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Composer Mark Snow Adds Millennium to The X-Files

Mark Snow, composer of The X-Files uses his music to bolster the intrigue, the mystery of the popular TV show. He even resorts to trickery now and then.

"What I like is to keep the audience on edge," he says, "by having red herrings or false moments where someone turns around and the music goes 'Hanngg' and you think, "This is it!"

But "when the real thing happens," he says, he winds down the music to create "a sense of false security. It's a good device for keeping the audience's attention." With The X-Files going into its fourth season this fall, Snow's interest isn't waning one bit.

"Each one is like a mini-movie. It's not drudge work. It's always interesting and the quality week to week is so high, it just doesn't get boring," he said.

Add to his list Millennium: a new one-hour weekly series also from The X-Files creator Chris Carter. Millennium premieres Oct. 25, taking The X-Files time slot on Friday at 9 p.m., while The X-Files moves to Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

Snow, a graduate of the Juilliard School who turns 50 on Monday and became a grandfather earlier this month, said the music will be different for the two shows.

Unlike The X-Files, Snow came up with the theme for Millennium on the first try. A violin, he said, plays a melody of hope, heaven and hell over dark percussion that sounds like big Japanese drums.

"The melody is very spiritual in a funny way. It has the mournful quality of a mass by Bach or a Handel oratorio," he said. Seems appropriate.

Millennium focuses on a crime-fighter who visualizes the crimes in order to solve them. "The pilot is really out there," Snow said. "A crazy guy knocks his victims out, sews their eyes and lips together and buries them alive. The hero brings the police to where they are buried. They rescue some.... It's dark, mysterious and unsettling to say the least."

When composing for The X-Files, Snow writes music as if it's actually a character. Especially when the two FBI agents who investigate paranormal happenings that involve homicides, oddball occurrences, UFOs and alien visitations are talking.

"Music is always there, under their dialogue, almost like the third person in the room," Snow said.

"That way, when fantastic things start popping up all over the place, there is room for the music. Having percussion with no melody and a low sustained note on bassoon are both effective as atmospheric music."

He had to write five themes for The X-Files before he got it right, taking suggestions from Carter to keep it interesting and unexpected.

Finally, he said, "by luck and a fabulous accident, I had it, within half an hour. "I put my hand on the keyboard and heard these repeats. I thought, 'Boy, that's really cool. Let's keep that as rhythm. Now what would be the coolest sound or instrument over this?' "I tried sax, guitar, trumpet, voice, children's choir – everything. On one of my machines, I had a whistle sound. My wife came in. She's a fantastic whistler. She whistled with it. I sampled her and combined the two and that's what it is now."

The theme was included in "The X-Files: Songs in the Key of X", a CD released last spring that also included many performers doing songs inspired by the series. A second CD, "The Truth and the Light", which features the show's underscore, musical motifs and dialogue by co-stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, is set for release in October.

In a way, Snow said, The X-Files theme is a homage to his mentor, Earl Hagen, and Hagen's whistling theme for The Andy Griffith Show. "He has written a ton of themes," Snow said.

"He had this class, very informal. Payment was a dozen golf balls; he lived near a country club. Twenty or 25 kids met in his house. The generosity of the guy was astounding. He went on until the last kid was done asking questions or wanting to hang out."

Snow studied oboe at Juilliard and intended to play in an orchestra. But he also played drums and, in the late 1960s, he co-founded the New York Rock 'n' Roll Ensemble, which made five records. He loved 20th century classical composers, listened to soundtracks, admired Jerry Goldsmith's atonal, percussion-filled score for Planet of the Apes and believed he could combine his diverse musical tastes to write scores.

"I thought I had a good emotional response to films. I would see something which would make me feel a certain way and suggest a certain kind of music," he said. Snow's wife, Glynn, sister to actors Tyne and Tim Daly, encouraged their move to Southern California 20 years ago. Snow still works for some producers he worked for before The X-Files.

Last season, he composed orchestral music for the miniseries Children of the Dust. And he'll write music for a November miniseries about the Titanic.

"This is the best time for me, career-wise," Snow said. "The X-Files is the hippest show out there now. And the music is getting particular notice."

Source: Mary Campbell; The Associated Press [members.tripodasia.com.sg/sxfws/articles/xSnow.html], 1996.

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