Ascension scene.
Ron Jones’s score for the episode is unusual in several respects. Will Riker was the show’s bastion of masculinity, and pairing him with the craggy Mitchell Ryan (who had just played a villain in the first Lethal Weapon film) created a face-off between two burly alpha males. But rather than having his music reflect their masculinity, Jones composed a delicate Americana theme for violins, keyboards and woodwinds (“Cool Reception”/“Walls”/“Family Photos”) that speaks to the rift between the two men. The voicings are gentle and wistful, suggesting a recollection of Will Riker’s childhood and the emotional wounds he suffered when his mother died. “This is old-school scoring,” Jones says of the approach. “It seems on the edge because it was old school and no one was doing old school at that point.”
Jones saves the real masculine fireworks for the climactic “Anbo-Jyutsu” sparring match (a kind of cross between American Gladiators, the costumes from Tron and Luke Skywalker’s “With the blast shield down I can’t even see!” training scene in Star Wars) between Riker and his father. Since the combat resembled Japanese fighting techniques, Jones employed traditional Japanese instruments and percussion, but added sequencers to create an intense, contemporary percussive drive, gradually weaving the father-son motive into the mix. “I had Harvey Mason on percussion for the Anbo-Jyutsu. Fred Selden was playing shakuhachi and we had six percussion and the loop going on in the sequencer, and then eventually those pads. It was an opportunity to get the grooves going, then there are these pads, and if you listen to contemporary films now everyone does that, but no one was doing it at that time. There was one guy that had taiko drums in L.A., there were taiko groups in Little Tokyo. We had to get a taiko guy and every time he would rent us one drum it would cost $10,000. He had a set of eight drums, but we could only afford two. It sounds like they’re improvising but all of that cue is written out. And we had to overlay strings, so we used the A and B orchestras—most of the time was spent on that cue. And it ends on a total breakthrough in their relationship.”
The composer again returned to his internalized, primitive Klingon material for the scenes involving Worf’s Rite of Ascension, with percussion used atmospherically and echoed to create a mysterious milieu for the Ascension chamber. “Sometimes we’d put the chintas on a digital delay to get the echo effect.” Between the different instrumental needs of the Klingon cues, the Anbo-Jyutsu match and the “family” theme, Jones used a 50-piece orchestra consisting of a large string section (13 violins, 7 violas, 6 celli and 4 basses), 6 woodwinds (2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 1 oboe and 1 bassoon—often doubling on lower versions of their instruments), 4 French horns (but no other brass), 1 EWI (Fred Selden, also playing shakuhachi), 3 keyboards and 6 percussion.
Jones reprises the Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek theme as a call to duty for Riker when he decides to remain aboard the Enterprise (“Riker Stays”). It would mark one of the last times Jones would interpolate the Goldsmith theme into the series, but in employing the melody over the first two seasons of The Next Generation Jones may have written more variations than Goldsmith himself did in his five Star Trek film scores.
Q Who #142
The omnipotent, pan-dimensional being Q (John DeLancie) offers his services as a member of the Enterprise crew—and after Picard rebuffs him, Q flings the Enterprise thousands of light years away and into a confrontation with a terrifying new enemy, the Borg.
After two promising but problematic appearances (in “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Hide and Q”), the appealing Q hit his stride in this sensational, fan-favorite episode that enhances the relationship between Q and his human playthings on the Enterprise, and also introduces the hive-mind cybernetic zombies, the Borg. Director Rob Bowman, who would direct numerous episodes of The X-Files in the same creepy technophobic vein, does particularly good work bringing fear to Star Trek. While they owe debts to everything from H.R. Giger to the Cybermen from Dr. Who, the Borg’s implacable nature and resistance to understanding gave them a creepy, horrific quality that was unique in the otherwise bright and optimistic Gene Roddenberry universe. The Borg would return many times in The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise as well as Star Trek: First Contact, the highest grossing of the Next Generation movies. As for “Q Who,” it remains one of the only instances in Trek history the Enterprise flees from an adversary while its captain begs for help.
For Jones, “Q Who” represented a terrific musical opportunity that he seized by requesting—and receiving—the largest orchestra he would use on The Next Generation: 59 pieces, even larger than the better-known two-part “The Best of Both Worlds” (which used 50 pieces in each segment). “If anything, the music was trying to make it feel real,” Jones says. “[DeLancie] was doing such a good job acting and it was well directed and I was able to sell them on the idea of using a bigger orchestra to sell the story,” he says. “I said, ‘This one’s really good, let me go crazy on it.’” Jones acknowledges the risk of this approach. “They have a budget and you ask them for a big thing and if you go awry, you’re really held responsible for it.”
The enlarged orchestra (16 violins, 8 violas, 6 celli, 4 basses, 4 French horns, 4 trombones, 3 trumpets, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 1 oboe, 1 bassoon, 1 EWI, 3 keyboards and 4 percussion) is essential in “Attacked,” the second half of “The Nursery,” and “Out of Your League”—tour-de-force pieces of space battle music. (French horns at 1:58 of “Out of Our League” pay homage to a memorable moment of John Williams’s climactic space battle from the original Star Wars—one of Jones’s inspirations to become a film composer.) The triadic brass writing and rapidly shifting key centers, hallmarks of the Holst-cum-Korngold tradition, would recur in Jones’s scores for “The Best of Both Worlds” and, for that matter, similar cues throughout his post-TNG career. “I think this is the first time I started thinking about brass in a different way. There are a lot of moments where they’re fighting and we’d go to just brass and have these huge antiphonal things.”
Jones reprised his dizzying orchestral effect for the super-warp from “Where No One Has Gone Before” as Q flings the Enterprise across the galaxy in “Spin Out” and later tosses it back in “Out of Your League.” “That’s the time warp, the space-time continuum kind of kick, which is just a C chord with every note—all the white notes,” Jones says.
While the symphonic action music plays in the episode’s midpoint and climax, most of the score (at 27 minutes, rather lengthy for The Next Generation) features moody cues spotlighting electronics. Jones introduces repeating keyboard motives for Guinan’s first sensory impressions of danger (“Sensing Trouble,” “Search”), which return to pulse obsessively under the initial appearance of the Borg (“Intruder,” “The First of Many”). The abstract menace of the Borg left them open to a variety of scoring approaches, and while Jones did construct a four-note motive for them, first heard in “Intruder,” he does not allow the motive to dominate the score: the Borg were such a fascinating villain precisely because they could not be understood or reasoned with, and Jones treats them with spidery, environmental textures that are the musical equivalent of the unstoppable cyber-zombies—obsessive, and resistant to understanding or development. In later appearances, the Borg would be treated in a more leitmotivic fashion—by Jones in “The Best of Both Worlds” and by Jerry Goldsmith in Star Trek: First Contact—as the villains were humanized in an inevitable attempt to generate workable storylines.
Still, Jones tried to devise exactly the right motive, even if no listener would be consciously aware of his attempt: “I made a musical bag out of the four notes and tried to spell ‘Borg,’” Jones says. “I went through the whole alphabet and just kept repeating the 12 notes and it came up that that was what the notes were—something like that. This has seeds of what I’d do in ‘Best of Both Worlds’ but it’s not there yet.”
The character of Q presented tonal challenges in that he could switch from Oscar Wilde-style comic condescension to outright menace. Jones’s first cue for Q, the busy “Q Who?” that concludes the teaser (as Picard finds himself teleported to a shuttlecraft piloted by Q), did not survive in the finished episode; music editor Gerry Sackman recalled in The Music of Star Trek that its busy, almost playful strings failed to be “mysterious enough.” But that diabolical approach crops up again in “Proper Venue” as Guinan reacts to Q’s arrival in Ten Forward. “I got kind of quirky with it right off the bat,” Jones says. “I really thought [John DeLancie] was good and he took control of the show and knew he was in charge. He seemed to really own it.”
When “Q Who” finally resolves, Jones releases the tension with two renditions of a new play-off theme for the Enterprise, richly orchestrated in “Get Out of Here” and “They Will Be Coming.” This was part of Jones’s ongoing attempt to characterize the Enterprise (and especially its closing beauty shots) with new melodies, rather than the Courage or Goldsmith themes. “I got away with this one,” he says. “The [Jerry Goldsmith] Star Trek theme was a theme throughout the show, but here was another one that was about the Enterprise and their adventures. The end is like ‘Best of Both Worlds’ too”—referring to the eerie tension of the opening seconds of “They Will Be Coming”—“where Picard remembers how weird it was being a Borg—it’s a psychological moment in the interiors of their fears.”
The rich string melody at the end of “Q Who” possesses something of the nautical quality of James Horner’s feature scores for The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock; Jones’s undulating bass line and sweeping strings suggest the sensation of wind and waves that Horner so memorably brought at director Nicholas Meyer’s request, in turn influenced by one of Star Trek’s literary inspirations, C.S. Forester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower novels. —