Grant Gould (gdg) wrote in battlestar_blog,
Grant Gould

Galactica's Musical Genius

I'm extremely proud to present Battlestar Blog's 5th exclusive interview! Bear McCreary is the composer behind all three seasons of "Battlestar Galactica." He has won awards, earned rave reviews, and moved us with his unique and powerful scores week after week. Bear was kind enough to take questions from the members of Battlestar Blog and provide us with this great Q&A.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a question, and a huge thanks to Bear for taking the time to do this. :)

Without further ado:

1) First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, and for writing absolutely amazing music. :) Now, to my question... From what I've gathered, the society of BSG is sort of Greek-ish (based on the religion, anyways). You've used Greek modes in your pieces, but you also use Eastern, Middle Eastern and Celtic influences, among others. I love the sound of BSG, and I think all these different styles fit together wonderfully, but what I'd be curious to find out is how you pick the ethnic stuff, and how do you decide which sound goes with which character/situation. Also, have you ever considered creating a new musical scale for the Cylons themed compositions?

Great question and observations! The toughest decision with BG was about the initial concept of using ancient music. We decided to score the show with music from early cultures from around the world. This includes the Japanese taikos, middle eastern woodwinds and Celtic whistles and pipes. Honestly, deciding when to use what was sort of arbitrary after that. The taikos are great for war. Being half Scotch/Irish and half Armenian, I brought in the duduk and bagpipes respectively, simply as a way to represent my own heritage. The duduk has a mournful quality and the bagpipes fit perfectly in “Hand of God.” I basically adapt freely with each new episode and see what kind of music the story requires. As for a new Cylon theme, the “Number 6” theme is pretty effective, I can’t imagine needing to create a new one. But you never know. We’ll see what happens next season.

2) How much time between final shooting for an episode and when the episode airs do you have to compose the music?

This window of time has been getting shorter and shorter. For season one, I used to get about 15 days per show. What a luxury! Average time for season three was probably more like 6. Sometimes, for exceptional episodes such as “Exodus II” or “Maelstrom,” I’ll work my schedule to allow for a full two weeks just to make sure that the episode gets the score it deserves.

3) Do you listen to heaps of Satie? He is one of my favourites and your compositions have the same lovely qualities.

Yes, I love Satie. I don’t know all his work, but his piano music is gorgeous.

4) You mention Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata being a starting point for "Battlestar Sonatica". If someone were to make a playlist of specific songs that have inspired your Battlestar Galactica work, which songs would be on it?

The Moonlight Sonata was Ron Moore’s idea. He knew he wanted a solo piano piece echoing throughout the basestar sequences. So, it wasn’t necessarily “inspiration,” but more of a guide track for me to figure out what kind of music he had in mind. However, the music that inspires me personally is a little different. Probably the score that inspired me the most for “Galactica” is Basil Poledouris’ “Conan the Barbarian.” I was deeply saddened when Basil passed away last year.

5) Having worked on the show for so long I would imagine you’ve developed quite an emotional relationship with the show’s characters. Can you tell us which characters you feel closest to, which ones you enjoy writing music for the most, etc? Are there any character deaths or major story arcs that really impacted you on a personal level?

I’ve become very wrapped up in these characters. For me, writing music is a little like method acting. I need to put myself in the emotional mood of the scene I’m trying to score. So, scenes like Starbuck’s death or Tigh poisoning his wife are incredibly traumatic. I get exhausted, upset, depressed… it takes me a full day just to get through these scenes! But, I always end up with music I’m proud of when its all done. At least that way, I know the music is honest. I’m not trying to fake the emotional impact. It’s real for me, so hopefully it makes it that much more real for the audience.

6) I hope this question isn’t too generic, I was wondering how you got into the business of soundtracks and writing music. And second question, how did you get involved with Galactica. Thank you for being a major inspiration, you bring the show to life for me. :-)

Well, that is a bit vague, but I’ll give it a go. I’ve always wanted to be involved in film music, for as long as I can remember. As for getting involved with “Galactica,” I worked for composer Richard Gibbs when I got out of college. I wrote with him on the miniseries and when it came time to do the regular series I eventually got the gig.

7) The English Horn is neither English or a Horn, discuss.

Ah, an instrument joke, huh? Try this one:

A bass player and an accordion player are on their way home from a gig. They decide to stop for coffee at a diner. They park their car and get out. The bass player brings his bass inside with him, but the accordion player leaves his instrument in the backseat of the car, in plain view.

“You should bring that inside. Somebody might steal it,” says the bass player.

The accordion player assures him it’ll be fine and they go inside. Within a matter of minutes, they hear the sound of breaking glass. In a panic, the accordion player runs out to the parking lot. Sure enough, the backseat window is smashed and the car alarm is blaring. He runs to the car, swings open the door and looks in the backseat to see…

… two accordions!


8) Have you ever listened to a contemporary rock/pop song that you took cues from for the show?

Not anything specifically. Though, I’m a big fan of Oingo Boingo, Pink Floyd, Queen, Guns N’ Roses and Rage Against the Machine, and I think you can hear influences from all of them in tracks like “Black Market” and “Something Dark is Coming.”

9) I noticed a disimilarity between the album version and the episode version of the track Baltar's Dream, noticably the woodblock is buried on the album version. I am curious, did it just get lost in the mastering somehow or what?

Wow, you are listening VERY carefully.

10) What kind of things are you into outside of music? Do you read a lot of books, watch movies, other TV shows.. ? Any recent favorites? I’d love to know what a Day In The Life Of Bear McCreary is like. I’m also wondering if you get to visit the set a lot. If so, I’m jealous because I’m in love with literally every female on the show. Lol :) Thanks, Bear.

Unfortunately, “A Day in the Life of Bear McCreary” would be pretty boring these days. As a certified work-a-holic, I spend a lot of time doing music. Good thing I enjoy it so much! I also love movies and try to get out to see them as much as possible. I also play video games. Big fan of the entire “Metal Gear Solid” franchise. I’ve played them all through at least twice!

11) What is the ratio of digital instrumentation you use versus actual instruments? Has this changed over the course of BSG? If yes, how so, and if not, do you think it will?

The general rule of thumb with the BG score is, if it sounds real, it is real. I’d say the ratio is about 60 / 40 favoring live instruments. As the series goes on, the number of music tracks has been increasing immensely, especially in Season 3 where using the string orchestra became more common. But, that ratio has remained fairly constant.

12) Okay, this is not original, but if you could write the soundtrack for any movie/series, what would that movie/series be?

This is a really tough one. Chances are, if I love a movie or series, it already has good music, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. I can’t say “Lord of the Rings” because I can’t imagine seeing those movies without Howard Shore’s music. So, I’d need to answer with a movie that I love, except for the music. I’d have to say “Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.” It’s not that I hate the music. Burt’s a great songwriter, one of the best. But I loathe it as a “score.” If that movie had a great score, I’d probably watch it once a week!

13) I have noticed your music has a very tribal almost primal even at times sound and feel to it my question is what inspired you to go that way with the music for bsg?

The decision to use taiko drums and other tribal percussion instruments came from Michael Rymer, director of the miniseries and many subsequent episodes. Since then, I’ve just been developing the sound and expanding it as the show evolves.

14) To date, which scene was the most difficult scene for you to score?

As I mentioned earlier, the deaths of Ellen Tigh and Starbuck take the cake. You think seeing Starbuck die is tough? Try going through that emotion for 15 hours a day, over and over for two weeks. I’m thrilled with the score I got out of the process, but it wasn’t exactly fun for me. ;)

15) My two favorite episodes of season 3 have been “Unfinished Business” and “Maelstrom.” I think they hit emotional chords that few television shows ever can or will. When you approach an episode, do you look at it as a whole and develop an overall musical theme, or do you tackle it scene by scene? And I’d love to hear what your personal thoughts were on those two episodes. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Starbuck’s character arc this season. Thank you!

I take on each episode as an independent story. I’ll bring in as many recurring themes as possible, but I let each story dictate its own musical needs. The two episodes you named are certainly among my favorites as well. The show is often very dry, and cold, only allowing for sweeping, emotional music at very specific times. “Maelstrom” and “Unfinished Business” were unabashedly lyrical and romantic. Great fun to score.

16) Some of the tracks with a more exotic sound feature a twangy, strummed instrument... is that a mandolin, or something else?

What you’re hearing is a combination of several guitars, all played by Steve Bartek. There are many instruments in there. Occasionally mandolin, but more often a Portugese guitar, Bajo Sexto and Balalaika combined with more common acoustic guitars as well. Lately, we’ve been adding in yialli tanbur and cumbus saz to the texture as well. So many cultures have a variation of the guitar, it makes it easy to find different instruments to play around with.

17) Does Kara have a theme? If so, which pieces is it featured in?

Yes, virtually every character has a theme. Kara alone has three! Check out my blog on my website ( I’ve done several entries covering every theme in detail and even citing examples from episodes they appear in.

18) What unique world/folk instrument would you love to use for scoring a BSG episode but haven't yet?

Accordion, of course! I want to play on this score myself!

19) What Battlestar piece are you most proud of right now? That is to say, if you could choose a particular song or scene that is your favorite, which would it be? Or if that’s too open, maybe what season are you proudest of? My personal favorite is probably your music in Flight of the Phoenix, and most of mid-season-2 as a whole. On the flip side, which scenes or episodes do you wish you could go back and do over, if any?

Right now, I’d have to say I’m the most proud of “Crossroads, Part II.” Then again, maybe that’s because it’s the one I just finished. I don’t know. As for going back and doing things again, it’s a dangerous thought to entertain. Sure, it’d be nice to re-do your earlier work with the knowledge you’ve gained over years of experience… but that’s how Greedo ended up shooting first. It’s better to know that the work you did reflects the person you were at the time, and should be appreciated for that.

20) If there was one instrument that you could deem the main "BSG Instrument", the one that the show couldn't have music without, what would it be? Drums? A certain woodwind instrument? Also, I just wanted to thank you for being the next John Williams. ;)

It would be impossible to pick one instrument. Every instrument in “Galactica” has been used in a million film scores before. I like to think that the reason the score stands out is that their combination is unique.

21) What is your process when it comes time to score very emotionally driven scenes?

I think I pretty much covered this one already, right? :)

22) What was the first music/album that you bought with your own money?

Ok, I just have to say that I’ve done this kind of thing a lot, and you guys are asking the BEST questions I’ve ever been asked. These are really out of the box!

The first music album I ever bought with my own money was the soundtrack to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” on cassette. When I was a kid, I loved all the cartoon craziness in the score. As an adult, I listen to Eddie Valiant’s theme and appreciate it not only as a subtle parody of film-noir clichés, but as a gorgeous melody in its own right.

23) Hi! How do you personally find a balance between the more traditional elements of orchestra and the more modern elements of synthetic sounds when you actually sit down and plot the score?

I try to only use the orchestra at the most emotional, human, dramatic moments. If you over-saturate the score with big orchestral passages, it just fades into the background. But, if the orchestra is used sparingly, then the scenes where it does appear automatically have more impact.

24) Do you think it would be appropriate for me to walk down the aisle to "The Shape of Things to Come"? My fiance is dubious about this, but I'm sure I could convince him if I had your approval!

Believe it or not, you are far from the first person to ask me about this. I say go for it. Tell him it's a test of how much he loves you.

25) Are there any instruments or styles that you've wanted to incorporate into BSG but haven't had the right opportunity yet?

I think I answered this one too. :)

26) Were there pieces in your BSG scores that you felt worked better than originally anticipated? Were there pieces that you thought would work well that ended up disappointing you in some way?

When I first heard about it, I was convinced that “All Along the Watchtower” would be a disappointment. However, once I talked with Ron Moore in detail about his vision, I started thinking it could work. Now that it’s done, I think it’s the most kick-ass thing I’ve ever done for the series, and it's not even my own song!

27) Do you anticipate the music in season four will be more of the same styles, instrumentation, and themes we've come to know and love, or will you be branching out even more? If so, in what ways?

I never decide in advance what the score will do. I follow the story. If the narrative requires new styles, then I’ll come up with something.

28) Is there a genre of film/television that you haven't worked on any projects in yet, but you'd particularly enjoy the opportunity to do a score for?

Sure, I’m open for anything at this point. It would be really fun to do a comedy, since I rarely have the chance on “Galactica” for anything light-hearted. Since I’m starting Sci Fi Channel’s “Eureka” this summer, I’m sure I’ll get my chance.

29) Hi Bear! I was at the ost show at the mint for the s2 release! So amazing! I was wondering if you could talk about your inspiration for the celtic-ish theme (like in wander my friends) we hear for the adama's, and any plans for use in the future? thx!

Hey, glad you were there! That was an incredible night. We’ll be doing it again this August, so hopefully we’ll see you there (bring your friends!). “Wander My Friends” was originally written for “Hand of God.” The producers knew they wanted something different, something celebratory for the victory scene on the hangar deck. The Celtic sounds were a great way to accomplish that, but still retain a sense of military nobility. Then, as the series went on, it became clear that the theme would function as a father / son identity for Lee and Bill.

30) My wife and I love your music, Mr. McCreary. The show would NOT be the same without you. Can you tell us what you’ll be working on between seasons of Battlestar Galactica? Are you going to start on the fourth season right away, or the 2 hour movie, or will you have a project in between? Best wishes - Mike

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be doing “Eureka” for Sci Fi Channel this summer. This summer will also be the release of a great horror movie I did called “Wrong Turn 2.” But, the first thing on my plate is getting the Season 3 album together for you guys. I think it’s going to be the best one yet.

31) What kind of insights or comments can you give us regarding the music in the season three finale, “Crossroads Part II”?

The season three finale features the most important use of music to date in the series. Check out my blog on my website ( I went into great detail about “Crossroads, Part II” and how the music was put together. There are some great shots from the scoring sessions in there as well.

Thanks for the great questions. You guys rock.

Once again, big thanks to Bear McCreary! :) Be sure to visit his website at

To check out Battlestar Blog's other interviews and features, please visit the community info page.

This interview was brought to you by Grant Gould, who is, in fact, one of the Final Five.

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