Spectrum Artistic Producer Chelsea McBride talks about her new piece premiering on Feb 7th at Starry Night
A musical depiction of Dr. Poole’s final moments in 2001: A Space Odyssey
SPOILER ALERT: This post gives away parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as some stuff from later in the Space Odyssey books. Read ahead at your own risk – or actually, read ahead anyways, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
When I started writing, I had just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is an amazing film, and if you’re still reading and haven’t seen it, stop now and watch it (then come back). So when I sat down to try and solidify an idea, this scene from 2001 was the first idea to pop into my head:
Dr. Poole & mission commander Dr. Bowman have agreed to go along with HAL’s plan to go on a spacewalk to reinstall a malfunctioning piece of equipment to let it fail. What Dr. Poole doesn’t realize is that HAL is going to use the EVA (the pod robot in the clip above) to murder him while he does the repair.
My piece starts with the ensemble playing a whimsical theme: Dr. Poole setting off purposefully to fix the piece, accompanied by pizzicato strings & bright, warm brass sounds. Everything is major & happy-sounding until he sees the EVA pod coming directly for him, when the ensemble’s happy theme speeds up urgently, until–extended violin tremolo–impact!
Dr. Poole is sent flying into space, and the ensemble improvises with short sounds as he grabs frantically for anything to stop him. This builds from one person on a scary-sounding theme, to loud, crunchy brass chords, then finally, short, fast flurries of notes from everyone, all conveying a sense of Dr. Poole’s growing panic at his imminent death.
But at the end of this little disaster, he finds himself still conscious, and in the grasp of Dr. Bowman’s EVA pod, on the way back to the ship. Things are hopeful. I expressed this with a soaring trumpet melody, warm pads from the ensemble, dense harmonies. It’s wistful, but uplifting at the same time, and it stays that way until Dr. Bowman is forced to abandon Dr. Poole’s body.
Now that Dr. Poole is truly alone and floating in space, the piece narrates his emotions. First, a reprise of our diminished theme led by the violin and crunchy, insistent brass chords, as he panics at being abandoned. Then, as panic gives way to loneliness, we hear our ballad theme come back, and the entire ensemble moves smoothly from a loud written section to a crushingly lonely improvisation. Lastly, we move from loneliness into hope and wonder, at the things he’ll later see in outer space. This starts with dense chords, the high violin leading the movement of the harmony, and continues into a full reprise of our original whimsical theme, now slower and more thoughtful but still uplifting, wondrous, and hopeful.
Dr. Poole then turns to find himself staring at (and orbiting) Saturn, and from here to the end the piece is in the key of D, because that’s actually the key of Saturn’s orbit (see diagram below). I borrow (steal) a triumphant orchestral theme from 2001, led by herald trumpets & tremolo strings, as he sees the planet up close, and a pensive but hopeful theme from Interstellar to mark his contentment as he finally passes away.
This section features the whole ensemble building up together, but ends on a sweet, soft violin harmonic, far too small to fill the sonic space of the room, signifying our own tiny existences when compared with the life and expanse of the universe, yet bright and optimistic hoping to convey a sense that our existence is still meaningful.
Special thanks are due to my dear friend Nicholas Sieber, who searched through his entire library of music to send me some great science fiction cues from Star Trek, Stargate & Battlestar Galactica, some of which I later stole for this piece. So also, thanks to the composers of these shows, and 2001, and Interstellar, and whoever else I stole things from for this piece. (Good composers borrow, etc…)
Speaking of spoilers, have you read Ben’s post about his piece yet? Check that out here.
Grab your tickets to Starry Night, Feb 7th!