The composer talks scoring the latest film based on the FBI duo
If FBI Agents Mulder and Scully have been irrevocably affected by their time spent investigating the dark world of THE X-FILES, then Mark Snow’s ominous music for the series and its spin-off films has done much to welcome us to their nightmares. Whether dealing with mutants, aliens, mind control or black oil, Snow’s soundscapes were some of the eeriest, and most inventive music on alien invasion television since the days of THE OUTER LIMITS. And when Mulder and Scully leapt to the bigscreen with FIGHT THE FUTURE, Snow showed off his symphonic chops with a score that took THE X-FILES’ surreal intrigue to a new, otherworldly dimension.
Now the agents’ feature return for I WANT TO BELIEVE scales back the spaceships to concentrate on a singular instance of the uncanny, one more terrifyingly “real” than before. But while BELIEVE might not feature the cosmic bells and whistles to its box office detriment, director and co-writer Chris Carters’ decision to go for a humanistic approach has let Snow’s music take on a far more emotional, and even beautiful score than X-FILES fans might think possible. For while the composer’s nerve-tingling use of samples and percussion are very much present, it’s his talent for lush themes, soaring religioso music and haunting voices that make I WANT TO BELIEVE a strangely intimate work in a sci-fi summer of big, blockbuster soundtracks.
Now this Emmy-nominated veteran of numerous of television shows (who still keeps it uncanny with work on THE GHOST WHISPERER and SMALLVILLE) reveals how his musical belief in this ghastly tale of redemption has unleashed his most striking notes (whistling included) amidst the numerous X-FILES he’s paged through to such memorable effect.
iF Magazine: How would you describe the X-FILES "sound?"
MARK SNOW: With the TV show it was a combination of electronic samples and digitally enhanced electronic sounds from different libraries. I also used conventional instruments, as well as altered sounds that I invented myself. The end result used all of these acoustical and electronic elements. At first, the X-FILES sound was very ambient and atmospheric, with very little rhythm and no melody. But as the show progressed, we started using more pulses, then started in with warm melodic elements. So from the first episode of the series to the most recent movie, the X-FILES sound has advanced. Now I WANT TO BELIEVE has full blown, live orchestral melodic pieces as well as the large orchestra combined with all of my personal, special X-FILES samples that I’ve used through the years.
iF: After having worked so long with Chris Carter, does he basically trust you to do your thing? Or is he integrally involved in the scoring process?
SNOW: At first, he was very specific about what he wanted. As time went on, and I started to experiment, Chris ended up liking what I was doing and accepted my ideas for change. He knew that as the show progressed, the music would have to grow along with it. And Chris seemed to be very accepting and complimentary of all the music along the way. He has been very hands off, and I have been working with him very free and able to explore all my instincts. It has been a very wonderful relationship.
iF: This seems to be a more melodic and emotional score than your last X-FILES movie. Would you agree?
SNOW: Yes, absolutely. That is because in the story the relationship with Scully and Mulder has become much more intimate. That gives me more of an opportunity to actually play perhaps a more classical love scene than I would have ever had a chance to do in any of the previous shows with them.
iF: How do you think your music plays now that far more intimate relationship between Fox and Scully?
SNOW: The music for the relationship between Fox and Scully is much more intimate, and much more simple and honest. I think the melodic pieces that revolve around their relationship in this movie are actually very touching. I am hoping that is the case. I am hoping that the audience will feel moved, but in a very real and honest way when they hear the music and watch the scenes with the both of them.
iF: With religion playing such a heavy role in this story, how did you want your music to reflect an X-FILES brand of spirituality?
SNOW: Well, I have always been a big fan of early music. That is Renaissance, Medieval and Baroque music. I used elements of these sounds in aspects of the score to get that sense of a religious feeling, the sense of spirituality and hope. I relied on certain types of voices and instruments that are prevalent in early music to express that sense of biblical fervor in a way.
iF: How did you how wanted to integrate the "organic," orchestral nature of the score with its creepier electronic and sampled effects?
SNOW: The integration of the orchestral live music and the sampled electronic music has always been fascinating to me because I have always seen them as being able to live together very homogenously. Going from one to another is, hopefully, a very seamless sound. Here I wanted to blend the orchestra and the samples in a way that sometimes you did not know which sound was which, but instead heard how they complimented each other. Maybe there would be times when something in the samples would sound like part of the live group, and visa versa. It was very important to homogenize these two together for the best effect possible.
iF: Does the chanting in "Girl in Box" actually mean anything?
SNOW: Actually that is one of my special choral samples I used. I found a chorus a few years back and had them sing made up Latin words. In the movie I reversed it; I played it backwards and it has a very eerie sound to it. It just is another example of trying to bring in perhaps another weird, spiritual sound to all that is going on.
iF: Another highlight of the score is "The Surgery," which employs some beautiful cello playing. Why inspired you to use this instrument?
SNOW: I thought the cello, in the high register, is most beautiful and expressive. It has a very, very emotional sound. Composers throughout the years have used it to depict very intense emotional goings on. During the surgery scene, since it involves a child, I thought the solo qualities of the cello working with the alienated boy going would be a good mix.
iF: Though I enjoyed the film, do you think this X-FILES would have done better if it stuck to a "cannon" story. Or do you think the "stand-alone" nature of I WANT TO BELIEVE allowed you more creative freedom?
SNOW: The first movie was based on the mythology of the X-FILES story with the government conspiracy, cover-up and aliens, and this had nothing to do with that. Usually, the shows that are the stand-alones have afforded me greater creative flexibility, so I found this movie to be a more wide open canvas to sort of start from scratch. I think having all of this melodic, spiritual music as well as the X-FILES creepy stuff was great fun for me.
iF: Would you say this is your most "hopeful" X-FILES score?
SNOW: Certainly. Especially the last piece of music in this film, which is this very, very hopeful “almost” love theme for Mulder and Scully. The whole orchestra finally resolves on this wonderful full major chord, and we bring in, for perhaps for the last time, the famous whistle theme of THE X-FILES. It was very emotional for me when I was doing it, thinking that this will possibly be the last time that it is heard. My wife did the whistling as well, which is the first time we’ve ever had a live person do the whistling theme.
iF: Having done so many X-FILES scores, how do you think BELIEVE stands out among them?
SNOW: The scope of this score is certainly very interesting because of the large orchestra, and the combination of the orchestra and the singing and the samples. It’s scope is just that much bigger. When you are doing a movie, there is more room to make a bigger sound and bigger combinations of sounds. That is the main difference. To get more time, and that combination of so many bodies making music at once, is a thrill.
iF: In addition to X-FILES, you've scored a French film called PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC SPACES (COUERS). How did you become involved in such an unlikely project, and how do you think this score would appeal to your X-FILES fans?
SNOW: Well, Buysoundtrax just released it, and the cd’s just doing great. From what I understand, the fans of mine from X-FILES are just loving this album because it so completely different. It is a piano based score, very melodic, very European sounding. Very, very moody and moving. So I think the contrast of that with THE X-FILES is what is getting a lot of attention. The director of PRIVATE FEARS is a very famous French filmmaker named Alain Resnais (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR), who’s a fan of the show. He saw it on French TV and thought that I would be the perfect composer for this film and contacted me. I read the script and found it good, and I went and met him in France. I saw the movie, and came back here to do the score. I just had a great time experience composing for it.
iF: Now you’re working on a new film with Alain Resnais. What musical direction will you be taking for it?
SNOW: At the moment, the working title of that movie is called THE INCIDENT. I’m using a combination of my sampled electronic world and live free form jazz. That’s going to be great fun for me, because I have not done that in a while. I have some terrific musicians standing by to play on the score when it’s ready to be performed.
iF: Do you see another long-running tv and movie serial in your future, especially one with the X-FILES’ director and co-writer Chris Carter?
SNOW: I don’t know if Chris Carter will ever do another TV series. If he does, I know it’s going to be incredibly different and special. He certainly is in no position to have to do anything he does not want to do, and it might be awhile before he does any other kind of project. I am not sure he will ever return to TV unless it is a very special type of thing that he is very, very intimately involved with. For him, it would be a labor of love, for sure.