The first season of Black Sails has come to a close and I admit I’ve fallen behind on my weekly blogs keeping up with the twists and turns, both narrative and musical. Here are my final three video blogs for the season, presented in a single blog entry.
First up, “Singers of Sails” introduces our pirate choir bellowing out a rowdy rendition of the theme in the Opening Title sequence. The group is comprised of myself, Brendon Small (creator / star of Metalocalypse and the band Dethklok), Brendan McCreary (Young Beautiful in a Hurry, singer / songwriter of BSG & Defiance) and Doug Lacy (who has played with McCartney, Billy Joel, Oingo Boingo and countless others).
I also discuss why I brought Doug in to record various sea shanties, including the infectiously catchy “The Golden Vanity,” the track that closes out the soundtrack album. (I’ve seen “The Golden Vanity” pop up on a few reviews of the record as a stand-out track, which makes me happy I included it. I think the song is the perfect dessert after you’ve listened to the album from the beginning.) (more…)
When looking for the musical soul of a new project, I frequently turn to unusual instruments. When you listen to Black Sails, one of the sounds that forms the foundation of the score is actually an instrument we are all familiar with: an upright piano. Along with my engineer Steve Kaplan and piano tech Doug Lacy, I put this piano through the paces, as you will see in my fifth Black Sails video blog:
This particular upright has a long history of music making. It once belonged to acclaimed composer Miriam Cutler, where it had been in her family for three generations, before she bestowed to it to Doug, who eventually brought it into my studio. “I wrote almost every song I ever wrote on that piano and lugged it around for 30 years until I finally had to accept it just couldn’t be played anymore and had to make space for one that could,” Miriam said. “Now my piano is a TV star! Thanks Bear for finding it’s hidden talents! What’s next for it’s career?! Should it get an agent?”
Miriam’s piano certainly is a star. The sound is powerful and piercing, and the perfect complement to the wailing hurdy gurdy, bouncing bodhrán and clacking bones. The piano is featured prominently on the Main Title, as well as throughout the score this season, most notably in this week’s new episode, “V.” (more…)
If you’ve been reading my Black Sails blogs, you’ve heard a lot about the hurdy gurdy. So what, exactly, is this weird instrument and how does it work? Check out my fourth Black Sails video blog and get to know the most important instrument in the score:
I never imagined that the hurdy gurdy would become an essential sound for any score, and I had fun exploring the various sounds the instrument can create. There were drawbacks, however, to relying so heavily on the hurdy gurdy. The instrument is finicky, cranky and sensitive to atmosphere and temperature changes. Los Angeles fell under a heat wave while I was scoring “IV.” and my poor instrument, which had been designed and built in the cold reaches of Northern Europe, had never been exposed to such conditions. The wood swelled in the heat and none of the keys would budge! (more…)
The third episode of Black Sails has aired, and so I’ve posted my third video blog! This one introduces Ira Ingber (guitars, slide guitar), Paul Cartwright (fiddle, mandolin) and Ed Trybek (ethnic guitars), or as I like to call them, The Trio:
Episode III introduces a new character, Mrs. Barlow. To underscore her scenes, and the narrative thread she will come to represent, I composed the Barlow Theme: (more…)
The second episode of Black Sails has aired, and I’ve released my second video blog! Allow me to introduce Bruce Carver and Brad Dutz, the percussion duo who bring the sublimely clackity rhythmic intensity to my score, playing Bodhrán & Bones:
Percussion tends to be a defining sound for all my scores. But, this particular combination for Black Sails was a creative risk for me. Going into the first episode, I really had no idea whether it would work at all. I normally have the security blanket of very meticulously notated percussion parts. Here, I went into the first sessions with only basic grooves and a few specific beats. I had to put an immense amount of trust in Brad and Bruce both as musicians and as storytellers. As I suspected, my faith paid off: they immediately brought a signature sound to the series and elevated my music at the same time. (more…)
Today, Sparks & Shadows has released my soundtrack for Black Sails, the ambitious new pirate drama from Starz and Michael Bay that premiered last weekend. To celebrate the release, I have posted my first in a series of eight video blogs chronicling my voyage on this unusual series. This week’s vlog, “The Sound of Sails,” offers a glimpse of the unorthodox recording sessions that led to this unique sound:
Ever since Battlestar Galactica, my writing has become more and more structured, culminating in the first season of Da Vinci’s Demons which was, in essence, a five-hour symphony woven around a meticulously constructed musical palindrome. That style of classical composition would have utterly destroyed the gritty realism that the producers strove for in Black Sails. I needed to revert back to a primal creative state: my goal was to create music that sounds improvised by an exhausted crew aboard a ship navigating choppy waters. I wanted the audience to sense dirt beneath fingernails plucking jangly mandolin strings, to feel urgent strains of a hurdy gurdy crank, and to smell stale air wheezing out of old accordion bellows. To achieve this, I had to rethink my entire creative process and unlearn the results of a lifetime of classical music study. (more…)
Entertainment Weekly just broke the news that I am the composer for ABC’s highly-anticipated series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” for Writer / Director / Executive Producer Joss Whedon.
Readers of my blog know that superhero stories and their scores have had a tremendous impact on my life ever since I was a kid. I grew up with “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Superman,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Spiderman” and “X-Men.” In my daydreams, their adventures rumbled with bombastic and soaring orchestral melodies. I always wanted to write music of my own for this genre.
Now, I have the opportunity to contribute original music to the ever-expanding Marvel universe? And I have a full symphonic orchestra at my disposal every week to do it? And I get to work with the visionary Joss Whedon and his remarkable creative team? Well, suddenly I’m worried that my entire life might actually be a dream, that I might suddenly wake up back in third grade, having dozed off while reading “X-Men.” If this life is a dream, I’m going to love every minute of it until I wake up.
I am very excited to share my theme and score with you guys for this groundbreaking series. Keep checking back here at my blog for more in the coming weeks and months. And actually, your first chance to hear some new ‘McCreary’ tunes is right around the corner, because San Diego Comic Con is upon us once again! Many of my current projects will be represented there, including “The Walking Dead,” “Europa Report,” “Defiance,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Holliston,” “Black Sails” and yes, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (more…)