Picard Of The Pops: Ron Jones

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Chris Morley boldly goes where no orchestra has gone before...

A great leap forward to The Next Generation now, as we salute the man who contributed critically acclaimed music to its first four seasons.

Ron Jones is perhaps best known today for working with Seth MacFarlane on Family Guy & American Dad, but many years earlier he studied under Lalo Schifrin, & prior to his Trek work spent some time with Disney working on Duck Tales.

His method is simple, as he told www.soundtrax.com.....
"You have to read it and digest it and break it down. Also, when you get the script, the writers are still punching up the story so there are different versions. There’s a first edit version you get, a salmon colored version of the script, and then you get another one that’s a beige one, and finally you get up to one that’s orange. And that one isn’t even locked, so even up to a week before, you think you’ve got it all figured out, and then something changes or a new joke will need a circus cue, or a Superman cue.

But I’ll make a breakdown of what is needed. Usually there’s anywhere from ten to thirty different style changes within a single episode, and you have to divide off the polkas and the disco and the dance music or whatever, so you know what band to call.

You don’t call the same band every time. It’s like when I scored Star Trek– if it was an emotional story there might be more strings, or more violas or something like that, and on another episode it’s more battle-heavy and you need nine percussion and twelve brass. The same thing is true with Family Guy, at least the way I do it."
His official biography sheds further light on his Trek time.
"After Duck Tales, Ron worked on the first four seasons of Paramount’s smash hit series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Scoring Star Trek: The Next Generation offered a perfect opportunity for Ron to use all the skills acquired from the animation, live action series and independent features. Each episode was looked at like a separate feature, rather than a serial with repeated ideas.

ST:TNG was really like a Wagnerian super opera. Each episode had it’s own unique orchestral palette and themes. There were highly organized and compositionally developed themes and motifs, which related to the Star Fleet crew as well as the various life forms they encountered in their exploration of the universe.

Ron further developed the Star Trek music in his scores for the groundbreaking computer games StarFleet Academy and StarFleet Command. These games were the first to use a full studio orchestra for the score. StarFleet Academy won the best score award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences."

The games were the first ever to use a full orchestra to provide their scores! They were also firsts in being looked over by Film Score Monthly.....
“I invented some new themes and I liked the Starfleet Academy theme,” Jones says of the experience. “It was fun to do it. I had access to the Alexander Courage theme, but that was it. I didn’t have access to my own themes from the TV show. I had a month to work on it—they gave me 35 days and I delivered in about 29 days, I think. I took a long time to develop all those themes and I was concerned about how to make the new themes sound as Star Trek as possible. I had a new theme for the Enterprise—it was all about going into outer space.

I had the movie where Kirk’s at the Academy introducing the characters, but for everything else I just had an outline. But I had to figure out how to have a transition for whether the character was winning or losing the game. You had to do it so the changes didn’t seem too abrupt, so I used tempos and key relationships and orchestration so they would seamlessly go from piece to piece and have transitions possible at any part of the cue.”
Developers Interplay liked his handiwork enough to invite him back for Academy. A teaching post had got him the job in the first place....
“Interplay was in Orange County,” Jones recalls. “I taught a USC film scoring class off and on for seven years with Buddy Baker and those guys. [After graduation], one or two of [the students] were at Interplay and they were doing this Star Trek game, and one of the composers said, ‘You know, my teacher was Ron Jones at USC—why don’t we call him and see if he’d do it?’

So they called me and told me what kind of budget they had, they said they had Shatner and other actors and they were actually going to film them, and I thought that was interesting, because it’s usually just these little animated characters. They said they wanted to do this like a movie and they wanted it scored like a movie.”
But what of the series the games were a spin off from?
"What I experienced was that in 1987, when we started the thing, I dealt a lot with Robert Justman, because he was primarily in charge of the music. They had two co-producers and they both shared responsibilities to oversee it, but Bob Justman was in charge. He had come from the original series, so he had a certain philosophy, very musically literate, where he saw the music as being a real exciting part of the show, and he’d always come to the dub and bring up the levels and that kind of thing."
The orchestra was a key part of that, too.
"I kept trying to find [in] every show an envelope for the orchestra to speak. When I’d look at the videotape of the episode they’d give me for the show, and I’d read the script, I’d say, “Aha! This is going to have a lot of Klingon bridge sound effects, and this is going to have that,” and I’d even call the sound effects people and ask what kind of equalization band, how many hertz is that room going to be in, because we kept getting destroyed by air conditioner sounds.

When they dub a Star Trek, there are 128 channels, which is unbelievable. Eight tracks to maybe 16—they expanded it because they kept wanting to get more greasy control over it—is music, the rest is dialogue, and sound effects, and there’s like 16 channels of bridge sounds, and air conditioner sounds for the turbolift…. They’d go in and it’s a different sound, going on a loop, and that thing is just cranking, and those frequencies…you add a splash cymbal to an orchestra and all of a sudden the orchestra just changes color."
To boldly go where no orchestra went before....

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