The Omega Man 2.0—Unlimited

The following sidebars have been reproduced from the booklet included with the original CD of The Omega Man soundtrack released in the year 2000 (FSMCD Vol. 3, No. 2).

Engineering the soundtrack…

The Omega Man is a classic movie score recording: big and full when it needs to be (“The Omega Man,” “Richie on the Roof”) but never losing focus of its component colors. The individual instruments, some of them highly unusual, retain their presence to the point where you feel them being played in front of you. The man at the mixing board? Dan Wallin, who has recorded over 350 scores since the 1960s.

“I was at Warner Bros. for 18 years,” Wallin recalls. “I did Dirty Harry, Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Camelot, Finian’s Rainbow, The Wild Bunch, Billy the Kid—you name it.” Over the course of his career Wallin has recorded everybody from Jerry Goldsmith to John Williams to Lalo Schifrin, and is presently [in the year 2000] the mixer of choice for Elmer Bernstein.

The Omega Man benefits from Wallin’s technique of close-miking the individual instruments. “I generally mike everything the same,” he explains. “I don’t rely on the Decca Tree like most people do. Most people do the room and they use microphones for the first chairs. I go the opposite way: I mike the sections, and then I fill-in with the room. I think a scoring mixer should be able to produce all the sounds, not just an orchestra scoring sound.”

The Decca Tree is one of the original techniques for recording stereo sound, dating from the 1950s, in which the orchestra is captured mainly by a triangle of three microphones suspended above the conductor. Wallin’s philosophy is much more appropriate to film work, where the clarity of the instruments is more important than a facsimile of a concert recording. This is especially true for such bizarre scores as The Omega Man, where pop percussion and organs are side by side with traditional instruments. “I just don’t like the Decca sound,” Wallin explains. “It’s too blurred, too muddy and too distant. If you mike in sections like I do, all those things will just happen naturally—all the soloists will come out.” — 

Making a chilling sound…

The decaying bell-like punctuation featured repeatedly in The Omega Man was created by the waterchime, an instrument invented by renowned percussionist Emil Richards. Its ring is so organic because it is literally caused by dipping a bell into water.

“I was into microtonal music at the time and to find out something I could do to make a tone microtonal was very interesting to me,” Richards remembers. “I was looking in antique shops for ethnic instruments, and I came across these four disks about ten inches round all the way up to 14 or 18 inches for the largest ones—they had come out of a huge grandfather clock and they rang G, C, D, E. So I went to a guy working at the drum shop by the name of Howie Oliver, and I asked him if there was some way he could put a trough with some pulleys on these discs, with a pedal so that my hands were free to play the instrument and drop them in water. There was a counterweight to balance it, and four discs on the trough with a faucet to let the water out. I carried a hose with me so I could go to any faucet in the room and fill up the trough.”

The waterchime became a staple of sci-fi scoring of the late ’60s and early ’70s, also appearing in Jerry Goldsmith’s The Illustrated Man and Michel Colombier’s Colossus: The Forbin Project, as well as David Shire’s more earthbound Farewell, My Lovely. Richards does not think he handled it personally on The Omega Man (he often loaned it to other performers), but does remember a humorous anecdote from the instrument’s early days: “I did a picture with Jerry Goldsmith. The drummer Shelly Manne was on it, and on the second day of the movie he brought goldfish and dropped them into the trough. When you dropped the discs into the water after hitting them, the water would vibrate and these fish would just stop in their tracks when the sound was happening.” —