Alexander Courage, Dennis McCarthy, & Don Davis, three sci-fi tv  composers on July 15, 1999

Moderator: Hi everyone -- thanks for joining us tonight. We're going to be chatting with three of science fiction entertainment's top composers: Alexander Courage, Dennis McCarthy and Don Davis. Alexander Courage's original Star Trek album and Dennis McCarthy's Deep Space Nine, Next generation and feature Star Trek Generations album are available at You can also hear tracks at the label's website

Moderator: Alexander Courage was principal composer on the original Star Trek theme and an orchestrator for Jurassic Park, Mulan and the two most recent Star Trek films. Dennis McCarthy was the composer for Sliders, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. And Don Davis was the composer for The Matrix and Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as an orchestrator for Lost In Space, Pleasantville and Titanic.

Moderator: Brief word about the drill -- this is a moderated chat and that means that you will be sending your questions for our guests to me, Moderator, as private message -- and I will release them to our guests.

Moderator: And right now as I'm sure yyou've noticed, there's only ONE guest -- Don Davis...

Moderator: BUT -- Aldexander Courage just logged on...

Moderator: so...

Moderator: let me give him voice...

Moderator: Can you type Mr Courage???

AlexanderCourage: Hello, can you hear me?

Moderator: Yes!!!

Don: Dum de dum.... yes!

Moderator: Okay, first question:

Moderator: <BWillNCC1701E>Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds in score composing? How long have you been composing for TV and/or movies?

Moderator: Do? You want to start?

Don: I've been doing it 20 years now. I started working in 1979 in the Incredible Hulk as Joe Harnell's orchestrator.

AlexanderCourage: I started in radio! That makes it 53 years that I've been doing this.

Don: Jesus Christ!

Moderator: (Psst -- guests -- lemme know when you're finished answering a question by typing GA or Next or something...)

Don: GA

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: <BWillNCC1701E>: Which leads to the obvious question then.... which score you have composed is your personal favorite, and why?

Don: Well, the Matrix because it's the best movie I ever worked on.

AlexanderCourage: Strictly composition, or can it be anything else?

Don: It was fun. Wachowski brothers are a blast to work with.

Don: ga

Moderator: It can be anything at all, Mr Courage.

AlexanderCourage: I was at MGM as an arranger, orchestrator, sometimes composer, in the last 10 years of the great musics...

AlexanderCourage: Working with Fred Astaire was as nice a thing as I can imagine.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: I'll bet!

Moderator: <smaug>: Many successful film composers have also written │absolute▓ music (Mancinni, Q. Jones, W.R. Bennett). Have any of our guests written/recorded any music intended for the concert hall?

Don: Yes. In fact I'm going to France in Sept to hear a performance of my violin and piano piece called "Afterimages".

AlexanderCourage: Well, you mean as a composer or as an arranger? I have an album out w/the Boston Pops of an large arrangement I did of Porgie & Bess for violin and symphony orchestra.

Don: It was commissioned by Elizabeth Baker, a violinist in the LA Philharmonic. She's an astonishing player. She and Gloria Chang premiered it

Don: last year at the Geddy Museum.. That Gloria Cheng.

Don: ga

AlexanderCourage: ga

Don: I have a question for Alexander Courage.

AlexanderCourage: yes?

Moderator: Go ahead, Don!

Don: At MGM, did you work with Andre Previn or Herbert Stothart?

AlexanderCourage: Stothart was dying when I first arrived in 1948, but I met Andre immeidately after that and I worked with him on a great many things at MGM...

AlexanderCourage: We are still friends after 50+ years--I talked to him today and will see him at the end of this month, and I will be working with him again, actually.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: Just a note -- we've been joined by Dennis McCarthy!

Moderator: <smaug>: Through the medium of television and cinema your music reaches a much wider audience than typically fills the concert halls. Do any of you feel that it is incumbent upon you to educate or expand the musical horizons of the movie-going, T.V. watching masses?

Don: that was an incredibly rich period in film music history. It must have been an amazing experience to be in the middle of it.

Don: ga

Don: I don't feel that I'm on any kind of mission of enlightenment.

AlexanderCourage: Absolutely not. I don't think that's our job, I think our job is to write as good a score as we can for whatever we're working with and leave it at that.

Don: But I always try to make my work as informed as possible. Unfortunately,

Moderator: Dennis??/

AlexanderCourage: I don't think we can upgrade the musical mentality of the masses out there, frankly.

Don: Those plans often go by the wayside when keeping the considerations of the project in mind.

DennisMcCarthy: Wow! It's almost more a question of getting the producers to allow the freedom to "try" to educate the public. The parameters can be abit lmiting

Don: That's right. The freedom is often not there in spite of our best intentions.

AlexanderCourage: I've never met Dennis, but I've always wanted to tell you how excellent your work on the original Star Trek series was. It was really very well done.

Moderator: Let me know when you're ready for the next question!

Don: I have met Dennis and I especially appreciate the car he drives.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: That's an incredible compliment. My goal has always been to use your theme as much as possible! And Don... Matrix was incredible!

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: Yeah, but what about his CAR?

Moderator: <Frankus> Who get to orchestrate a composer's peice for a film or TV show and does the composer have any say??

Don: Wow! Thanks!

Don: I think you're handsome.

Don: ga

Don: All the situations I've been in it's always been the composer's choice.

Don: ga

AlexanderCourage: Very definitely the composer has all the say, as far as I'm concerned. I've never used anyone they've told me to use, and everyone I've worked with as an orchestrator has decied that I would be the one, and that's it.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: Here's a question for Mr Courage specifically -

Moderator: <BWillNCC1701E>: - Mr. Courage, one of the most enjoyable scores I've heard from you is your work on "Superman IV", which is also regarded by some as one of the most underrated of scores. Can you tell us how you got involved in the production of the score?

AlexanderCourage: Yes, what kind of car does Dennis drive?

DennisMcCarthy: My feeling is that the composer always slects his own orchestrator. But in TV there is no budget for orchestration...You do it yourself

Moderator: Probably a VW bug.

DennisMcCarthy: A Suburban 660 HP

Moderator: They're the ultr-car!!!

AlexanderCourage: Taht's very simple. the first 3 Superman movies were by one set of producers, but 4 was picked up by another bunch, made on the cheap...

AlexanderCourage: so John Williams, my dear friend who I've worked with a great deal, asked me if I'd like to do the score based on his material. ...

AlexanderCourage: So we went to London and that was it. I used some new material of mine, and of his, and cranked out a score.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: <smaug>: I am frequently amused by screen representations of │futuristic▓ musical instruments. Are you brought in to consult/advise on the physical appearance of these instruments, or are you simply required to dub an appropriate sound over some weird thing that the prop guy found in his attic?

Moderator: Station identification: Our guests tonight are science fiction movie/TV composers Alexander (Star Trek theme) Courage, Dennis (Sliders music) McCarthy and Don Davis who did the music for the film The Matrix. If you have a question for our guests, please send it to me as a private message.

Moderator: Q

Moderator: (Forget that Q!)

AlexanderCourage: I'm amazed that anyone even knew that Superman IV even existed.

Don: One thing that's interesting about the 3 of us is that we all got started in TV or at least

DennisMcCarthy: Those futuristic insruments...Gosh I never see them until post-production...

Don: Alexander's first big exposure was in the TV series Star Trek and we

AlexanderCourage: First, I've worked a lot with Gerry Goldsmith, and I'm working with him right now. No one I've known has looked for more exotic sounds than him. ...

Don: all have the unique opportunity to make small orchestras sound like big orchestras

Don: I think that's an amazing way to build your orchestrator chops, and I've often lamented that young composer don't now

DennisMcCarthy: My first work was ENOS a spin-off of Dukes of Hazard

Don: have that forum to build their expertise.

Don: ga

AlexanderCourage: We joke when we hear a car crash, Gerry should use that in his picture. He would find all kinds of strange things, aside from electronics, to build a score around.

AlexanderCourage: ga

DennisMcCarthy: My country experience paid off

Moderator: I take it, Don, you're referring here to an orchestrating technique not an amplifier... How do you get a small number of instruments to sound like a large number, anyway???

DennisMcCarthy: That was the late 70's , before V

Moderator: Next question:

Don: Um, well you're working with mirrors. There are ways to group instruments so they're all sounding in their most advantageous region.

Moderator: At what point in the process of creating a TV episode or a movie do you begin to compose the music? Is it when you first see the script, or after some of the show or film has been shot?

Don: There are always ways to voice chords so that other notes not being played sound.

Don: ga

AlexanderCourage: All of those very large pictures back before 1970 that were done in the major studios were done by a 50 piece orchestra. 12 violins, 4 violas, 2 cellos and 2 basses. Everything was done with that orchestra, so it was made to sound like a full symphony without any gimmics.

Don: that depends on the project and how early or late the composer is brought into the process.

Don: Usually I will read a script before I know I've actually been hired on the project.

DennisMcCarthy: On Star Trek I don't ever see the scripts

DennisMcCarthy: The script just confuses me

Don: So I'm always thinking about music when I read the script but I don't put serious thought into it until I know I' m doing the project.

DennisMcCarthy: I wait until the episode is locked to picture.

Don: And that's usually after the show has been shot.

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: GA

AlexanderCourage: I have never worked from a script in my life. I have never worked from a partial anything. I've always worked, and I guess I'm lucky, from a finished product. Then the scoring begins.

Don: ga

Moderator: This one's for Dennis McCarthy from a Sliders fan:

Moderator: <slidecat>: Dennis: what was it like working on sliders? (well the beggining music at least) :-) have you been there through all 5 seasons?

AlexanderCourage: ga

DennisMcCarthy: No, I really enjoy Slideres, but I did two episodes only...Including the very first episode with a 55 piece orchestra. The rest were all done electronically and didn't interest me as much

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: <BWillNCC1701E>: (for all composers) Do you use some of the same familiar themes in all of your shows and movies? It's interesting to spot which cues of scores was used in previous movies and shows.

Don: I don't consciously try to repeat myself but we have to work very fast and have to rely on techniques that we know work.

AlexanderCourage: I would never think of doing such a thing. I think I would be cheating my employer.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Don: I'm a little retiscent to try new things because if I'm on the soundstage and it doesn't work I might find myself being a bit too idle very soon.

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: I really try NOT to do that. To keep things fresh. But sometimes you're hammer to the ground by temping. When a director or producer takes his film and starts loading it with existing material

DennisMcCarthy: When you're confronted with that, sometimes it's too late

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: So-ooo -- as a composer, then, the goal is NOT to have any kind of signature? Not even a suggestion of one? Interesting!

Moderator: <Frank> : So how many steps does a score go through from concept to what we hear on the screne

Don: That's not something easily answered generally.

DennisMcCarthy: I think a composer should have a style, but that's different than a signature

Don: In the last few years I've had to demo every cue I've written on a synthesizer for the director or producer.

Don: The demo process adds signifcant steps that didn't exist 20 years ago.

DennisMcCarthy: Goldsmith, Williams, etc have clear styles I would say

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: Good point.

Don: ga

AlexanderCourage: It's very simple, you look at the picture, you've possibly read the script, you discuss it with whoever is discussable....

DennisMcCarthy: Oh my god -- yo!

AlexanderCourage: it's different now, I haven't entered this age of computers so I don't know how it's done. I know that Gerry Goldsmith puts the score in a synthesizer, plays it, sees how it's going and then makes changes, and starts writing to the picture.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: <JamesKelly>: For all guests... what was the first instrument you learned to play?

Don: If I had my druthers, I'd just write it on paper like the old days. That hasn't been my luxury lately.

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: I feel spoiled by ST... I don't have to demo anything on that show...

Don: I was a trumpet player.

AlexanderCourage: The bugel. I must have been around 10 years old.

Don: Whoa, what was that?

Moderator: Dennis???

DennisMcCarthy: I learned the piano and violin in the beginning

Moderator: what types of music do you listen to? For relaxation?

AlexanderCourage: Smart

Don: Violin?

DennisMcCarthy: I was 4 at the time

Don: Dennis does *not* look like a violin player!

AlexanderCourage: Just about everything imaginable. Except Rock.

DennisMcCarthy: I didn't sound like one either... I sounded like Yanni with a headcold

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: He doesn't drive a violin player's car either, I'll bet!

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: Dennis? Don?

Don: ga

Moderator: Music you listen to ??

Moderator: Okay!

Moderator: <rosza>: Is the temptation to compose music that's as "out there" as the sci-fi images, or to go the other way and make them more familiar to offset the strangeness of the imaggery?

DennisMcCarthy: When I got half way through high school cars won over violin!

Don: Besides other people's film scores? I like contemporary classical music, actually.

Don: Good question.

DennisMcCarthy: With the images... I like to go as far out there as I can...then I reign myself in...

AlexanderCourage: I think you're going to have to pass me over on that question.

DennisMcCarthy: A reality check.

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Don: I usually go for the weird myself. The question of approach is usually solved by a long discussion with the director about the goals of the filmmaker and

Don: what approach will be reach those goals.

Don: ga

Moderator: when you watch a movie that you didn't do the score, do you notice the music first or the storyline?

DennisMcCarthy: I wish I didn't notice the music, I miss the storylines alot!

DennisMcCarthy: Romantic music never works for me because french horns are always flat

DennisMcCarthy: GA

AlexanderCourage: I think if I notice the music first the score would be wrong. In my understanding that's not what the score is supposed to be doing. the main title is one thing, but I'm not sure there are main titles anymore. It's a question of the same old thing--if you're not interested in the plot or the characters, the music is doing too much.

Don: I think we all become schizophrenic movie watchers, because I'm always trying to enjoy the movie while paying close

AlexanderCourage: ga

Don: attention to what the music's doing. We become manic-depressive filmgoers. If I hear a score that's terrible, I get depressed because it's bad,

Don: but if it's great, I get depressed because I didn't write it.

Moderator: Beethovwen didn't have problems like that!

Don: I always regret asking my wife for a taste of her dinner when we go out, for the same reason.

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: That's why I don't go to movies much!

Moderator: <smaug>: (typos corrected :) so much tv film music seems to make it's way into the H.S. Band literature (marching band, pep-band arrangements). Do you folks see any of the $ from the publishers of that music?

Don: I'm not sure that much of my music has found its way there yet.

Don: But the publishers of the film music -- the studios -- are the main beneficiaries of that.

AlexanderCourage: I would imagine that somebody must play my original Star Trek theme occasionally, but other than that I don't see anything listed in my breakdown sheets from the societies. BMI, etc.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: I'm not buying the MBZ yet from band royalties

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: Station identification: Our guests tonight are science fiction movie/TV composers Alexander (Star Trek theme) Courage, Dennis (Sliders music) McCarthy and Don Davis who did the music for the film The Matrix. If you have a question for our guests, please send it to me as a private message.

Moderator: <smaug>: Something that has always puzzled me: that │bossonova▓ (sp?) style accompaniment to the B section of the Original Startrek theme. Can I consider it to be a reflection of the popular music of the 60╣s or was there some deep emotional underpinning there that I missed?

Don: Star Trek actually took place in the Bahamas!

AlexanderCourage: *laughs* No, I sat down actually to write something that was based on something I remembered from my childhood in the 30s--a song by Richard Witing called 'Beyond the Blue Horizon'...

Don: I can picture Capt Kirk with a Jamaican accent...

DennisMcCarthy: It always makes me think of drinks with umbrellas

AlexanderCourage: It was a long tune originally sung by Jeanette McDonald in a movie, and it had this fast accompanyment. So I wanted to write a long, long tune that had a fast accompanyment. And that was it.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Don: I always admired that them because it starts on the interval of a minor 7th. the melody has an incredible inevitability.

Moderator: <FPrefect> to <Moderator>: Generally how much time are you given to compose a complete score when you're working on a movie? And how much time does it take?

Don: It always takes as much time as you're given.

Don: It seems like 6 weeks lately is becoming something of the norm, but it can vary from 2 to 10 weeks.

AlexanderCourage: Thank you Don.

DennisMcCarthy: On a televison show it varies. Dawsons Creek I have one day. Star Trek I have 7 to 10 days

Don: Composers like Randy Newman, who are well established, can negotiate for more time. Randy can get 10 weeks.

AlexanderCourage: I must pass on this because I haven't done any movies scores on my own as a composer for quite a while.

Don: We other composers have to accept the time limits imposed upon us.

Don: ga

DennisMcCarthy: Dawsons Creek is all head charts. Star Trek is a luxury by comparison. Wow 10 weeks! I'd take an 8 week vacation, then go to work!

Don: Dennis is probably the own composer in town who *can* write a full score in one day. i don't think there's a faster composer.

Don: And his one day scores sound like they took him two weeks.

DennisMcCarthy: Fear is my co-pilot!

Don: [laughter]

Don: ...

Moderator: Mr Courage -- JACOB30 MUST have an answer ... I'm afraid for his mental health otherwise... (Actually only teasing -- several people are asking this one!)

Moderator: <JACOB30>: my friend and I have not reciveve an answer about a release if the superman IV soundtrack info?? if there is any?

Don: I'd like to hear that myself.

AlexanderCourage: I doubt very very much that it will every be released. The picture didn't do very terribly well and I can't imagine that anything will come from it. It was just one of those things.... It was all material, with a few exceptions...

AlexanderCourage: that was released earlier with the other Superman work that John Williams did.

AlexanderCourage: ga

Moderator: <JamesKelly>: Which fellow film composers do you admire most?

Moderator: Besides each other, he means...

* Moderator smiles *

Moderator: And by the way --

Moderator: Alexander Courage's original Star Trek album and Dennis McCarthy's Deep Space Nine, Next generation and feature Star Trek Generations album are available at You can also hear tracks at the label's website.

AlexanderCourage: Alex North, a dear friend whom I worked with several times. I was working on The Agony & the Extacy at the same time I did the Star Trek pilot. ..

DennisMcCarthy: I'm a abig Goldsmith, Randy Newman, Thomas Newman fan

AlexanderCourage: Gerry and John Williams...

Don: Excluding present company, because Alex and Dennis are two of the very best, I really like Randy Newman's work.

Don: I think that now that Mancini has died, Randy is the best melody writer int he business.

AlexanderCourage: And now I must sign off, but I'm very flattered that you invited me to do this.

AlexanderCourage: Thank you very much, everyone.

Moderator: Thanks you, Mr Courage!

Don: It's obvious to say you're a fan of John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith. I also enjoy James Horner and Elliot Goldenthal.

Don: ga

Moderator: We very much enjoyed talking with you.

AlexanderCourage: Goodbye.

Don: Joel McNeely is an incredible composer, as is John Debney.

Moderator: New question --

Moderator: <Frank>: So where can one find out about breaking into the film scoring business, I am a theory comp. student at college and my professors can'nt help me

Don: and William Roth.

Moderator: And that's our second to the last because we're drawing towards the hour's close...

DennisMcCarthy: I forgot Alex North! I loved him!

Don: William Ross.

DennisMcCarthy: I'd say the BMI and ASCAP workshops are the place to start. They're direct and to the point

Don: Regarding getting in the busines, if I knew the answer to that, I'd have broken in sooner than I did. The business has changed so

Don: much that my advice might not apply. I think you should make yourself available to other composers to work on their synth scores as programmers

Don: or whatnot.

DennisMcCarthy: Yeah, I would have spent 14 yrs on the road!

Moderator: In your great car!

Don: as I did when I was breaking in. I was working for other composers as an orchestrator.

DennisMcCarthy: That's a great idea, working as a programmer...a mentoring process

DennisMcCarthy: GA

Moderator: Final question for the evening:

Moderator: <Glorac>: Do you find writing for science fiction features requires a different sound or even a different frame of mind for you to compose for?

Don: Science fiction encompasses a broad range of drama, and essentially, what film composers have to do is

Don: support the drama.

Don: SciFi often employs dramatic situations you don't see in other genres, and that enables us to explore music

Don: that we wouldn't have an opportunity to explore otherwise.

DennisMcCarthy: I think that compsoing for sci fi Star Trek, V etc is much different. It's more about color than melodic content in scifi. That's a very general statement of course

Don: The bottom line is that we have to approach SF from the point of view of dramatic support, which is similar to all the other genres of film scoring.

DennisMcCarthy: Do, I like your answers!

Moderator: By the way, everyone -- if you're sitting near yr TV right now quickly turn to the Sci-Fi Channel -- and you can hear Mr Courage's work!

DennisMcCarthy: Oops.. not Do...DON

Don: Well, Dennis, I like your music.

Don: Do you realize your agen and mine are neighbors now?

DennisMcCarthy: Yo.. Thanks I enjoyed it

Moderator: What a great way to end a chat, huh everyone?? By staging a Love Fest!!!\

DennisMcCarthy: Oh man...

Moderator: Dennis and Don, I want to thank you both VERY much for what has been a very interesting and -- shall I say it? -- enlightening hour. And thanks to you in the audience -- your questions were great, I tired to choose the ones that all three of our guests could answer.

DennisMcCarthy: Thanks for having me everybody. Good questions... Buy those CDs... Good night!

Moderator: Yes, buy those CDs --

Moderator: Alexander Courage's original Star Trek album and Dennis McCarthy's Deep Space Nine, Next generation and feature Star Trek Generations album are available at You can also hear tracks at the label's website.

Don: It was a pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to rub shoulders with two of my favorite colleagues.

Moderator: And Don Davis' The Matrix album is still in Billboard's top 100

Moderator: And I know you can get it on Amazon.

Moderator: Thanks, Don. Thanks Dennis!

Moderator: Thanks audience!

Moderator: There will be a transcript posted in the ussual place in the next couple of days...

Moderator: And now we're going UNmoderated... hold on...

Moderator: Can you all type???


JamesKelly: Yes.

Moderator: Great!

smaug: thank you moderator!

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