What is the sound of Superman’s home planet?
“Otherworldly,” says Pinar Toprak, who is scoring the new SyFy series “Krypton” and creating all of the sounds in her own studio. It’s a major credit for the Turkish-born composer and a rare instance of a woman scoring a live-action, major-studio comic-book series.
“The show feels quite cinematic and I think that is largely due to Pinar’s score,” says executive producer Cameron Welsh. “It has a vibrancy, an energy and a sense of forward momentum. That’s really important for a show like this.”
“Krypton” relates the backstory of Superman’s family, jumping back 200 years to his grandfather Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) and a surprisingly rigid class system that finds the El family downtrodden, outcast, and – clued in by Earth-born time-traveler Adam Strange, a familiar figure to DC Comics aficionados – desperate to stop the galactic evil of Brainiac to ensure that Seg’s future grandson Kal-El will become the universe’s greatest hero.
For Toprak, the challenge is not just the complex narrative but also the pressure of delivering as much as 40 minutes of music per 43-minute episode. “A 12-hour day would be part-time,” she quips.
Her synthesizers and custom-made sounds give “Krypton” its dark, oppressive atmosphere — yet Seg’s headstrong nature, and his forbidden romance with military cadet Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell), demanded music of heroism and warmth.
“This show has a lot of heart,” Toprak says. “Even though it’s a world that is not ours, we can relate to a lot of the motivations and struggles and successes. Conveying the right emotion at the right time is the main gig.”
Discovering the appropriate sound for a far-off world was tricky, says showrunner Welsh. “We didn’t want traditional instrumentation. We wanted to transport people to another place. But we didn’t want it to be too discordant and unfamiliar; that would be distracting and off-putting. Pinar’s music feels wholly unique and original, but has something familiar at the same time.”
Toprak’s bag of tricks includes the aFrame, an “electro-organic” percussion instrument whose wooden frame happens to be similar to the five-sided “S” logo that was originally the El family crest. “I got it because it looks like the Superman symbol,” she says. “You perform it yourself; you can create very weird textures and scrapes. It’s a limitless kind of sound design.”
And all that background music in the pubs that Seg-El frequents in Kandor City? That’s Toprak’s too. It’s another planet, so you can’t license the latest Diane Warren hit. “What would the cool kids on Krypton be listening to?” says the composer with a laugh. “Pretty much every episode, I’ve had an opportunity to do the new chart-topping hit on Krypton!”
Adds Welsh: “That’s what I listen to the most. It’s really fun. I really want to hang out in that bar and just listen to the music.”
Unlike many series that retain the same music week after week, the sound of “Krypton” continues to evolve. Beginning with the fifth episode, vocal chants will add “a whole different flavor to the score,” says Toprak.
A decade or so ago, Toprak would have been the least likely candidate to score a series about Krypton. Born in Istanbul, she earned a degree in classical guitar at 16, came to the U.S. and received a degree in film scoring from Boston’s Berklee School of Music at 19, then a master’s in classical composition from Cal State Northridge two years later.
She spent a year interning, then programming, at Hans Zimmer’s studio; and assisted composer William Ross before getting a videogame, “Ninety-nine Nights,” and a direct-to-video film, “Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil,” in 2006. She did additional music for “Justice League,” another DC project at Warner Bros., last year, which helped put her in the “Krypton” producers’ sights.
There was a time when most producers didn’t believe that a woman could write an aggressive action score. Those days now seem to be firmly in the past. Welsh says that, while “there’s been a very conscious effort on our part to be diverse and inclusive both in front of and behind the camera,” it was Toprak’s music that won her the job.
“I think Pinar is a star on the rise,” says Welsh. “It’s an ambitious show in a lot of ways, and what Pinar has done with the music has helped us pull that off incredibly well.”