Transcript: Space4U podcast, Jay Chattaway
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hi, this is Rich Cooper with Space Foundation and this is the Space4U podcast — conversations with the men and women who make today’s space community what it is: A big, bold, adventurous place where creativity and energy are all around. I’m joined today by Jay Chattaway, who is an Emmy award-winning composer, having been nominated nine times for his work in television, particularly for his work with the Star Trek series.
He’s also been the producer of many Grammy award-winning music projects and has worked with artists as diverse as Carly Simon, Bob James, Maynard Ferguson, Gato Barbieri, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, The Fania All-Stars , Herb Alpert, and most recently, the von Trapp Children.
In addition to his television work, Jay has composed the scores for over 30 feature films, and has served as the director of A&R for CBS records, and been the president of the society of composers and lyricists, and governor of the academy of television arts and sciences.
Jay, it is a pleasure to welcome you to Space4U. Thank you for joining us. Thanks for inviting me. Jay, I want to start literally at the beginning, you’ve been the composer for, uh, several of that Star Trek series, but I, in starting at the beginning, I want to understand from you, what’s the instrument that you first picked up and you found your calling to want a career in music.
Well, I started playing the piano at age seven and, um, I wasn’t really thinking of a career in music. It was just, um, uh, I listened to a lot of music at home. My parents were not really musicians, but they were great appreciators of music. And my dad listened to a lot of big band music. And, um, my mom was very, uh, encouraging by, um, having me helping me make like a whole orchestra out of pipe, cleaners of stuff like that
But I started out playing the piano and, um, the incentive was that my grandmother said, well, if you get really good, I’ll get you a really good piano. Well, apparently I didn’t get good enough before she succumbed, because I still had an old rotten piano in the basement, but now I have a really good piano.
So it sort of worked out. But the, so you’ve made your grandmother proud? Yes. Yeah. So I think she would be very proud. And the, um, the piano thing lasted, oh, I maybe studied three years on the piano at first. And then the band movement came along and, um, I wanted to be in the band and I wanted to play the melody. So I chose the trumpet and I got a, kind of a cheap trumpet and I got lessons, uh, from a wonderful man.
Who’s still with us. And he helped me learn to play the trumpet and I joined the band. And next thing I know I’m starting to write music for my middle school or they didn’t call it that junior high school band because we didn’t have any real modern music to play. We’re playing all classics and stuff. So through how hard could that be?
So I just started figuring it out and I found that I could do it. So it was one of those things. And. You know, some people can draw pictures really well. I found that I could write music, so I don’t very young age, maybe eighth grade. I was writing arrangements for the high school or the junior high school band.
So you’re an eighth grader. Who’s composing music sort of makes you a prodigy in the making. I would say. Doesn’t it? Well, when you look at people like Mozart people like that who wrote the, you know, a large part of their catalog way before they were 30, they didn’t live past 30, a lot of them. So I don’t know if I would call it quite that extreme, but I was the only kid in school that could do it, so it made me quite popular.
You talked about the growing up, your parents being appreciating music, and you talked about some of the big band type of sounds. So I’m curious, since you were having to go with the classics and needing to write your own music. I’m curious, who were the musical artists that influenced you in your work?
In terms of like the big band stuff. It was people like that were very adventurous. Like Stan Kenton, for example, he made his big band sound like an orchestra. It was very, very contemporary. He would do jazz arrangements of classics. And as did earlier bands, like Glen Miller, did the same thing, but not quite to the same extent.
So I wasn’t really into the Basie/Ellington thing, as much as I was into the newer, modern sort of sounding things. And, um, and that, that peaked, my curiosity said, well, what if you could do this? Or what if you could have cellos with your band or the stuff like that Don Ellis did and people like that. So it was a lot of different contemporary, modern musicians that what drew me to where I was headed.
So you talked about where those musicians took you, your music has taken you around the world. Where has it taken you? Look, can you talk about some of those places that, again, the journeys that music has enabled you to have. Well, it’s interesting because most of the journeys I’ve done musically are places that I really would’ve loved to have gone in person.
For example, I did a lot of National Geographic television specials from very widely separated places, um, such as Bali and, uh, Africa and Alaska and things of that sort. Well, I’ve never been to those places in person, but I was there musically, so I sort of transported myself to those spots and achieved some level of understanding of their culture in order to get into their music.
So I feel like. I’ve sort of traveled there and, um, and I’ve traveled underwater for sure. Because one of the people you met, you mentioned in our early discussion with Jacques Cousteau and I did a lot of work for Jacques Cousteau, uh, early on and had several conversations with him and he, you know, of course he developed all kinds of interesting programs for television that have to do with underwater photography and caring for our water planet, et cetera.
But what he did most was he sort of helped me use my knowledge of the water. I’m an avid sailor. And so here I am being a sailor and I’m writing about the ocean. How better? Well, how much better can you do than that? So, and as a segue, I don’t want to rush your line of questioning, but it was the Jacques Cousteau work that actually brought me to space.
So, let me ask you again, since Jacques Cousteau, is it’s fascinating for listeners who aren’t aware of Jacques Cousteau. Um, I would encourage you to certainly to look him up what was a fabulous oceanographer and undersea Explorer. Uh, let’s talk about that exposure, your first exposure to space, because as you were growing up, obviously … we were starting to go to space, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, all of those types of things.
Talk to me about that. Your first exposure to space and how’s Jacques Cousteau, someone who is taking you underwater got you there. Well, that’s a great question. So when I was a really young kid, before I even started piano, I was building rocket ships in my basement in Pennsylvania.
And they were, I don’t think they would make it to Mars or anyplace for sure, but they were pretty substantial, uh, so much so that when we moved from, uh, in town, Monongahela PA, o out into the country, my parents actually moved my rocket ships in the moving van and I continued to work on them. And I was inspired by some early television series.
One in particular was called Captain Video, which was a very basic TV show where they had a robot. And his name, the robot’s name was Tobor very clever it’s robot backwards. And, uh, I watched the show all the time. It was captain video and his video space Rangers. And, uh, you can actually still see clips of it on YouTube and, uh, explore to see how primitive it actually was, but they had some very cool writers uh, who were writing the scripts for this.
I can’t quote them right now, but if you wanted to research it, you could, you could add them to this. But, so I got an early start with space by building my rockets. And then, um, musically speaking, I thought that maybe we had this grinding wheel on my, in our basement that, that my dad would sharpen tools on.
And he would crank this thing up when dinner was ready. He grounded, started this grinder and I had to be upstairs by the time the grinder was finished and it made this cool Spacey sound. And so that’s sort of ingrained, ingrained in me. And, um, so what I started getting really seriously interested in music. I heard a Gustave Holst, um, the planets and this was very inspiring.
And of course it’s played a lot at orchestral concerts even now, and it was done for band and et cetera. So I started really looking at how music and images I call it, program music, how it really works. And I figured it out. I didn’t really, I wasn’t studying it seriously yet cause I was still a kid. So. I started analyzing well, how did they get that sound?
How does certain sounds like this?
Why is that different? Why does that sound like space as opposed to this…
And it’s a pretty simple theoretical discussion, which maybe we don’t need to get into all of the details, but. After I sort of figured it out and I just was pretty much self-taught and, uh, it was divine inspiration. You might say, interestingly enough, being from the Pittsburgh area. And we discussed earlier about Henry Mancini.
What really turned on my big light bulb was my, uh, high school band director, took me to a concert. At the civic arena in Pittsburgh and Henry Mancini was the guest conductor of the Pittsburgh symphony. And it was in the arena, which I don’t know if you were there when it had the dome that opened up.
I remember it well. Okay. Well, I was, I think a college student when I was there and we went to the concert. And Henry Mancini was playing his piccolo and conducting the orchestra on all of his movie scores. That’s the one singular moment that told me that this is what I want to do. And I sort of tried to target my career towards that.
The coolest thing about that whole scenario is that much, much later we were both being honored at an ASCAP function in Hollywood. And I got to go in and meet him. And, uh, he was such a warm gentleman and he was so. So inspired and excited that I was turned on to music by seeing him that we became friends and he would invite me to his place.
And we would joke about there’s something in the water, in the Monongahelal valley. Cause he was from Aliquippa and um, and we remained friends until he passed on and it was a wonderful experience, but he was my inspiration and that’s what got it going for me. So how do you come into. Star Trek. How do you become part of that universe?
Jacques Cousteau, obviously he’s put you underwater, giving you floated amongst the water. I don’t think you’ve been to space yet. Not aware. I’ve never seen you on a manifest, but your music has transported people to space. How do you become part of the Star Trek universe? I actually got into a space by going underwater.
So I was doing a bunch of the, uh, Cousteau shows and I was enthralled with the sound of whales. And so I recorded whales using a hydrophone and was able to, this was in the infancy of digital sampling. So I was able to record orcas. And sample them digitally and then be able to perform them, playing them on a keyboard.
So I could play a C on the piano or on my synthesizer and the whale would sing a C or I could do it F and it would sing an F. And then I thought, oh, this is pretty cool. And then I would just use their performances as part of my score. So it had a symphony orchestra using these whales. And so a couple of the Cousteau shows I did using my whales.
And, um, when my, um, agent in Hollywood, the way it works is. Uh, show is looking for a composer and they put out a call to various agents and the agents all flood the music department with tapes. In those days, it was cassettes and the music director of paramount happened to listen to my music with whales.
He thought wow, this might work. So then they sent my will my will orchestra onto the producers of Star Trek and they thought, well, this guy’s out there. So I’m guessing if he’s that far out doing whales in his orchestra, he might be the right guy to do Star Trek. So I was never a Trekkie. I never even, I only watched a few episodes when I was in college of the original series.
So now I get a call to not really audition. You don’t really audition. They give you a show to write, and if they like the show, they invite you back, they don’t like it that’s the end of the, your career in space. So they asked me to score this episode and it just so happened that it was the show was called Tin Man.
It was an episode of Star Trek, the next generation, and it featured. Organic being in space, that was a living, breathing creature that you could actually enter from a, transporter or whatever, and, uh, explore it. And they wanted something to help make it appear more organic. So what better instrument than whales.
So I incorporated my, I, I gathered my whales back together and put them in the orchestra and we recorded my first ever episode with of about a 55 piece orchestra. Um, and one fellow just playing whales on his synthesizer while I was conducting. And it went great. And, um, the producers really liked it. And the fans, the thing about Star Trek is that as soon as you finish the show and it’s on the air, everybody’s making comments, there were like message boards and the message was lit up.
Well, the music is really different. Who’s doing the music? I wasn’t really into doing television at the time. I was working my way up doing motion pictures. I was doing Chuck Norris movies and Stephen King, um, a few horror movies. Uh, I was a big film guy, right. I don’t want to do TV, but then one of the producers came to me after there really was an opening that they wanted my music.
They said, we really want you to be a regular on the show and do every other episode, I said, oh, I, I can’t do that. I’m doing movies. No, Joe, you don’t understand, you have to do this. So in the back of their minds, they knew they were going to be these spinoffs coming. And it was a very longevity type, um, um, job.
So I said, okay, I’ll try it for a season and we’ll see how it goes. And then 16 years later it was over. So, uh, you talk about a job that lasted a long time. There was a lot of space music being composed during then it was a fascinating challenge. And we had the luxury of having a symphony orchestra every week to record the music.
So you mentioned that you, you saw an episode or two when the original series was on, but when they pull you into do tin man, which is again, considered a classic episode from Star Trek, next generation, I have to say there’s part of me. Were you aware of how intimidating it is to be a contributor to the Star Trek cultural catalog?
Again. You mentioned the Trekkies, you’ve got the series. You’ve got the movies. I mean, you even have a Star Trek movie. I think it’s the fourth Star Trek movie that has whales in it. Exactly. I got to tell you, isn’t there a little bit of an intimidation factor to kind of step on the bridge of the enterprise and score this?
Yes, there, there was. But interestingly enough, I didn’t look at it. I looked at it as a very serious challenge, but it’s not what I wanted to do. But when I met with the producers and the directors, I was so impressed with their knowledge of everything, of all the fields that they are involved with, that they had my, my demo tape, queued up to a certain musical examples is like no, this, we really like this. This is good. This would work.
And one of them was of course the whales, but the, uh, director of music at the time at paramount said, look, this has been a long history of people who wrote music for Star Trek. Don’t listen to what they did.
They wanted some, they want a different voice. So do your version of an epic space adventure using your best tools that you have. So that’s sort of a carte blanche. I can do anything now. Right? So when I go and I’m writing all this music and, um, I approach things, thematically sort of leitmotif like Wagner would do, but what I didn’t realize was, and this might be sort of interesting for, uh, people who might be comparing Star Wars to Star Trek.
They don’t really want the music to telegraph what’s good. What’s bad. What’s evil, et cetera. They like the listeners and the viewers to make up their own minds. For example, if we listen to a brilliant score by John Williams on a Star, Star Wars film. We don’t have to watch the movie. You can get the movie from listening to the music, you know, what the characters are doing.
You know, if Darth Vader is there, you know, this and that. Well Star Trek isn’t that way they wanted the music to be somewhat neutral, but to be able to carry the emotions of the scene without being so specific. So their theory was that, well, the Star Trek audiences much more intelligent than the Star Wars people um, people are, well that’s up for debate, of course, but so that sort of helped define the music.
So my big, my big thematic score. I went out to the orchestra and I recorded like eight minutes of music. Right. So I go back into the control room where all the, we had all the producers there and, and there, I was expecting a round of applause because it sounded really great in my mind.
And their hands were kind of down like this and I’m thinking, oh, Well, like what’s wrong. And, and the head producer guy said, well, that’s good. Now do something different. I said, well, what do you mean do something different? Well, you know, some of those melodies and stuff, maybe we don’t use all those as much, just go on and do something different.
It can’t be that hard. Well, it was about 200 pages of music. So. What do you do to do something different? So I, you know, I think it was sort of a test also to see how I might react if they gave me feedback that I wasn’t expecting. So I took a lot of the melodic material out and I asked the orchestra and they were a brilliant bunch of musicians.
I said, okay, if you, if you look at the, hear your music and you feel like you have the third of a chord, for example, Um, this bring the third that’s sort of says that’s a good moment. And if it was this sort of, not such a good moment. So if you think you have a third of the chord, change it to the root or the fifth.
So instead of it being like this, it all then became like,
Perfect fifths all through it. And that sort of became the identifying sound of Klingons. So it was only by accident that happened. And, um, and that’s sort of how the music got going. And that was the third season of the next generation. By the end of the fourth season, I was a regular and scoring every other episode.
And it was quite a challenge to, to write all that music. So the producers have asked for the music to be neutral in a scene so that viewers can make up their own mind. That is fascinating, but I’m curious as to. Did they give you the story ahead of time? Did they give you a script and explain to you character a is going to be in conflict with character D but B and C are, are somewhere stuck in the middle.
Do they give you a story and then say, have at it, how does that work? Pretty much. I would get a script. About three weeks before I had to start writing the music, but the show isn’t being the show’s, just starting to be shot. At that point, I read the script and sometimes in the script there are, and of course everything in TV and in Star Trek world is, is flexible.
In other words, it’s never really finished until it’s on the air. So I might see a script, a version, a. And four days later, it’s up to version F and, uh, the, um, it’s, uh, it’s in flux and then everything gets approved. They start shooting the film, but you have to realize so much of that filming is done through special effects.
So while I’m concentrating on the music, Uh, the special effects people are working on their special effects simultaneously. So we never see, we never see the special effects in the, like, what would we call the rough cut of the film. Like, I’ll get a video cassette about 10 days before I have to show up with the music and it’s not finished.
It’s a rough cut of, well, this might be here, but when you get to a battle, say with the Vulcans or something, it’s just too script on the, on the thing. It might be four minutes of people typing. Well, the Vulcan ship enters here and then they have a battle or, or something to that extent. So it’s not specific until you show up to the recording session.
And I might add before this, we have a meeting where everybody watches the rough cut, not everybody but myself, the producers, a music editor. And then we have a meeting and we discuss where mostly discuss where the music starts and where it stops. Rarely do they ever say, well, write this kind of music here.
There are some exceptions, which I can talk about later, but really it was more about where it starts and where it stops. So then somebody fastidiously takes notes. We had computer programs that would convert film language into music language like feet and frames into beats per minute and stuff like that.
And then I go to work, starting to write my music and I would have to write. Oh, maybe two minutes, two and a half minutes a day, which maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but you have to consider that I’m not just writing a couple of chords for a piano. I’m writing for a symphony orchestra and there might be 32 lines of score paper, and it takes maybe an hour to do a page.
So there wasn’t much sleeping being done while you’re working on Star Trek. So the shows generally had about 20 minutes of music. The shows were 40, 42 minutes long. So at least half of the show had music in it. Not all of them, some are shorter, some are longer, but it was a very intense period of, of, of writing a lot of music and because it wasn’t, they were never finished. I would come into the recording session and the musicians never see the music in advance.
There’s, that’s impossible because I’m writing the music the night before the recording. So we show up maybe 50 musicians or something like that, and they site read the music. I mean it’s there. They never saw it before and it’s flawless. They play it perfectly. It’s outstanding. I mean, it’s just, it just blows my mind how they can do that. And they’re recording engineers recorded instantly. And then the fun starts when you look at the film where they’ve made some subtle little adjustments, like, well, the visual effect might be missing.
For example. The Tin Man, my first one, they described this thing as a piece of beauty in space. It was going to be in clouds and colorful and So I wrote all kinds of harps and woodwinds and stuff like that. And when I saw it for the first time, it kind of looked like a dog dropping in space, like an asteroid that was sort of burnt out looking.
So therefore it was really important that the music helped that appear organic. But I had to on the spot take out all my harp licks and my, my frilly woodwinds and, and stuff that was not at all descriptive of what I was looking at. So it was a big challenge, especially stuff like that. And a battle scene.
When you have to accentuate, when you know, they’re shooting at each other without really making it sound like they’re, they’re good or bad, you still have to have lots of action music. So, yeah, that’s a challenge. You mentioned the, the ratio of 20 minutes of music in a 42 minute episode. So that’s nearly half I, what stands out to me.
And so I’m going to ask you this question. How does music add to the storytelling? The music can do so many things to the story, the first thing you can do is affect the speed of the story. In other words, if you’ve got a finished product, that’s really sort of languishing, you can put a little faster music in there and it appears like it’s going by faster.
So we’re sort of like a first aid kit. Cause we’re the last, the last man standing when it makes you make movies and television shows. The other thing we can do is add emotion. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do several motion pictures with actors who don’t speak much, for example, Chuck Norris. So you do a movie, was Chuck Norris like missing in action.
There’ll be a camera panning into Chuck Norris, but he’s not saying anything. So the music tells the audience that’s, this is what Chuck’s thinking now. Think about that. And you can do that in space as well. There are certain characters who are not totally scripted. They don’t say a lot, but yet there’s an emotional connection for those characters and the music can, can do that.
The music can help pass time to go from past to forward and backwards. Sometimes there ought to be a little technique book, like a flashback guide to make music sound like it’s a flashback. So, um, I’m not going to try to do that on the piano. But you can do all kinds of things with the music, but the most important is the emotions.
Like if there’s some characters or if there’s a love scene or something, that’s not really, there’s no chemistry with the actors. The music can have that happen. There was one episode in particular where Gates McFadden as the doctor is having a very torrid affair with a ghost and because its all shot on blue screen, you never see the ghost, but gates has to imagine what it’s like being extremely romantic with a ghost-like figure.
Well, we didn’t ever see the ghost until it was finally finished, but the music made that happen and it was just a very cool, um, challenge to do. Yes. Dr. Crusher. Remember her quite well with the series. Yeah. You talked about you, you have scored a number of the Star Trek series.
And what I, one of my question is how hard is it to keep the musical themes of these various franchises that you’ve written for Star Trek? How do you separate Voyager from next generation and from a deep space nine? All of those are they’re part of one franchise, but they’re all very unique. The hardest part was that the shows happen simultaneously.
For example, when I was hired to do next generation, I started doing every other episode. Well, halfway through season five, I guess it was, maybe six. They decided to do deep space nine. But they didn’t add any new composers. They were happy with the composers that they had. So myself and Dennis McCarthy, my co-writer, um, on every other episode now, instead of doing an episode every two weeks, we’re doing an episode every week.
So you can imagine coming home from a recording session, having just done a next generation show and sitting on your desk are the, are the, uh, instruction notes for the deep space nine show your scoring six days later, it’s very hard to get the next generation’s score that you did as did out of your head in order to do the next deep space nine
The, um, interesting part of deep space nine was that instead of it being a show about exploration, it was sort of a, a show about being on the space station. Which was, what it was. It was a space station and it was much more, um, character driven. So, whereas next generation. We were able to explore and go to different places.
And the deep space nine people came there and there was a, um, a constant interaction of the characters on the space station. So the music was much more intimate. It was much more melodic I guess you could say. We didn’t require as large of an orchestra. Sometimes we had a much, much smaller group. More intimacy in the woodwinds and more solos.
And until they developed a runabout that could go out and explore, then it got back into more action type music. But early on, it was quite easy to delineate the two, the two types of scoring, because one was vastness of space. And the other one was, oh, a sort of, um, congested here in the space station and these characters aren’t getting along.
So it was quite challenging, but in a sense it made it a little easier. When Voyager came along, a lot more issues were at play, because now Voyager was the start of what was become the paramount network. Which meant a lot more people involved telling you how to do the music. If there was like more executives, now we’re a network.
Whereas next generation and deep space nine were privately syndicated television shows where the real bosses were the producers of the show. With, um, with Voyager, you had to report to. A lot of, um, we call them suits. Yeah. A lot of people who were in charge, but not really in charge of anything particular, but they were in charge enough to make, make you change a lot of stuff.
For example, we shot the entire pilot with captain Janeway as the first woman, captain, and one of the executives. So. My wife doesn’t like her hair. So they had to go back in and reshoot every shot she was in changing her hairstyle. So stuff like that, which would affect you wouldn’t think it would affect the music, but it does because the timings are all off now.
You can’t just go arbitrarily and, you know, change a couple of frames here. Everything is wrong. So you have to fix it. Not that the music would be any different for new hair, but the timings were different. So little things like that. And of course, now ratings were extremely important. And so the more action, the better.
So Voyager became the action show of what wild West space, so to speak. And so there’s a lot more percussion, a lot more chases, a lot more hand to hand combat, um, stuff like that. And of course the Borg becoming the arch enemy gave all kinds of possibilities for development and, and challenges.
So I might also add that my Borg theme was conceived in my sleep. So, um, my family would say, dad, you eat, drink and sleep music all the time. Sometimes I always wish there were a bunch of little minions that came out out at night and filled out my score pads. But one night I had this dream of this theme for the Borg and I rarely do this but I got up and I wrote it down. My little music pad next to my bed. And so I wrote it down the next morning. Hey, that’s, that’s pretty good — like that.
So oddly enough, uh, that’s the show I won the Emmy. And by dreamt it. So there’s something metaphysical about this music thing. It comes from some other place, perhaps. Well, resistance is futile. And if I remember my Borg, uh, Axiom correctly, uh, I think you captured that. So in scoring those three different types of shows, Again, you have the, the adventure explorers.
You have the wild west town in space, and then you have the action show. I want to bring you to present day space. And what’s going on that if you were to score music for say like the Mars perseverance mission. What would that sound like? What instruments would you use? You, you talked about Holst, uh, the planet, uh, symphony and the Mars portion of that is very memorable.
Probably. I think probably the most memorable piece out of all of that, but I’m curious how you would score something. Like if you had to score and do the soundtrack for a Mars perseverance mission, what would you do? I think I would not take the Gustave host approach and thinking that Mars was a warlike planet and all that, because now we’re inundated with amazing video and gorgeous photography of this planet that’s pretty close to us and may very well have housed life.
So. The way I would approach it is that I would ask the NASA folks for a bunch of the recordings that happened while the exploration was taking place. And I’ve done this with, I did a, another show called space age where, um, it was a Public TV show about what’s, um, all the history of space travel or space exploration.
And I was able to acquire the recording from the Jupiter probe. And so I got this recording and I stuck a speaker in my piano. And I played the recording and held on various keys on the piano and it made this thrumming really cool sound that was organically from Jupiter. So I’m pretty sure. And I have done some exploration on this so far that I would try to find something that’s not in the same world as regular acoustic music right now.
And to have some, some external source from Mars that could help generate the musical theme. And I’ve done this with a few other things. I did a film, a Stephen King movie called silver bullet, and I went to a Wolf farm and sampled wolves howling. And just as I did the whales for space and Cousteau. The sound of wolves in my score.
I can have a Wolf orchestra now, but the most interesting thing is I slowed down the howl of the Wolf and it actually became a melody. And I’m kind of curious if something like that would work for Mars. I’m hoping it would. And I hope I get the chance to do that. Um, I would think a big concert with an orchestra and a bunch of electronic sounds that were generated from the Mars exploration would be a wonderful place to start
When you’ve got something like the Mars ingenuity, uh, helicopter the Mars perseverance mission with its Rover. Obviously those are very unique pieces of technology that capture the sound. But part of space is also the human exploration piece. How would you look to score a piece for the Artemis program with the, with the first woman and the first person of color setting their boot prints onto the moon?
That obviously is a cultural and humanity changing moment. How would you score something like that? I think I would go in the direction of what we were talking about at the very beginning about exploration. You know, a lot of our history of indigenous people and native Americans and native indigenous people from all over the world, they’re standing on the shore and they’re looking out on an island and they’re thinking about, oh, I wonder what’s on that island.
No, we’re talking about gazillions of years ago. And so what do they do? They explore it. They build dug out canoes and they, they go to that island and they put their footprints on that island. So I think my approach would be maybe try to incorporate some of the sounds and music of indigenous people and not necessarily be, are they black, yellow, green, whatever.
But the sounds of the instruments and the and the tonalities of, of people who came before us and have that be part of the pastiche of the music that would represent that type of exploration.
I wanna bring the conversation back to some places have me cover in the beginning about where music has taken you. And, uh, obviously you’ve had music take you underwater. You’ve had to take you to the stars. You’ve had to take you to a lot of other different venues, but I have to ask you is music really an international language?
Oh absolutely the, um, recently, um, I did a series of concerts with people in Cuba. And I speak very little Spanish, right? So I went to Cuba. That’s the third time I’ve been to Cuba. I love Cuba. And now they’re having a lots of issues there, but there was a group of musicians there that are Afro-Cuban musicians and they, they sing and play in a dialect that even totally Spanish speaking people aren’t totally literate with and their dream was to play their music with an orchestra.
And I said, oh, how are we going to do that? Really? And so I started listening to their music. I said, I think I can do this. So I was able to take their music with then playing and write for a traditional Western style symphony. And sure enough, it worked. We did a concert in San Diego combining the two forces and then Havana with an even larger orchestra.
And everybody understood what we were talking about. And we weren’t talking about any language that most people understand. We’re talking about, uh, African dialect. We’re talking about a combination of African music and Cuban music. And it really, it really did work. And one of the pieces that I did for Star Trek and it’s called the inner light, it’s probably now known as the most requested piece from the Star Trek catalog.
I’m sure you know, the piece, but, um…
Played on a penny whistle by Patrick Stewart. I have received more mail, uh, emails, comments, et cetera, about that piece of music from countries all over the world. You have to remember when you do one of these shows like two days after you finish the show. It’s on the air and millions of people are watching it.
And not only did they watch it then, but now thanks to the streaming opportunities. It’s still being played everywhere in 78 countries, I believe. And I get comments from people all over about what that piece of music has meant to them. It’s been played at weddings and funerals and graduations at all sorts of different ethnic events, Jewish events, Arab, Arabic events, things from Egypt.
So in that case, I think my music sort of has become the universal translator that works. And all it does is generate emotions and maybe emotions are really the universal language. And the music is just helping us learn that. You talked about at a very early age in the eighth grade, you were scoring music.
Uh, and, and the only person in your school that could do it, but as a composer, uh, this is a question I’ve wanted to ask someone like you, what is the difference between writing words for a paragraph or for a letter and writing a melody or writing a song or composing a piece they’re both compositions, but they’re both very different.
You can do both. What’s the difference? Well, that’s a, that’s a tough question now. Well, with music, the vocabulary. Is, I guess you could say it’s a little less complicated. I mean, there are really in Western music, there were only 12 notes and the written word, there’s no limitations as to how many words there are.
So if I write a story, which I have It’s sort of unlimited. Yeah, I could write any words I want to, but if I’m writing music and it has to sound correct by some standards, there’s 12 notes. And there are certain rules that theoretically the music has to, um, follow again from a young age, my parents got me this book called Terry takes a trip through space.
And it was all about the planets and the, um, it was a little deep for a little kid, but it was about the harmony of the spheres. All right. So like, everything is sort of related. And the Greeks had this all figured out. They knew like if you take a guitar string or any musical string and you cut it in half.
You get an octave. All right. So you can carry that theory forward, where you cut out again and a half. You got a fifth like that, and then somehow the fifths have to go to the dominant. So you have this cord. It has to go here. It doesn’t go there. It could go here, but it can’t go everywhere. So usually it’s a lot easier.
Come on. It’s like nothing to it. Writing a story. I mean, anything goes, so I have a lot of respect for the writers, especially the Star Trek writers who come up, they’re creating something from absolute nothing. I mean like, wow, well, alternate universe. Okay. That’s that’s a theme, but then what I mean, you’ve got to fill in the blanks
With music it’s not so hard, really. I mean, not hard for me anyway, a lot harder to write lyrics and, and a story than it is to write music, my opinion. My final question, we now have the ability for private space travel, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos calls your house and says, Jay, I got a seat for you. On my next flight.
What instrument would you take with you if you had, and again, size not being an option? Uh, I realized we’re not going to get the, the piano might be a bit of a challenge in both of those spacecraft, but if size were not an option, what would be the instrument you would take to, as you would look out and compose, what would be Jay’s space experience?
If I could fit it on the shuttle, I’d take a cello, my favorite instrument. Really? Okay. Then we’re going. So I’m waiting for that call. I’ll go. I’ll take my cello along. I’ll see what I can do again. Obviously on board, the space station and we’ve had on the shuttle that they have taken instruments up. Uh, obviously there was an astronaut band, uh, with max Q a grade, but again, uh, we’ve seen, uh, there is a guitar on the international space station, but your choice of the cello is, is fascinating. And to hear that.
It’s one of my favorite instruments, so that, and the French horn, but I think the cello has such a wider range and it can express so many different things. And I don’t know what it would be like. Let me, uh, you know, when I create a piece of music, it, when I see a scene, for example, in the show. Without music.
I hear that score in my head. Like all of it. It’s like, I can’t describe exactly how that happens or I don’t think everybody works the same way, but the problem is getting it all written down. If somebody can come up with a device where a little headband that goes around your brain and you’re watching something and it converts it into music, that would be brilliant.
But I do actually. And I hear it in its entirety, rhythmic, melody, harmony, everything, but then to sit down and fastidiously, write it all down. I lose a lot of that in the translation, so it’s never quite the same, but it’s the old question is whether our composers and writers just receivers for music and things that come from another place?
That’s probably a subject for a whole other series of questions, but I believe it is. And I’m chosen to be one of the translators that can pull the music down and make it available to people that can’t do that. Jay, you have scored a lot of television memory, certainly for members of the space community of which we are grateful.
Uh, again, when you add your gift to what are always great stories, it enhances it and makes it even more powerful, uh, very grateful for your time. Very grateful for what you do and what you continue to do. We’ll see about, uh, that seat on one of those, uh, uh, one of those flights, uh, they’re short flights right now.
Uh, I don’t know if you want to hold a cello and try to compose during liftoff, but, uh, it could certainly be, uh, certainly be quite the musical experience. I’m sure, but we are very grateful that you joined us here for Space4U and what you do for the space community. Thank you. Thank you very much. And I just like to add that one thing that I didn’t mention and she’s in the other room.
So, um, when I started deep space nine, I happened, that’s where I met my, uh, my wife. She was one of the producers of deep space nine and Terry Potts is her name. And, uh, and we, we married and now she’s writing my biography and it’s called Journey to the inner light and it should be out next year. So there’s my plug.
Excellent. Well, we look forward to, we will bring you back on space for you to talk about your book and share that with our listeners and the larger space community. There’s a couple more questions I want to ask about Patrick Stewart playing that on the penny whistle, but we’ll, we’ll deal with that at another point.
I promise you that was my last, my last question earlier. We’ll have another conversation here. With that want to thank you the listener for joining us today for Space4U, you can find more space for you, podcasts and conversations, like what we’ve had with Jay here today, by going to space foundation.org as always what we do at space foundation.
Uh, we want to be your trusted source for information, education and collaboration, because at space foundation, we will always have space for you. Thank you for listening.
Posted in Transcripts