Picard Of The Pops: Jeff Russo - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Picard Of The Pops: Jeff Russo

Chris Morley returns to Star Fleet. Musically speaking that is.

Just as Jean-Luc has returned in a new Star Trek series, it's time now for us to return to what was a one time regular feature here at WarpedFactor, Picard Of The Pops looking back at the work of the many composers who have contributed their talents to the world of Trek and its many iterations.

The man behind the music for the recent Star Trek offerings of both Picard and Discovery is Jeff Russo.

Russo is one of the two founding members of American rock band Tonic, and a founding member of acoustic rock band Low Stars. His work on the big and small screens has been heard in Legion, The Umbrella Academy, Lucy in the Sky, Mile 22, CSI-Cyber and Fargo (which won him the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special for the episode "Aporia").

An impressive resume, I'm sure you'll agree, but being drafted into Star Fleet, in a sense, and an offer to score Discovery was the dream job for Russo.
“Imagine growing up loving baseball, and then all of a sudden you are on the Yankees.

You know what I mean? It really is like that, it really has that feeling like, “Oh, my God.” It almost feels and felt and continues to feel unreal, to me.

And, yeah, so the day I found out, I literally lost my mind. I got that phone call, like, “Yeah, they want you to do Star Trek.”
But they're a funny things, prequels. As we've seen with the likes of Star Wars, they're often seen as treading on sacred ground, or doodling a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Star Trek: Discovery has, so far, split opinion.

Has the attempt to tell the story of Starfleet as it was ten years prior to the original series, at least throughout seasons 1 & 2, been a gross act of insubordination against Captain Kirk, or an entry in the catalogue which earnt its place by proving itself equally as valid as what, say, Smallville attempted to do for Superman?

Time will tell, bu if you stayed until the end of Discovery's first season, you'll have heard a lovely nod to Alexander Courage's original series theme. It's used over the end credits of Will You Take My Hand...

Russo had actually sown the seed of his polishing up of Sandy's original handiwork in the Kaseelian opera of but a few episodes prior to the big finale whilst working with singer Ayana Haviv. At the time, Haviv was aping Loulie Jean Norman - the voice behind the original “oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo”. Speaking to IndieWire, he said,
“As she was in the studio…I just jotted down the notes. So I gave it to her, she started singing, and I recorded it on my iPhone and sent it to Alex Kurtzman. I said, ‘Isn’t this cool?!’ and he texted me back and said, ‘This is awesome! We should do this for the end credits for our finale!'” 
Operatic warbling in itself has a part to play in Klingon culture, of course! But far from treating them simply as aliens, Russo went where no composer has gone before & tried to humanise them in as far as that's even possible...
“[With the Klingons] I’m trying to score from the perspective that these are real beings and they have their relationships and their feelings. It’s just as relevant to them as it is to the feelings that our bridge crew has.

I didn’t want to play it like they were the Bad Guys and ‘Here’s the Bad Guy Theme.’ But how do they relate to themselves.

Trying to thread that in has been a very small needle to thread. They do represent the nemesis of the bridge crew, and yet I still feel like I had to give them an emotional beat as well.”

A beat which picked up considerably once Ash Tyler's true self was revealed, a secret hidden in plain sight right up until the moment he tried to kill Michael Burnham, with whom he'd previously sort of flirted. Proof if any were needed that even in the furthest reaches of space love can be all too complicated! A fact Jeff wasn't shy in reinforcing through his music for T'Kuvma's heir, who would give his own flesh & blood body to reunite his race's once great empire.
“There was something to be said about, for lack of a better way to put it, giving the Klingons some humanity. I think that was the idea behind treating their themes and their music. Especially with Ash/Voq.

There was a human and a Klingon together in the same body. So to give that some true emotion, I had to treat it with a humane sense from the score.”

In a sense what Russo did on screen had a place in music theory, more specifically the idea of common tone. Put simply it means that every chord he used shared a single common note, with one simple question at the forefront of his mind. Namely...
“How could I fashion that and then write a melody on top of it? The idea of a commonality in people and species — I wanted to apply it to the music.” 
A chat with the producers was the impetus, a shared vision that took in...
“...the idea of ‘Star Trek,’ which is exploration and harmony and discord between people and species. Yes, people fight, but the overall theme is that we’re all one. What could I do to embody that in music?”
The emphasis definitively on the I, as he made a little piece of history in being appointed sole music maestro on the series, something which had never happened on any Star Trek series that went before.

That said, Russo did have cause for further study of the next chapter in the cold war of sorts between the Federation & their Klingon foes with the appearance of a younger Harry Mudd in Choose Your Pain & Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad. Russo listened to Fred Steiner's score for Mudd's Women & its sequel I, Mudd as handled by Samuel Matlovsky before shaping his own contribution to Harcourt's misadventures.
“It was a lot of fun to go back to those Original Series scores and listen to the music. It’s interesting to hear just how over-the-top some of that score is, with a bit of camp sprinkled into the music, and how they played with that emotional content. “
By way of an overall creative decision, though, he came to the conclusion that what had gone before just didn't really fit with what was planned for when Rainn Wilson's younger & besotted with Stella version of him took over from Roger C Carmel's original who had by then grown tired of her nagging!
“None of what had been written or recorded for that original character was going to work in our context, because the Mudd character is being portrayed in such different a different way; it just didn’t really make much sense. “
Something that had gone before was the original series fanfare opening which Russo rifts on towards the end of both themes for Discovery and Picard...

Boldly going in a new directions, whilst still honouring what had gone before.

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