Brooklyn-born Mark Snow has been writing scores for film and television ever since his foray into rock n' roll with fellow Juilliard graduate Michael Kamen failed to hold his interest. Scoring a range of series from Hart to Hart, Kojak and Dynasty to La Femme Nikita, Smallville and Ringer, Snow found his place in television, recording and indeed cultural history with one particular project - The X Files. Having stumbled upon that iconic echo effect by mistake, Snow developed the chart-topping theme tune of The X Files with creator Chris Carter and went on to score the music for entire series including both cinematic feature films. Snow is the only ASCAP composer to win the “Most Performed Background Music” award every year since the awards began in 1985, he has received 14 Emmy nominations and is the only composer to score three films for French director Alain Resnais.
When did you start composing film music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started writing music for TV and film in 1974. My greatest influence for film music was the score for The Planet of the Apes by the great Jerry Goldsmith. I couldn't believe that in Hollywood they let you write Avant Garde 12-tone music for big movies. And my love for experimental, new music worked out so beautifully for my thrilling nine years on the X-Files.
What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your work and/or career?
The experience of having producers and directors over to my studio, and having them say, "I don't know anything about music but..." Most of the comments that followed were purely about drama and emotion. They weren't interested in f-sharps or b-flats. They made suggestions that seemed wrong to me, but turned out to be pretty good.
Being at a sequencer it was instant to make changes, and playback. Those collaborative moments were often very eye opening. I learned a lot.
What are currently your main compositional challenges?
To finish on time, and to translate the abstract musical intentions of the collective originators of the project.
As a soundtrack composer, one must usually adapt one's ideas to the project, the director and the audience. How do you maintain a balance between, on the one hand, artistic integrity and sticking to your creative convictions and, on the other, being professional in your job? How do you find a sense of freedom within these structures?
I try something in a demo form and see the reaction. If that goes well, I'll exaggerate that germ of an idea. Hopefully at that point the sense of freedom and free-flow starts to kick in. The more enthusiastic the director or producer is, the freedom/fun equation knows no limits.
What do you usually start with when composing? At which stage of the production process do you prefer to get involved?
I always try to start on the longest, most difficult cue in the production, even if it's just an initial rough cut I get first.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Improvisation is critical in my work because for me, it's where some of the best spontaneous nuggets arise. It's then that the compositional work begins, turning these brilliant (hopefully!) fragments into full blown pieces.
Over the decades, film and television music as a whole, despite the radical differences of genre or style, has developed certain traditions, techniques and thematic development. How would you describe your relationship with these traditions and what role does it play in your work?
At the moment, I think there is a similarity in sound, thematically and tonally that the big action movies have, combining sequenced samples and big live orchestras. For me, there's much more latitude and room for originality and personality in the more subtle psychological shows.