Dark Skies formed part of NBC's Saturday Night Thrillogy in 1996, and managed to stand on its own while the X Files was attracting most fans of weird tales. Unlike the latter series, though, Dark Skies was genuinely episodic, and gave composer Michael Hoenig a whole season to develop themes for characters, write material to underpin the various levels of deceit that enmeshed the show's heroes and villains, plus have fun with sequences the producers actually wanted draped in score rather than heavy sound effects or pop songs.
The interviews with creator Bryce Zabel and composer Hoenig in the dense booklet give a superb mini-chronicle of the show's uniqueness – a period sci-fi set in the early sixties – that was dumped by the network after one season. There's a weird irony here for Hoenig, as he also scored Strange World, another neat show from Heroes creator Tim Kring which ABC killed after airing just a handful of episodes. In both cases, Hoenig was involved with stories drenched in deceit, subterfuge, and desperate characters struggling to find truth and a bit of justice against immense odds.
The music of Dark Skies is very much a snapshot of the technological gear composers were using, and while the term vintage has largely been applied to synthesizers from the eighties and seventies, the nineties' gear defined a shift in scoring and sound design.
Eighties synths, if Jan Hammer's Miami Vice scores are cited, were still tied to pop, rock, and jazz fusion, and when composers attempted to use the gear with total orchestral ambitions, the results lacked definition, clarity, and often came off like a mushy swell of ideas the listener knew would sound much better with a true orchestra.
Hoenig's music reflects the strange relationship that nineties gear offered: you still couldn't mimic an orchestra with razor sharp precision, but the attempts spawned metallic, clinical sounds that were also a bit closer to strings, and had more diverse percussion options. Those qualities were contrasted by a bass notes which could be extracted or combined with deeper bass grooves, or a better bank of sampled rhythmic textures.
Hoenig's background with electronics and his penchant for writing dramatic cues with their own narrative drive means most of the music on this CD is meaty, ebbs and rises with occasional cacophony, and becomes really engaging when there's a fluid relationship between ambient textures, rhythmic motifs, and soothing bass – the kind James Newton Howard loved to indulge in during the late eighties/early nineties.
Cues like “John's Escape” and “Mission Control” are good examples of the album's suspense/action tracks, while “Dreamland” shows off Hoenig's skill in writing long swathes of chords and pulses that remain dramatic, mournful, and foreboding, and don't come off as generic ambient filler.
There's admittedly sonic similarities between Hoenig's score cues and those of Mark Snow's X Files music, and one can attribute that to the technology, and the implementation of specific sounds and samples that were widely used at the time. What's intriguing about Perseverance's CD is that it also includes a (12:30) suite of music for the show's unaired pilot, which was scored by Snow himself.
It's a nice bonus for a CD that's already a memorable souvenir of what could have developed into an intriguing concept for TV. Snow's music, certainly from the opening cues, is more impressionistic, and contains more overt action stabs (mimicking rather shrill brass), tense ostinato patterns and reverberating dissonance, but fans of his X Files music will be delighted that a small snippet of Snow's writing from his busiest period is available on CD. (Why Fox and Chris Carter have chosen to sit on Snow's music for so long is a mystery, but it demonstrates the volume of quality music written and performed by solo artists for TV that remains neglected, and unreleased.)
There's also a funky, rhythmic hidden track at the end of the album, which indulges in some Tangerine Dream-styled percussion, elliptical motifs, and melancholic harmonics.
Fans of the show will certainly give Hoenig's music repeated play, and perhaps this CD might be the first effort in getting the show on DVD, while the original shows that comprised NBC's Thrillogy – Profiler and The Pretender – have had their own entire seasons released on DVD.
Hoenig's other writing includes Chuck (Charles) Russell's 1988 remake of The Blob, the film I, Madman, and the videogame Forgotten Realms: Baldur's Gate. Series creator Bryce Zabel was also involved in the short-lived 1992 series The Fifth Corner (which featured a great theme by David Michael Frank) and the 2005 TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure (which was not great in every department).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan