Kurt shares his favorite instrumental music to read and write along with
Artist: Greg Edmonson (featuring Sonny Rhodes)
Album: Firefly (Original Television Soundtrack)
Length: 1 hour
Sounds like: the world’s creepiest hoe-down
Joss Whedon’s much-beloved Firefly helped usher the phrase “space western” into the mainstream, but what’s less obvious is that the show had a lot of horror underpinnings to it. This is not really a surprise, given Whedon’s two previous shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, netted him a total of twelve seasons of television about monsters. Firefly was ostensibly a space opera where the settings, costumes, patois, and storylines were almost entirely western. But it took place in a world that was populated with monsters, scary government agencies, and the occasional sociopath. This is a show about fear. Fear and cows.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the soundtrack. Instead of themes, Firefly plays with textures. Melodies are interchangeable and—for all intents and purposes—incidental. Where this soundtrack really excels is in the way is just keeps moving and throwing new things at the listener. And because it’s a series of tiny vignettes, there’s a lot to explore. Altogether there are forty-three songs on this album, inexpertly combined into twenty-five tracks because… well, I don’t know why. This makes for a big sonic playground for an adventurous composer, which Whedon was able find.
Greg Edmonson’s composing career began with an Emmy-nominated turn on Steven Bochco’s head-scratching Cop Rock. Since then he’s worked on a dozen-odd movies that you have never heard of. He’s had some success in video games, but Firefly is his best-known gig, and he put a lot into it. Some of the TV score tropes are pretty obvious: the dissonant string swell leading into the commercial break, the twangy fiddle-and-steel-guitar over the establishing shot to remind you that you are, in fact, watching a western.
But when Edmonson delves deeper into his bag-o-tricks, the results are often fun and always interesting. Tender moments (River Understands Simon) rely on reverb-heavy, simple piano lines sitting under bright legato violins. Scary scenes (Reavers Chase Serenity) are driven by rapid-fire taiko drums. Lighter moments (Book’s Hair) have a tuned-percussion sound that evokes Thomas Newman’s American Beauty score. Then there are the songs that touch other cultures (Inside The Tam House) that play around with Eastern and Middle-Eastern scales and melodies but plays them on distinctly Western instruments. There’s even a suitable Irish jig (River Dances).
None of this may sound very ground-breaking. You want taiko drums? Battlestar Galactica had taiko drums (and little else for the first few seasons). But Edmonson managed to take a lot of disparate elements and bring them together into a world that is more-or-less cohesive, that is tense, but also folksy. Light-hearted and heavy-handed.
Fear and cows.
Pros: Not too attention-grabby, and it gets more and more fun as the album progresses.
Cons: Varied to the extent that it’s a little hodge-podgy. Also, you probably expect it to sound like the Whedon-penned theme that opens every episode and also the album. You would be mistaken.
Standout Track(s): Big Bar Fight, The Funeral, River Understands Simon
Kurt Pankau is a programmer, musician, and storytelling enthusiast. He occasionally blogs at www.kurtpankau.com and often tweets at @kurtpankau. His short fiction has been featured in Quantum Fairy Tales, Daily Science Fiction, and once it even got produced for Wisconsin Public Radio. Fun Fact: He does not live anywhere near Wisconsin.