At first, Mark Snow didn’t know what to make of Chris Carter.
“I was just one of several composers he was talking to when he was auditioning for someone to write for this show called ‘The X-Files,'” Snow recalls, sitting in the custom-built studio in his Santa Monica home. “When he did come by, he listened to some tracks, didn’t crack a smile or anything. You know how some producers and directors in Hollywood go, ‘Oh man, this is so great! This is perfect! I love it!’ and then you never hear from them again? Chris sits there, says nothing except maybe a ‘Thank you’ and ‘Goodbye,’ leaves, and then some time goes by, and he hires me.”
Snow then replays Carter’s oft-told joke that the only reason he hired Snow was because he lived in Santa Monica, convenient for Carter driving from his Pacific Palisades home to his Ten Thirteen Prods. office on the Fox lot.
Snow, from the pilot episode on, has powerfully delivered one of the show’s essential layers, a running musical landscape that blends menace, pathos, growling mania and a propulsive intensity never quite achieved before in episodic TV scoring.
The body of Snow’s work for “The X-Files” is stunning in light of his previous work for fairly innocuous series such as “Crazy Like a Fox,” “Hart to Hart” and “Kay O’Brien, Surgeon,” and such classics as “Family” and “Cagney & Lacey.”
It’s also remarkable that the music has attained such symphonic depth on its own apart from the show. The proof of this is the recent CD release “The Truth and the Light,” in which “X-Files” music editor Jeff Charbonneau has woven together patches of Snow’s music for a sound-quilt as disturbing as any single hour of the series.
Typically, Snow the perfectionist is not quite satisfied with the recording. “I realized early on working with Chris and his crew,” Snow says, “that they were so totally dedicated to the work that the phrase ‘it’s good enough’ was never spoken. And I guess what I’d say about ‘The Truth and the Light’ is that it’s good, but it’s not enough, because it doesn’t include any music from the fourth season, which for me is by far the most satisfying.
“In episode after episode in the fourth season, I was afforded opportunities to write music with melody and harmony, and with various configurations. For ‘The Field Where I Died’ I used choral voices. For ‘Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man’ I did a lot of melodic stuff, while the two-part ‘Tunguska’ and ‘Terma’ had a big orchestral sound.’
The Juilliard-trained composer, who came fairly late to the system of composing with synthesizers, samplers and the now-standard gear of the home studio composer, found “that I finally was working on a show where I could take advantage of my first loves, which include serious electronic composers such as Morton Subotnick and Edgar Varese, as well as all the great 20th-century guys from Bartok to Stockhausen. But for ‘The X-Files,’ I not only had total freedom to lay down moods, but I had to do a ton of music. If the average episode carries at most 30 minutes of music, the average ‘X-Files’ has 41 minutes, often more.”
With the Synclavier as his central keyboard, directly facing a large-screen monitor that beams the taped final cut of an episode, Snow will build an episode’s score based on improvisations to what he views onscreen. “It’s a little like what organists did with silent movies, only I have a vast storage of sounds, effects, cues, samples and variations I can choose at will.”
These days, Snow is less involved with Carter than with veteran “X-Files” director Rob Bowman, who is directing and now in post-production on the first “X-Files” feature film.
“When Rob’s done with his work,” Snow says, “mine begins on the score. I haven’t seen a frame of it, but I’m glad there’s a long post schedule on it (it is due as a summer ’98 release) with my weekly work on both ‘X-Files’ and ‘Millennium.’ I can’t complain about too much work, not when I see how those guys in Vancouver work around the clock. I have it pretty easy here at home.”