First Contact #189

While infiltrating an alien society as part of the process of making first contact, Riker is injured and captured, causing a panic among the inhabitants of Malcoria. “First Contact” boldly breaks the series’ format to tell the story from the perspective of the aliens, making the Enterprise crew into a mysterious invasion force until the Malcorians begin to understand them. It was an entertaining twist and the episode boasts an impressive cast of Broadway stage actors, including George Hearn, George Coe and Bebe Neuwirth (a regular on Cheers whose role as a nurse sexually obsessed with extraterrestrials was, of course, hyped in TV Guide).

Jones opted to write his score from the perspective of the Malcorians, an approach he had also taken in “Who Watches the Watchers.” In his “Star Trek Questions,” Jones wrote that “fear is a character in the story,” but equally important was the idea of embracing the unknown and the wondrous possibilities of the universe. To answer his question, “Is there one basic feeling or emotional conflict coming from this show? If so what?” he handwrote: “That we are not the center of the universe. That we need not fear the unknown but that we bravely embrace it, letting go of preconceived values just as we learn to crawl, walk then run (what a deeply beautiful idea).”

He was so absorbed in the concept, he wrote on an additional piece of paper:

I want to create the score from the Malcorians’ P.O.V.

These are good people. They feel self-important. They feel that they are the center of the universe. (Not unlike Earth now.)

I need to get inside their heads. I want to show what they are feeling. A sense of fear, of wonder, of paranoia, of schizophrenia (the paradox of wanting to move forward yet not wanting to leave the past).

I want us to relate on a gut level. To sympathize with them (Malcorians) in this tension, this zone of the unfamiliar, unknown.

To translate these ideas into musical terms, Jones wrote:

Rhythmically: Long swells like high pulse rate.

Melodically: Very high spinal/neural; very low gut/tight stomach; mid has emotional bumps [the latter illustrated by crescendo and decrescendo signs around a fermata].

Harmonically: Varying degrees of harmonic densities.

The music needed to sound alien, yet not ethnic—alien races in Star Trek are often amalgams of human ethnicities, but the Malcorians are essentially white Euro-Americans. As with the episode’s makeup and production design, Jones managed to make his musical materials just a little bit offbeat and uncanny: “It was really difficult, because you had to get inside the psychology of a different kind of brain and formulate that.” But he also realized, “It could sound like anything in a way.”

The orchestra was one of Jones’s most experimental: two EWI, six percussion, prepared piano, two keyboards, 12 violins, six violas, four celli and three basses. “We had a waterchime in this one. We didn’t have to synch the Synclavier; it was played live. It wasn’t replacing strings, if anything it was doing the low strings. I used a lot of clusters and things like that.”

The fear-based cues followed Jones’s descriptions in his “Star Trek Questions” (above), contrasting with a wistful, touching and ethereal theme for the scientist Marista (Caroline Seymour), who is eager to explore space and welcomes the “invaders.” Once again, Jones was able to paint a lyrical portrait for a humanistic ending (“Marista Stays”) in which Picard agrees to take the open-minded Marista into space even though the Malcorians choose to postpone relations with the Federation.

For “Failed Escape,” Jones created a semi-comic motive for Nurse Lanel (Bebe Neuwirth) as she assists Riker—after he agrees to have sexual relations with her. The producers asked for the melody to be simplified after hearing it on the scoring stage; compare the finished version (disc 12, track 6) with the original, busier attempt (disc 13, track 56). Additional changes made during dubbing included replacing “Paranoia” with a cue from “Final Mission” (“Situation”) and “Decisions” by the opening cue from “Devil’s Due” (“Marley and Scrooge”).

Jones recalls the episode reflecting a more intimate focus as season four reached its midway point. “I remember as this part of the season was going, everything got far more psychological. Certainly technology would save the writer when he didn’t know what to do, but it got all about exploring these psychological areas because they wanted to save money. If you were being psychological, you didn’t have to spend all that money on special effects.”

Night Terrors #191

While investigating an abandoned starship, the U.S.S. Brattain, the Enterprise becomes caught in a spatial rift and its crew begins to suffer the effects of dream deprivation—the phenomenon that caused the violent deaths of the Brattain’s crew. “Night Terrors” was one of a number of episodes that attempted to bring a chilling, surreal horror to the series—a difficult task, given The Next Generation’s bright, open and comforting mise en scène. While the spatial rift generally appears to cause people to stutter and forget to comb their hair, there are some effective moments, such as Picard suffering an attack of claustrophobia in a turbolift and a group of bodies in the ship’s morgue unexpectedly sitting up and terrifying Dr. Crusher.

The horror genre has historically offered great opportunities for music and “Night Terrors” inspired a score that ranges from creepy tension to all-out action—with a rare (for the series) choral component intended to express telepathic communication. In the story, Troi remains the only person aboard the Enterprise still able to dream, but her dreams take the form of a recurring nightmare in which she ascends through a cloud toward a pair of moons. The crew (correctly) interprets the vision as a message from the alien vessel about how to collaborate to escape the rift.

“I love that one,” Jones says. “This was the closest to opera that we came and I was trying to say that. I had a 16-voice choir and they gave me the money for that, which was like paying actors. I had a synth choir and a real choir and they were doing different things. The human choir represented Troi and the human problems they were having emotionally, and the synth part was the [moons]. The choir all had to have perfect pitch, so I could give them a 12th divided chord with everything and do it on a TV scale. We overdubbed the choir—we recorded the orchestra and then the choir and overdubbed the two, so that cost more too.”

The choir figures in several cues, including the action climax (“Circles”), although the episode’s final dub often dialed it down—or out entirely. Jones also recorded “wild” versions of the singers performing lyrics of the “one moon circles” message heard by Troi (disc 13, track 62), but the producers deemed the approach too experimental and the lyrics can be heard only briefly in the finished show.

The episode’s suspense music found Jones on more familiar ground. In his “Star Trek Questions,” Jones emphasized the necessity to play fear as a palpable force in the score. He crafted a maddening “earwig” theme—designed both to reflect the obsessive, fragmented mental state of the crew and to act as a hidden key to the secret of the spatial rift—accompanied by a cold, chordal motive (often played by strings) that underscores the fear that becomes pervasive over the course of the story.

Jones designed the “earwig” motive as a clue to the solution of the mystery: “They had a line they would say over and over again, so the orchestra’s playing something that evolved into what they were hearing. I thought someone would figure it out, but they never did.”

In addition to using extended string techniques to generate fear and tension, Jones employed synthesizers to create unusual glissandi and textures in cues like “Morgue” to accompany Crusher’s horror as dead bodies appear to come to life. “We used the same keyboards, but I would design different patches for them,” Jones says. “Sometimes you’d use a Yamaha approach, sometimes you’d use a Roland, because they had different algorithms to them and you used them in different combinations.” Besides the 16-voice choir, the orchestra featured three keyboards, 10 violins, six violas, four celli, two basses, four horns, four percussion and two EWI for the A orchestra; and three keyboards, four percussion, two EWI and two basses for the B ensemble.

At the culmination of the episode, the Enterprise fires two streams of hydrogen into the rift in an attempt to trigger an explosion, while Troi enters her dream state to communicate with the aliens. The cue (“Circles”) begins in Ten Forward when a fight breaks out and Guinan draws the alien equivalent of a shotgun to quell the violence. Jones intended the rhythmic figure that appears there to tie into the action music to come, but the finished episode drops this portion of the cue (some of it replaced by “Revenge” from “Reunion”). “I referenced pop music there again and they didn’t like that,” Jones says. The balance of the music is dialed into the episode, dynamically accompanying the crosscuts between outer space and Troi’s dream.

The finished dub mixed “Circles” relatively low and often obscured the music with sound effects, obviating some of the most exciting music Jones ever wrote for the series. Listeners can finally appreciate the full impact of his music on this CD, as Jones combines orchestra, choir and electronics for a propulsive, hair-raising mix of the supernatural and technological. The luscious sonics come courtesy of Armin Steiner on the 20th Century Fox scoring stage. “Armin Steiner always got a great sound,” Jones says. “We would always talk about what we were going to do to get a certain sound. I’d say, ‘I’ve got this many woodwinds, that’s not going to balance with these things, what can we do?’ So he would push people around in the room—he would use the room instead of just playing with sliders.”

The Nth Degree #193

While investigating an alien probe near a malfunctioning Federation telescope array, introverted Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) develops staggering intelligence after being struck by an alien signal. “The Nth Degree” was the second episode to feature Barclay, introduced as a shy officer addicted to the holodeck in the McCarthy-scored episode “Hollow Pursuits.” Directed by visual effects supervisor Robert Legato, “The Nth Degree” features several exciting sequences and climaxes during an awe-inspiring trip to the center of the galaxy.

Barclay became a popular character and much of the episode focuses on his interpersonal relationships on the Enterprise as affected by his alien “brain boost.” A gentle melody for keyboard characterizes Barclay’s relationship with Troi (“New Man,” “Nice Try,” “Cheap Date”)—although an electronic source cue for the cold opening of Barclay performing on stage as Cyrano de Bergerac (“Cyrano de Bozo”) went unused.

But the story also features wild science fiction concepts and fast-paced action, and Jones keeps his score centered on these aspects. For the episode’s early scenes of the Enterprise investigating the space telescope array (“Questions,” “Patterns Unknown”), he used shifting, melodically impressionistic patterns similar to the early moments of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien—a score itself influenced by Debussy’s masterpiece La Mer, illustrating how space music has evolved from romantic and impressionistic depictions of the sea.

Barclay’s exponentially growing intelligence results from an alien exploration technique designed to bring outsiders to them (the opposite of the Enterprise’s mission). Jones created a jagged, nervous figure (first heard in “The Flash”) for the alien probe and its effect on Barclay, suggesting danger and unpredictability. As the normally nervous Barclay begins behaving in a calm manner, the erratic probe motive plays against Schultz’s performance to reinforce the idea that something is wrong: “I came up with this pattern that was just for data,” Jones says. “All you have is a pattern, then as you shift the colors and rub things against it, there’s a psychological feel like you’re being driven by a mania or some kind of a mental state. Like Vertigo, where [Scottie is] trying to figure out Carlotta and following her around—it’s playing those kinds of games.”

The 4:22 “Probe Threat” is a wildly kinetic cue hitting numerous action beats as the Enterprise retreats, reverses course to go to warp and repeatedly fires on the pursuing alien probe. “I played all the shots in that sequence,” Jones says. “I liked where this was going—the show had finally caught up with itself and knew where it was gonna be, and it was just a joy to experiment and play with all those ideas. I could get really symphonic and epic and it really became its own thing.”

As Barclay becomes more proactive and seemingly a greater menace to the ship, Jones again plays against the action, scoring the energy and momentum but altering the primary motive to render it optimistic—even heroic—as voiced by horns (beginning early in “Neural-Scan Interface” as Barclay sets up a link on the holodeck with the Enterprise computer).

When Barclay uses the Enterprise to create a subspace rift and the starship begins to pull itself toward a jump to the center of the galaxy, Jones’s music throbs with eerie, mysterious orchestral colors (“Going In,” “Do Your Duty”/“Bio-Cellular Disruption”) that seemingly stretch and distort along with space itself. Jones based “Bio-Cellular Disruption” on his diatonic-cluster technique (heard in episodes like “Where No One Has Gone Before” and “Q Who”) that plays all of the white notes of the keyboard at once.

When the episode’s conclusion reveals the aliens’ intentions as benign, Jones’s score transforms Barclay’s “alien data” theme into a gentle melody for synthesizers and winds (“Faith”)—with a sweet coda for Barclay (“Cheap Date”) as he returns to normal, somewhat improved for the experience.

With only the low-key, dramatic “The Drumhead” to follow, “The Nth Degree” marked the climax of Jones’s sci-fi/action writing for the series, inspired by one of the most ambitious stories the show had to offer.

The Drumhead #195

Starfleet Admiral Satie (Jean Simmons) begins an inquisition aboard the Enterprise after the discovery of a Klingon spy on the ship. Designed as a cost-saving episode, “The Drumhead” emerged as one of the strongest hours of the fourth season. Spinning off the discovery of the Klingon spy and an apparent act of sabotage in engineering, the imperious Satie and her team of investigators flush out a nervous crewman (who lied about his Romulan ancestry on his Starfleet application) and Satie eventually locks horns with Picard, accusing him of conspiracy. Guest star Simmons was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1950s and ’60s, having appeared in classic films like The Robe, Spartacus and Elmer Gantry, and her regal-grandmother bearing made her an excellent Federation villain and foil for Picard.

For Ron Jones, “The Drumhead” marked the end of a nearly four-year journey on Star Trek: The Next Generation: producers informed him before he scored this episode that it would be his last assignment. Ironically, he ended up writing the type of atmospheric, sparse and moody score (which the episode’s story required) that the producers had been getting from Dennis McCarthy—and would soon request from Jones’s replacement, Jay Chattaway. Jones did include a theme—listen for a queasy, three-note ascending motive that opens several cues—but cloaks it in textures of confusion and dread.

The score is dark and brooding, full of tension and foreboding, but also conjuring up a sense of emptiness and loss. Early scenes feature a throbbing, doleful melody (“J’Dan”) played by low strings, music that anticipates the depths of suspicion and ill will that Satie’s investigation will stir up. For the most part, however, the music remains atmospheric, welling beneath the onscreen tension and fireworks. “It was cool to back off and just let the show stand,” Jones says. “Music was almost incidental in this one. It was interesting, because instead of ships in space it was people in a room arguing their points. The actors wanted to act. And the show doesn’t really resolve. I remember feeling numb and weird when I was writing it.”

Jones still managed to create a musical resolution that epitomized the humanistic approach of the series and his own musical dramaturgy. In the episode’s climactic scene (“Implications”/“Drumhead”), Satie and her team seem to be closing a noose of innuendo and suspicion on Picard himself, scored with cold, glassy textures. But Picard unnerves Satie by quoting the words of her father—a famed Federation judge and an advocate of civil liberties—and the music warms with nobility. Seething with rage, Satie goes on a tirade that causes a Starfleet admiral to walk out of the courtroom in disgust, scored by discordant textures that break down to defeated, plaintive solos for woodwinds—and finally a lone trumpet suspended above a unison violin line. Played over a shot of the broken, abandoned Satie as she sits in silence in the courtroom, the music plays her as alone—defiant but powerless, cloaked only in the weakening vestiges of fear.

Jones’s coda (“Observations”/“The Price”), while brief, shows the same profound understanding of the series’ appeal that made his music such a key element of TNG’s first four years. Even after such a humbling journey into bigotry and corruption, Picard and his crew are able to arm themselves with the hope to go onward, in search of better days among the stars.

The Best of Both Worlds #174–175
Bonus Tracks

Ron Jones’s superb music for the two-part “The Best of Both Worlds,” which ended the third season with a cliffhanger and launched the fourth season with a bang, remains hugely popular for its Star Wars-style space action and bold, synthesized choir conveying Armageddon at the hands of the Borg. In 1991, GNP/Crescendo released Jones’s scores from both parts on CD (GNPD 8026) as “Volume Two” of their series of The Next Generation soundtracks. This pre-existing album contractually limited FSM to releasing no more than five minutes of music recorded for the “The Best of Both Worlds,” whether previously released or not.

Disc 12, tracks 35–40 feature exactly 5:00 of unreleased music: short cues left off the GNP/Crescendo CD to facilitate a better album experience, but included here to flesh out the scores’ subtler moments. From “Part I,” “Early Worm” features a gently ominous two-note theme used for Riker’s competitive relationship with the up-and-coming Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy). From “Part II,” “Borg Reach Saturn” is the apocalyptic end of act four, for a nifty FX shot of the Borg cube approaching Saturn.

The information below provides guidance for listeners wishing to create a chronological playlist mixing tracks from the earlier album with those on this set:

  1. “The Best of Both Worlds” #174
  2. New Providence M11 1:22 (GNP track 2)
  3. Early Worm M14 1:08 (FSM disc 12, track 35)
  4. Preparations M21 0:24 (FSM disc 12, track 36)
  5. Hansen’s Message M24 1:27 (GNP track 3)
  6. Borg Engaged M25 1:18 (GNP track 4)
  7. First Attack M31 5:04 (GNP track 5)
  8. Contemplations M41AltA 0:49 (FSM disc 12, track 37)
  9. Borg Takes Picard M42 3:05 (GNP track 6)
  10. Death Is Irrelevant M43 1:35 (GNP track 7)
  11. Away Team Ready M51 1:20 (GNP track 8)
  12. On the Borg Ship M52 1:28 (GNP track 9)
  13. Nodes M53 2:53 (GNP track 10)
  14. Captain Borg M54 3:56 (GNP track 11)
  1. “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” #175
  2. Energy Weapon Fails M11 3:16 (GNP track 12)
  3. Humanity Taken M13 0:57 (GNP track 13)
  4. Contact Lost M14 0:38 (GNP track 14)
  5. Repairs Complete M21 0:20 (FSM disc 12, track 38)
  6. Cemetery of Dead Ships M22 1:45 (GNP track 15)
  7. Currents M31 0:56 (FSM disc 12, track 39)
  8. Intervention M32 4:23 (GNP track 16)
  9. Sitting Ducks M41/Borg Reach Saturn M42AltA (FSM disc 12, track 40)
  10. The Link M51 2:58 (GNP track 17)
  11. Sleep Command M52 3:54 (GNP track 18)
  12. Destruct Mode/Picard Is Back M53AltA Pt. 2 1:36 (GNP track 19)
  13. Picard’s Nightmare M55 1:00 (GNP track 20)


Afterword »