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
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
"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.