Musicans return in force to replace synth scores


It’s 11:35 a.m. on a Friday morning at Warner Bros.’ Eastwood Scoring Stage, and 42 musicians are playing a dramatic cue in the score of the penultimate episode of “Lost.” Composer Michael Giacchino, seated at the mixing console in the glassed-in booth behind the stage, listens to a rehearsal while scanning a musical score and occasionally consulting a monitor playing the scene.

He confers via intercom with conductor Tim Simonec: “Bars 22 to 24, violas and cellos, have them tremolo that. Let’s have Gayle (the harpist) add an upper octave at 37. And trombones can be a little louder.”

Two takes and 10 minutes later, cue 2M4-5 of episode 616 has been successfully recorded: two and a half minutes out of that episode’s 34 minutes of music, all of which will be finished by 3 p.m. And then Giacchino, who won a 2005 Emmy for his “Lost” music, will return to his studio to begin writing music for the final episode, to be recorded a week later.

“Lost,” which has used 40 to 50 musicians on every show, is over now. But Giacchino’s insistence that it be scored not with synthesizers but living, breathing musicians, has encouraged other composers to do the same.

More shows are using real players these days — just as every TV series once did, before “Miami Vice” in the 1980s and “The X- Files” in the ’90s popularized the all-electronic score. Many observers expect Emmy voters to acknowledge the trend in this year’s series-underscore category.

This season, “Human Target” and “Family Guy” set new records for most musicians ever on a series episode (90 and 80, respectively).

“Human Target” executive producer Jonathan Steinberg insisted on orchestral music from the beginning: “I told the studio I believed a live orchestra was going to be a crucial component of the voice of the show, that it would never feel like an adventure franchise without it, and they supported me fully.”

“Target” composer Bear McCreary believes that the show could not be done with samples and loops. “The music helps to establish the tone,” he says. “It’s funny, adventurous, intense and scary. Orchestral music really helps glue all that together to find the soul of the show.”

“FlashForward” composer Ramin Djawadi agrees. “There is an emotional aspect to live players that, no matter how good the samples are, you cannot replicate,” says Djawadi, who managed to add 20 string players at midseason after he had been doing the show in his studio with just samples and synthesizers.

Sometimes it’s just a few instruments. Jeff Beal was able to add a violin and a cello on his “Ugly Betty” scores, Steve Jablonsky seven violinists for “Desperate Housewives.” Alf Clausen has had 35 or more players every week on “The Simpsons” since he started nearly 20 years ago. “Electronic scores are not very good at emulating styles of music,” he explains. “With a live orchestra, we can go anywhere musically and make it work.”

“Family Guy” executive producer Seth MacFarlane was recently at Warner Bros., watching composer Ron Jones conduct a 75-piece orchestra for his show. During a break, he said he thought producers who failed to use real musicians were doing their own shows “a disservice.”

“When I watch dramas on the networks that look expensively produced, they are utterly ruined for me when they score them with synths,” he says. “You’re going to spend all this money to make a show that looks like a movie, and then you’re going to musically remind the audience that it’s still a TV show?”

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