BBC America’s increasingly popular sci-fi show Orphan Black is back with season two and already, audiences are being swept away into the whirlwind of mystery and action as our beloved clones continue in their quest for self-discovery.
As with any show I watch, it’s always the accompanying music score that continues to intrigue me and again, the beautiful soundtrack of Orphan Black has not failed in winning me over.
I was very fortunate to get in touch with the Orphan Black music composer Trevor Yuile and ask him about his work on the show:
For those who don’t know about you, introduce yourself!
Well, what can one say. I went to school as a jazz performance major on Trumpet, later studied with Jazz great Jimmy Bruno on guitar. I started in the business doing ads at a jingle house and as a session musician, which I did for about ten years or so. Eventually, I worked my way into long format television and film.
How did you get the role to compose the music for Orphan Black? How did you feel about joining the show?
The Orphan Black producers and the production company (Temple Street) had put me on a short list of composers to interview for the show. I remember sitting down with John Fawcett and Graeme Manson the first time. They went through the concept of the show – and from that moment I knew that I wanted this gig. It was such a unique show and John and Graeme just seemed like the right fit. After that meeting, they sent a couple of scenes to spec write for – which I think they sent to a few composers – I was lucky enough that they called me back. We were off and running…
How do you connect to each clone and subsequently, compose a theme or music score that fits their character? Tell us about the creative process or energy that goes into getting it right.
To answer the first part – it was always part of my plan to help separate the personalities of the clones with particular sounds for each character. The way that works is not in any sort of melodic theme per character – rather, I try to look at it as a texture, palette, or vocabulary for each. And the reason for that is, that way, at least in my mind, if characters cross paths, I wouldn’t be handcuffed to a harmonic tonality, or stuck crossing melodic motifs – I would only have to change the texture or the palette.
(On the creative process) Well, the Orphan Black schedule is pretty intense. We do a 7-9 day turn around which will include a spotting, the writing, a presentation to the producers, any changes, and packaging for the sound stage. So it’s at a break neck pace. After I get all my procrastination out of the way, I sit down and start writing. Coming from a jazz background, I like to do a lot of improv as I’m writing, and kinda just let things go. That way I can just react to what’s going on, rather than trying to pre-score everything out in my head beforehand. Although, there are some larger cues that I have put a lot of thought into before I sat down.
What is your favourite piece of music from the show and why?
Hmmm… I have a few that are favourites. The time we see Helena in the bathroom sewing up her wounds in episode 4 of the first season I’m quite fond of… the abstractness of it all… also, the finale sequence in episode 10 as well. It just has this gut wrenching plod to it…it just keeps building and building, not letting you go… it’s so painful and haunting. My other two favourites are in the next season so, I’ll have to get back to you on those!
It would be criminal to go without getting a few words from you about Helena’s theme! How did you create this piece of music? Once again, could you let us into the creative process behind it?
Helena’s theme was born from two ideas I had. The first thing that I had experimented with was taking a few little choir sequences (monophonic) I wrote and slowing them down… not just a little but a lot. I took a 30 second sequence and slowed it down to 2 hours long without changing the original pitch. On top of that, I knew I wanted to approach it like a John Cage piano piece. Those two were the foundation of Helena. and it was good, but it was missing something. It was creepy and angular, dissonant, but wasn’t frightening enough to me. So I have these custom made musical instruments that make really weird sounds…kinda like circuit bent toys. I was playing around with them to try and fit them in, left one running and got up to make a cup of tea. When I came back, I had no idea it was still running. So I pressed record to start working with it, and as soon as I did that was the sound that happened to come out. At that point…the theme was born.
Do you feel that the music score of a TV show can often go unnoticed and uncredited, leaving the music composer marginalized and exempt from the show’s success?
I think it was Henry Mancini’s book – Did They Mention The Music? – that comes to note on your question. I have to be honest, I think music for film and TV works best when it isn’t really noticed at all, but just felt. With that said, the response of the fans of the show to the music has been quite unexpected. I’ve had a few shows that people have responded too, at first I thought oh-oh…I’ve drawn too much attention to myself with the score, but as more projects have passed I think people have just reacted to my style of writing. I’ve always tried to sound different and do stuff that is bold, and brazen and to have a show come along like Orphan Black where the producers are always encouraging me to go for it, and take big risks is a dream come true – not many projects come along for composers where you get that kind of support to experiment. Sometimes it works like a charm – sometimes, not so much! But in the end, the fans have been fantastic, so kind and so inspiring. They make me push myself and give them (and us) something to be excited about musically.
You’re working on Orphan Black today, but if you received a call to work on another current TV show and compose music for them, who would you want it to be?
I loved Six Feet Under, even though it’s long gone now. I loved the tone of that show! It was shot beautifully and written exquisitely. I love dark humor, so if I could go back in time, it would be Six Feet Under. Although, I could NEVER outdo Thomas Newman’s theme. That is THE best theme to a series that I have ever heard.
Season 2 of Orphan Black is now in full swing. To finish off our chat, I’d like you to use 5 words to describe what we can expect to hear?
Intense, funny, frightening, sexy, and over-whelmingly painful..
A massive thank you to Trevor for finding some time to answer my questions while working on episode nine of the current season. I am sure we are in a for a treat in terms of the show and its music score.
Without a doubt, what’s especially beautiful about Trevor’s soundtrack for Orphan Black is its ability to blend with the independent feel of the show and manifest as an always enchanting, often frightening but continuously other-worldly sound. Of course, this is exactly the kind of music score required for a show in which modern science has crossed moral boundaries in producing genetic clones unable to find their origins and forever attempting to make sense of their world and life.
Trevor fittingly creates a music score that compliments the show’s ethos, adding another layer of intrigue and mystery that other shows perhaps fail to encapsulate. Only the best shows can really dig this deep, so we’ve found a gem in Trevor I’d say!
Fellow fans of Orphan Black, you can follow Trevor on Twitter [@TrevorYuile] and listen to some of the music (used and unused!) on the show here: https://soundcloud.com/trevyuile.