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"X-Files Score CD: Film Score Monthly's review and Jeff Charbonneau's rebuttal"

The Review
X-Files: Fight the Temp Track
by Jeff Bond


The X-Files: Fight the Future ***

Elektra 62217-2. 24 tracks - 67:50

Mark Snow's music for The X-Files has consistently been some of the most evocative, exciting, interesting and downright scary music on television in the '90s. Crafted from a seemingly inexhaustible library of acoustic samples and keyboard effects, Snow's music sometimes resembles the echoplexed, staccato soundscapes of Jerry Goldsmith's suspense efforts, while his sensitive scoring of the interplay between Special Agents Mulder and Scully conjures up an atmosphere of existential dread leavened with the milk of human kindness. Snow has scored every episode of the series and if there was ever any doubt that he would have to lend his hand to the big-budget X-Files movie, it never surfaced. Snow's distinctive sound is as integral to the X-Files mythos as David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter are.

But as all X-Files fans know, Conspiracies Happen. And in this case, the conspiracy at hand is one which has pervaded the soundtrack world for the past decade, one which is eating at the very roots of the art form's aesthetic viability. Yes, it's The Temp Track. Snow's Fight the Future score starts out with great promise, with the composer setting the familiar whistled X-Files title theme (here voiced by brass and synths) against a powerful, driving percussive beat: it's The X-Files on an epic scale, the perfect way to open the series up into the widescreen format. What follows is a wildly mixed bag, however, which consists of equal parts solid X-Files-type scoring, some uncomfortable bombast and a lot of wholesale raiding of the temp track. In bringing an epic feel to this theatrical jaunt for the series, Snow sometimes goes overboard to the point of laughability: Some of the progressions of Snow's "giant, threatening conspiracy" intonations actually sound like something Alf Clausen wrote for the openings of the Simpsons Halloween Specials (check out "Cave Base" for one example). Cues like "Fossil Swings" take the same melodramatic approach, but instead eke out the kind of ominous territory that might have been taken had Howard Shore scored the movie (Shore and Silence of the Lambs being a primary influence on the X-Files series to begin with). It's jarring because both the tone of the television series and that of Snow's TV scoring has always been scrupulously appropriate and balanced, never tipping the scales over into melodrama but always striking just the proper note of grim import.

Snow sometimes takes the Goldsmith approach of disassembling elements of his title theme for use as motivic material, notably the echoing four note keyboard motif that opens the title theme, which appears in several cues subtly voiced by harps. Unfortunately, despite being given the opportunity to work with a full orchestra, Snow's big moments are too often blasted out by synths, giving the score an embarrassing low-budget quality when it most needs a big, acoustic sound.

The most disappointing aspect of the album is unquestionably the temp track borrowings. It's doubly jarring here because Snow has established a remarkably non-derivative, fresh sound for the series, and quite naturally given the extra time and money one would have expected something much more original-sounding for the feature. Sadly, what results is often a typical blockbuster action score that rounds up all the usual temp track subjects, including Horner's Aliens, James Newton Howard's The Postman, David Newman's The Phantom and, ironically enough, John Ottman's The Usual Suspects (this reminds me of a Fred Steiner story about a movie which tracked music from several previous scores which the film makers were determined to use. The movie title? The Deadly Trackers.) "Corn Hives" has some kicky, jagged action rhythms; however, while "Corn Copters" offers some equally propulsive action, it is way too obviously based on Horner's Aliens action cues, particularly the first escape from the alien hive. "Come and Gone" sounds suspiciously like The Usual Suspects, alternating between the undulating opening of The Usual Suspects's "The Garage" cue (which also crops up at the beginning of "Trust No One") and some staccato percussive piano effects more in keeping with Snow's work on the X-Files series. "Ice Base" offers snippets of the opening processed choral effects of The Postman. "Nightmare" sticks more closely to Snow's X-Files stylings, but once again falls back on the Aliens temp track rubric. "Pod Monster Suite" has lots of cool aleatoric effects, but again many of these seem to erupt more out of Horner's Aliens palette than Snow's X-Files one. "Facts" on the other hand, takes a delicate, chime-laden approach that's more memorable and original. The elegiac "Crater Hug" wraps things up, with Snow's X-Files theme re-emerging from the darkness with a broad brass/synth statement over strings.

The temp track complaint is an over-used one; it's often simply unavoidable for two reasons. First of all, after seeing their film edited with familiar-sounding temp music for weeks or months, producers and directors are often loathe to accept any newly-composed music that doesn't hit every beat and texture the temp track they've grown to adore features. And composers wrung out from having to meet deadlines are often out of energy and ideas by the time the big action and special effects sequences finally come together they just want to get the damned thing finished already. Nevertheless, having a familiar franchise like The X-Files fall prey to this sort of thing is particularly annoying, because Snow's voice on the series has been so distinctive. Fans of the series and Snow's music have been looking forward to hearing the composer unleashed from the time constraints of series television, not shackled to a new bunch of limitations. And hearing music from other movies (and other franchises) destroys the carefully-constructed illusion of The X-Files's self-contained, paranoid universe. Are government helicopters attacking our heroes here, or Giger's and James Cameron's aliens? Or are Scully and Mulder being threatened by Keyser Soze?

Fight the Future is still strongly recommended to fans of Snow's X-Files work: there's plenty of Snow's evocative, percussive X-Files series licks in here, making Fight the Future the album that the earlier, dialogue-plagued Snow X-Files soundtrack promised to be but wasn't. But apart from the terrific main title cue, Fight the Future fails to fulfill the promise that a Mark Snow X-Files movie score should have. Snow's instincts were not trusted on this feature, and the result is a compromised effort. If there's an X-Files movie sequel, how about this tag line: Fight the Temp Track.

The Rebuttal
by Jeff Charbonneau

Dear Mr. Bond,

Thank you for your trite, arrogant dismissal of a diverse body of work that functions exceptionally well in the medium it was intended to support. I find it interesting that you would attempt to review the validity and origin of a score without actually having viewed the film. Your subjective interpretations of each cue are notably immature and embarrassingly vindictive. Perhaps you are a misunderstood compositional genius that Hollywood has yet to discover or one that has failed miserably and is biting the heels of others to gain some weasly form of recognition.

As a prime participant in the creation and execution of the X-Files movie soundtrack, I found myself compelled to take you to task and set the record straight. First and foremost - I did the temp score. None of the materials or titles that you so arrogantly attribute to the inspirational fabric of this soundtrack were used in the temporary score. As a matter of fact much of the temporary music was actually composed by Mr. Snow and rendered on the synclavier as sketches for final orchestration. I find it ironic that you would swoon over Mark's television scores (which are primarily realized on the synclavier) and refer to the use of synths in the film as cheesy and low budget. The cue you refer to as "the perfect way to open into the widescreen" is entirely synthetic. Perhaps what you should be "most disappointed" about is your lack of appreciation and understanding of orchestration for acoustic instruments. What you may be attributing to plagiarism is actually the similarity in palette of modern orchestration. Should Mark receive such scathing criticism for hiring an orchestra?

Mark, like most other composers for hire become enslaved to the visuals thay are commissioned to support. If you are to take to task the craft of scoring, then you must analyze the medium it supports and the producers that concoct it. Films are fairly genre-specific, therefore scores will follow suit. Your points about the process of temping a film for the preview process are valid. Temping has severely inhibited the craft of film scoring. Many composers are forced to copy temp scores because of time and budget constraints and because management cannot endure failed experiments. The American film industry is not an academic institution. It has however, kept alive an outlet for orchestral composition. Don't pee on it too much; instead look for the times when film composers get to sneak a cool one in.

As sincere as I can be,

Jeff Charbonneau
Music editor for the "X-Files"
(and producer of the other "failed" X-Files soundtrack album)

Source: Film Score Monthly [www.filmscoremonthly.com] & Jeff Charbonneau, 1998.

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