The Sound of Star Trek Part 5: Star Trek: Discovery


Gone are the tonally vapid scores yesteryear: in their place a consistently strong series of themes and melodies to introduce us to the U.S.S. Discovery.

When the trailer dropped for Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season towards the end of 2017, it featured a cover of “I’d Love To Change the World”, originally a Top 40 hit for ’70s rock group Ten Years After. Part of me liked the melancholy feel it brought to the teaser, part of me wondered if they’d go down the Russell Watson route again. They didn’t: it remained exclusively within the confines of the marketing push and the production team adopted a traditional main theme and score for the series proper.

Enter, then, Jeff Russo, a name new to the franchise. Born the year The Original Series finished its first run, he has been scoring for screens big and small since 2014, including the Fargo series, American Gothic and Mile 22. He founded the groups Tonic and Low Stars and his rock roots and compositions for varying genres have allowed Discovery to receive a fresh new sound while retaining the sweeping aural vistas more in common with Star Trek‘s movie output.

The score for Star Trek: Discovery‘s Season 1 was commercially released on CD over two separate volumes (‘Chapter 1’ in February and ‘Chapter 2’ in June 2018), with a double vinyl encompassing both chapters in August the same year. The vinyl features less tracks than the CDs but the beautiful packaging of the former more than makes up for the shortfall in music.

‘Chapter 1′ is a great introduction to the series’ music, primarily featuring much of the first few set of episodes and culminating with Burnham’s mutiny. Russo makes good use of brass, strings and percussion, using the latter economically and not, as one would think, for the brutality of the Klingons. Instead, a repeating five-note motif signifies T’Kuvma’s prescence and that of his cohorts.

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Thematically, there is little that links the entire score together but the Discovery main title is occasionally repeated, in places quite subtly, which does give a sense of identity. The track ‘The Day Is Saved’ is particularly impressive in its slower reworking of the theme. The main title itself is featured twice: first as the TV version and second, placed as the final track to the first volume, in extended form (or what would have been known as the ‘single version’ in times gone by).

Alexander Courage’s Original Series fanfare makes a welcome appearance, fully cementing Discovery into Star Trek lore. However, the solo brass feels as if it has come straight out of a synthesizer – a sound that irked me from the moment I heard it on the trailers. Repeated listening here still gives me the same impression and so I’m still at a loss to work out if it is synthesized or born from real instruments. Nevertheless, its warming to hear it used (and surprisingly often). If anything, it tells me that Discovery is far from wanting to distance itself from its parent and with on-screen mentions and/or appearances of starships Defiant and Enterprise, Mudd, Pike and the Mirror Universe, it’s blindingly obvious even to the most sceptical fan that the series here to stay whether they like it or not.

Jeff Russo has composed an arching, emotional sound for the series and he doesn’t let up for ‘Chapter 2’.

Comprising the latter set of episodes for Season 1 (in the main the Lorca reveal and the repercussions thereof), the music takes a darker, more dramatic turn, as if a Klingon War wasn’t suspenseful enough.

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We have more of a soundscape feel this time around, lots of brooding synthesizers and woodwind. It’s a hugely emotive backdrop to events and we can’t help but be dragged into it. We know we are in for a rollercoaster ride from track 1, ‘Burnham Takes Over’, which thumps its way into our ears and doesn’t really let up until we’re suddenly presented with a stunning aria five tracks later, representing Kasseelian opera and serving as a love theme for Stamets and Culber. It’s a style of music that has never been used before in any of Star Trek‘s various facets and it’s a beautiful piece of work. Then we’re back into the brooding score that utilizes taught strings that wouldn’t be out of place in James Horner’s Ceti Alpha V themes.

Russo takes his music for Discovery to a very natural conclusion and we are rewarded with lighter, happier motifs once he has finished scoring for Lorca. We all know the coda to Season 1 by now and with the gentle ‘I’ve Never Been To Vulcan’, it’s clear where the music is headed. An ‘Incoming Transmission’ ends with a triumphant exposure of Courage’s fanfare and then we get a perfect version of his full theme for The Original Series for the end titles…

…which feels bizarrely incongruous. To have fifteen episodes of dark, complex story-telling,  a modern interpretation of Gene Roddenberry’s future-perfecting vision, book-ended with such a familiar and upbeat theme, even with an arrangement as faithful as what we get here, really feels out of place.

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Still, we have a whole new set of adventures coming in a matter of hours with the launch of Season 2, with characters very familiar and situations not so much, so it will be interesting to discover (no pun intended) if Russo takes his exemplary score for Season 1 and develops and matures his motifs going forward. I certainly hope so.

Next time: Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: Insurrection