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Downbeat: Harsh Realm

by Jason Foster

Jason originally wrote the following for use in "Downbeat," our section in FSM dealing with current scores and the challenges featuring well-known (and some not well-known) composers. He talked to Mark Snow about Harsh Realm -- which was canceled before anyone could blink. So, we didn't run the piece. Recently, however, Harsh Realm has been broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel so we thought we'd dust this off: -LK

Having already cemented their place in TV shows dealing with the paranormal, ten-time Emmy-nominated composer Mark Snow and X-FILES creator Chris Carter are at it again -- this time with the series HARSH REALM.

Described as a tense and edgy contemporary-looking virtual reality adventure along the lines of THE MATRIX, Snow says that HARSH REALM should easily lend itself to music, much in the way THE X-FILES has.

"THE X-FILES is such a great show. It's like scoring a mini-movie each week," says Snow. "And coming from the same people, HARSH REALM, from what I've seen of the pilot, I expect the same quality which makes scoring the shows much more inspiring and a pleasure rather than just work."

While Snow's weekly scores for episodes of THE X-FILES have tended to stay in a similar musical ballpark throughout the entire series run, he says that won't be the case with HARSH REALM.

"I think that it will be a combination of many, many different styles because the show is virtual reality at least 80 to 90 percent of the time," says Snow. "I think they're planning to have many different virtual worlds from periods dating back to the Dark Ages, futuresque, and all over the world. It's going to be wide open to a lot of different cultures and we'll be using a lot of different musical styles."

Snow has enjoyed the musical freedom he's been given in his previous collaborations with Carter and crew. But he points out that with a successful show, freedom isn't all that rare an occurrence.

"Well, once you get on a TV series that's successful, basically it's the first ten episodes where everyone is involved and giving a lot of input into the project," he says. "Then if they're happy and feel comfortable, they leave you alone and then you have the freedom to experiment. My experience with X-FILES has been just that. After the first bunch of episodes, I was left to my own devices and felt totally uninhibited by whatever I wanted."

Much like the music for THE X-FILES, and most television scoring in general, Snow will not develop different character themes for HARSH REALM. While that isn't something that would be very difficult to do, Snow says it would be very limiting.

"The TV show works better for me to have themes for situations rather than people," he says. "I think that by now if you had a theme for Mulder or Scully you'd grow sick of it. That's why it's not about themes for them as much as it is the situations they get in to. Each week the situations are, as you know, colored so differently and there are so many variations of the themes -- so to keep my interest in it and to keep it sounding fresh, I prefer to score new thematic material every week and I think that's how it's going to work for HARSH REALM."

One of the trademarks of THE X-FILES is Snow's very memorable main title melody. But unlike his scores for that show, Snow says he'll incorporate the HARSH REALM main title theme into the different episode scores.

"I'll be able to use the theme as underscore a lot more than with X-FILES and certainly variations of it," he says. "I also have a four-minute version of it where I'll be able to take sections of it and use for underscore which will help the identity of the show. I'm looking forward to that. With THE X-FILES, I never used it (the main title) in the underscore. I did use the theme for the feature film, and come to think of it, I did use it a few times after the film because I liked how it sounded. I'm looking forward to having a different approach for HARSH REALM."

While Snow says that nobody involved predicted the success of THE X-FILES, he says the ingredients are there for HARSH REALM to be successful, but says there's really no way to know that.

"I can only do the best work I can, cross my fingers and hope that it will be another hit show," he says.

Snow has also chosen to shed a little light onto the recent rumor that the name of FSM's own Jeff Bond appears somewhere in the HARSH REALM main title.

"I'm not going to say it is or isn't," says Snow. "People are welcome to try and speed up, slow down, or play the music backwards to discover what's there. It's kind of like the 60s when people played that Beatles song backwards to try to hear it say, 'Paul is Dead.'"

The truth is out there.

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com

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