Well, I managed to snag myself a copy of the massive, fifteen disc Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection. Oh, geek bliss. I’m telling you there was some astonishingly great music created for that series. This was back in a time when series often used the services of one or more composers who would score several episodes early in a season, and then these cues would be reworked and reused in subsequent episodes. Many people today might object to this, arguing that a series should have a distinct soundtrack by a single composer, with each episode fully scored. Okay, that’s fine, but I know I’m not the only Star Trek fan with very fond memories of the familiar music (and I don’t just mean the famous theme by Alexander Courage). I have to say that hearing these cues even now can have a profoundly emotional effect on me, as I associate them with particular favorite scenes and episodes. That many cues were repeated simply served as a unifying element.
The series evolved over its three year run (two years short of the famous “five-year mission”), and it’s only natural that the music did as well. The first season was largely written by an interesting mix of genre science fiction authors and “golden age” television writers with a substantial background in westerns. There was a very “classic sci fi” tone to this. And, surprisingly, a much greater ensemble feel than the series would end with. The music reflects this tone, featuring several eerie, very science-fictiony scores by Courage. Also heavily involved is Fred Steiner, the series most frequent composer, whose work tends to be somewhat more visceral than Courage’s, yet with distinct, odd structures. Steiner had a greater tendency than most of the other composers to rework themes in different episodes. Key among his contributions is the “Romulan Theme,” familiar to any Star Trek fan as an indicator of menace.
By the second season, the series had found its legs, and there was a greater emphasis on action and adventure. And, intriguingly, comedy, with three episodes being straight comedy stories, and a forth that starts as a horrific, tension-filled tale of alien invasion but strangely morphs into outright farce. Again, the music is suited to the tone of the episodes. A key player here is Gerald Fried, who offers several scores full of brassy themes that are heard again and again in moments of action and excitement (and are quite similar to the scoring he did for studio-mate series Mission: Impossible). But his two greatest contributions have to be from “Amok Time”: his brooding theme for Mr. Spock, and the legendary combat music that is surely the second most well-known theme in the series’ history. Another important score comes from Sol Kaplan (one of only two he did for the series). His nearly Wagnerian music for “The Doomsday Machine” offers what is probably the single most thrilling score of the entire series. Fitting for what may well be the best episode in the history of Star Trek, and one of the greatest hours of television of all time.
The third season is widely considered the series’ weakest, largely a result of a changed production staff and cut budget. And there are some pretty poor episodes to be found here. But also we find some of the series’ most profound, philosophical outings. Largely gone is the comedy, and again the music reflects this, with many episodes having an almost mystical sound. Courage returns to provide his signature eeriness. Steiner rises to the occasion as well. Although he has fewer offerings than in previous seasons, what he has is exemplary, most notably his score for the much-maligned “Spock’s Brain.” Although the episode itself leaves much to be desired, the music is some of the most haunting and evocative of the series and forms much of the music backbone of the entire season. But the real star of the third season is George Duning, whose lush, romantic scores, with their emphasis on strings and an electronic organ, stand in sharp contrast to the work of the others, who tended to favor low horns and percussion. Duning’s work nevertheless perfectly matches the somber tone with a distinct lyrical quality. A wide range of styles to be sure, yet they complement each other, especially when woven together by a master music editor. All in all, music to be proud of.
To be honest, as I continue to try not to give up on my own writing, I can’t help thinking that, if my book were to be made into a movie, I would ask that the composer carefully study this music, and be influenced by it, especially the work of Steiner, Duning and Kaplan. Not that I would have any say, of course, but I can dream.
Meanwhile the other development has been that I inherited my wife’s old smart phone. Yes, I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Naturally one of the first things I did was sit down to create some more interesting ringtones. And right in front of me I had a repository of sound clips that could not be ignored. So my phone resonates with the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise. And, sharing being in my nature, I want to allow others to enjoy these sounds as well. So here they are, in a single, handy zip file. NOTE: This is a different filehost than I used before; hopefully it’s safe.
Star Trek fans will find many familiar and, I hope, enjoyable clips here. There are some familiar themes not heard here, because my goal was effective ringtones. And the file names are taken directly from the actual names of the cues as they were indexed during series production. Some of the names are a bit…odd. Don’t blame me. All the clips are edited very short; I don’t care for making an entire song into a ringtone. Some clips are more suited to alarms and alerts, others work better as actual rings. Most have been edited to have pleasing beginnings and ending, but there are a couple that are specifically cut to be able to play in an endless (and probably very annoying) loop. So it goes. Please enjoy, and pass along. May your phone live long and…well, you know.