Case Analysis

Sounds for Cyber Heroes, and Virtual Avatars

CD Review for "The Lone Gunmen / Harsh Realm" soundtrack.
By Alexander Grodzinski
Page Editor: XScribe

Talking about The X-Files means talking about Mark Snow. Without his musical input, his haunting themes, and his capability of creating a dark and moody atmosphere, the show would lack one of its most important features.

Mark Snow, born as Martin Fulterman on the 26th of August 1946, began his musical career in the late 60s. He was a member of the New York Rock'n'Roll Ensemble, a musical group, founded in 1968, which combined classical music with rock music. Another member was the late Michael Kamen, who also went on to become a composer for film and television (Lethal Weapon, Brazil, Die Hard, Robin Hood - King of Thieves). Mark Snow actually helped his old friend out when Kamen had to compose a replacement score for the Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come in 1998 in a very short period of time, because the original score from Ennio Morricone had been rejected.

During the 70s, Snow continued to compose themes and even whole scores for television series and television movies, which is what he does to this day. For example, he did the themes for T.J. Hooker, Crazy Like a Fox, Hart to Hart and even a theme for the sci-fi-show, Max Headroom, which unfortunately wasn't used. In 1986, Snow bought a Synclavier, which has since then become the basis for his home studio and he uses this instrument to this day. With the Synclavier, Snow gained more interest in synthetic music and he began to develop a certain style of sound and composing, which ultimately led to his job on The X-Files in 1993.

For the first seasons, Snow restrained some of the darker textures, It was in The X-Files' third season, that Snow's music became more thematic and motive-driven. Of course, when Chris Carter came along with a new show, Snow was on board to do the score for it, as well. First, there was MillenniuM, that started simultaneously with the fourth season of The X-Files to be joined a little later by Harsh Realm, so that Snow had a period of time when he had to do parallel scores for three running shows, along with the movies he scored, as well.

MillenniuM and Harsh Realm ended, The X-Files was still on and then along came the spin-off-show, The Lone Gunmen. Essentially the baby of Writer/Producer Frank Spotnitz, the show concentrated on a more funny aspect, following its three main characters into the world of conspiracies.

A few years ago, the only CD featuring Mark Snow's music from all the Chris Carter shows, available was The X-Files: The Truth and the Light, which was released in 1996. The CD concentrates on the first three seasons of the show, but lacked some of the most beautiful tunes that came along in those seasons. Instead it focused more on the dark and sinister aspect of Snow's music and it also had dialogue from the show included. On the compilation, The Snow-Files, which came out a few years later, an over 30-minute long suite was released, containing Snow's music from The X-Files, arranged by Jeff Beal. But still, there was no sign of a release of the music from MillenniuM, Harsh Realm, or The Lone Gunmen. It was not before 2008 that film music label La-La-Land-Records released a 2-CD-Set of the music from MillenniuM, some time before several tracks were released via iTunes, titled Best of MillenniuM. The set made all the fans happy, who had waited years to see this happen, and of course, there was a demand for more.

This demand was followed by the release of the soundtrack from The Lone Gunmen and Harsh Realm by La-La-Land. In fact, La-La-Land is working on a 4-CD-Set containing music from The X-Files. The set is scheduled to be out by the end of 2010.

For the Gunmen, Snow composed a very rockin' theme, mimicking Jimi Hendrix playing the first notes of the Star-Sprangled Banner, before Snow proceeds with his own theme. The theme became the central motif in the show, appearing every now and then, when the Gunmen were in action.

This was also the biggest difference between his music for The X-Files and the Gunmen, the Gunmen music was lighter, not at all dark as The X-Files music, and it followed more the way of "spy music," with its distinctive rhythms and percussion. Also, the electric guitar is present troughout the music, adding even more to the "spy music" ambiance, recalling old shows and movies from the 60s and 70s. The first few tracks provide this feeling of the Gunmen in action. We hear slight variations on Snow's main theme, worked into pulsating rhythms. "Lost Causes" then gives Snow again the opportunity to come up with his light-hearted strings, played against his more comedic style, already known from episodes like "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and "Somehow, Satan got behind me" from The X-Files and MillenniuM, respectively. This style becomes even more clear in the following track, "Rectal Palpation."

In "Lost Puppy/Confession" we get to hear the melancholic and haunting strings that Snow is now so well known for, even giving the Gunmen Theme this treatment. In a combination of all of these styles, is "Sawsall." The track literally jumps between guitar treatments for the Gunmen Theme, haunting strings, sinister soundscapes, and quirky plucked strings.

Certainly a fan favourite is the episode "Tango de los Pistoleros," in which Frohike is supposed to be a former tango master known as El Lobo. The tracks "El Palacio," "El Lobo," and "Sling Blade" are included from this episode, providing another facet of Snow's music. "El Palacio" comes up with a little tango before "El Lobo" gets into the Latin world of the setting, with its Spanish guitar playing a flamenco. "Sling Blade" then has a more tragic note, but in a very romantic way, using the Spanish guitar again, recalling a mariachi grieving for his lost love.

"Wool/Poly Blend" is pure Snow-Magic. Here, Snow comes up with his well-known style of playing a haunting melody on the piano and accompanying that with mournful strings. But these kind of moments are very rare in the music for The Lone Gunmen. Seen by Snow as a "spy-spoof," he provides the show with more old-fashioned spy-action-music and suspense, but in spite of that, the final track, "Memories of Youth," again shows the more light-hearted Snow, before we get an alternate version of the main theme, even more recalling shows like Mission: Impossible, with its funky horns and playful percussion, but there is no guitar in this version and the melody is slightly different.

Harsh Realm was, of course, a different story. For the short-lived show about a virtual world created by the military, which gets taken over by MillenniuM's Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn) as the dictator, Santiago, Snow had a more industrial approach to it in terms of music. "Industrial. Mechanical. Bleak." These were the words given to Snow as a description of what the music should sound like. And it starts right away with the main theme, a very mechanical, non-melodic piece of music, with a repeating string-pattern in the backround. Snow also used speeches by Mussolini, that echo almost whispering throughout the theme. "I thought they had a nice Big Brother sound", Snow said.

To our suprise, Snow leaves this mechanical and bleak world with the very next track, "Overlooking Tradition", providing a spherical soundscape with an accoustic guitar. This landscape continues in the next track, "The Wound," but here Snow presents a piano-based theme, which will appear several times throughout the show. One can also hear Middle Eastern flavored cries echoing in the background.

"Love Letter" seems a little bit like a longer version of "The Wound," with the same soundscape--the piano melody, the cries--but Snow adds his strings to it, giving the melancholic theme even more power. In "Virtual Vista," Snow presents a played-out version of the introduction heard in the main theme, while "Chain Gang" goes back to the spherical soundscape from "The Wound." But finished with that, in "Jump back," the fun is over. This piece of music is pure militarism, with its repetitive, marching drumming, combined with dark, brooding sounds. While "The Challenge" is the techno percussion masterpiece of the score, "Thirsty" comes back to a more melancholic approach, before descending into a world of dark soundscapes. "Trickster" again shows all the beauty of Snow's music. Mournful strings, a haunting choir, and the ethereal resonance of a harp give the track a slightly religious touch.

The CD ends with the full version of the Harsh Realm main theme, which raises the question if it was really necessary to put three versions of the main theme on the CD (the TV-version, a long version, and the full version), instead of including more tracks from the show itself. But nevertheless, the release of this CD is what the fans were waiting for. The sound quality is perfect. The booklet contains photos and liner notes, but no track-by-track-analysis or hints from which episodes the tracks were taken, except for some little notes. The text is more about Mark Snow himself--how he came to The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, his musical education--and highlights some of the more outstanding tracks from the two shows, analysing the style Snow used. The booklet shows the Gunmen on the front, but it has also cover art for Harsh Realm on the back of the booklet as well, so in case you don't want the Gunmen in front, you can just turn the booklet over. The album was assembled with the input of Mark Snow, as was the MillenniuM set and will be the upcoming "X-Box". The CD is limited to 2000 units. The first hundred or so CDs were signed by Mark Snow, but these copies are of course already sold out.

THE LONE GUNMEN / HARSH REALM: LIMITED EDITION

TRACK LISTING:

LONE GUNMEN
01. THE LONE GUNMEN Main Title (0:45)
02. Empty (0:23)
03. Motiv-8 (1:37)  
04. Just What We Needed (2:42)  
05. Lost Causes (1:05)  
06. Rectal Palpation (1:44)
07. G.I. Jimmy (2:14)  
08. The Vaults (2:30)  
09. Lost Puppy / Confession (3:30)  
10. Elmer’s (2:28)  
11. Sawsall (5:13)  
12. El Palacio (1:56)
13.El Lobo (1:37)  
14. Sling Blade (2:23)  
15. Wool / Poly Blend (1:40)  
16. Tailing (3:44)  
17. Memories Of Youth (1:12)  
18. THE LONE GUNMEN Theme (Alt) (0:49)

HARSH REALM
19. HARSH REALM Main Title (0:46)  
20. Overlooking Tradition (1:28)  
21. The Wound (2:35)  
22. Love Letter (2:26)  
23. Virtual Vista (1:00)  
24. Chain Gang (1:45)  
25. Jump Back (5:33)  
26. HARSH REALM Main Title (Long) (3:22)  
27. The Challenge (1:57)  
28. Thirsty (2:40)
29. Trickster (3:47)  
30. Two On A Switch (2:33)  
31. Roadblock (3:50)  
32. The Conspirators (1:22)  
33. HARSH REALM Main Title (Full) (3:45)

Total Running Time: 77:42
Label: La-La-Land Records 2010
Liner Notes by Julie Kirgo
Executive Album Producers: Nick Redman and Matt Verboys
Album produced by Mark Snow and MV Gerhard
Music composed and performed by Mark Snow
LONE GUNMEN: Guitar played by Nicholas Kirgo

You can order the title from La La Land Records.