Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Music That Might Have Been

Kubrick set the standard for using classical music in science fiction in his epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Coincidentally he made sure no-one else could pull it off again.

When director Peter Hyams was looking for music for his movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, he knew he could never use classical music without being seen as a Kubrick copycat. An original score was of course the only obvious option.

Hyams contacted Genesis keyboard player and composer Tony Banks regarding an original score in early 1984, having been impressed by Banks' theme for the 1978 Jerzy Skolimowski movie The Shout. Banks and Hyams met in March 1984 and had by all accounts a fruitful discussion.

They quickly agreed on the project. "The guy chose me because he really loved the theme from The Shout," Banks said, "he could sing it! I couldn't believe that as it was difficult to sing anyhow, it hasn't got much of a melody. I thought that I was on to a winner here as that was like stuff I could write in my sleep. I met him and things went well and then I went home and made a demo of about five or six pieces."

Composer Tony Banks.
Banks was enthused by the meeting. After all, Hyams did major in art and music, and he was well on his way to becoming a professional drummer – he had played with jazz heavyweights such as Maynard Ferguson and Bill Evans – when he suddenly switched to the news media and became a news anchor at the age of 21. Based on this, Banks found the discussion about the score very interesting. He was looking forward to producing 'a heavily synthesized score', and he was going to use samplers and emulators to conjure up 'many new unheard and unrecognizable sounds.'

Banks set to work. He created several themes that he found a perfect fit not only to the theme of both the book and the imagery, but also a perfect fit to the ideas from the previous discussion with the director.

Confident that he had created the best possible ideas for a score, Banks sent off the demo tape to Hyams, who promptly rejected the entire tape.

Jovian Rejects

"He rang me up," Banks remembered, "and said that he didn't like any of them! He was very definite about it as well." The director did not find any redeeming qualities in the music, the entire tape score was dismissed wholesale.

"I thought, 'This is crazy'," Banks remembers the turndown. "Here I consider these to be the most appropriate things and he doesn't like them."

Banks was utterly baffled. The tape he had sent Hyams was entirely in line with what they had agreed on months earlier. Nonetheless Hyams was thoroughly stonewalling Banks and would not even tell what specifically was wrong with the proposed score, only that "it was really bad."

Disheartened, Banks put together another tape of even more pieces of the score, paying really close attention to what Hyams had said he wanted. Fingers crossed he sent it off to the director.

Again the tape was nixed.

I don't know why he got a hold of me.

Now Banks decided it was a make or break moment. In order to salvage the project he had to meet with Hyams again. "I finally decided to go out there and see him," Banks said. He traveled to Culver City and met with the director for a second time. "I wrote a piece almost in front of him and I found the chord changes that he liked. He said that the piece I did there and then was great and then he asked for something that could be a song."

Banks took notes of all the things Hyams was looking for in the score, the cues, the themes, the soundscapes. At last Banks had something to work with. "We managed to end up with something he seemed fairly enthusiastic about," Banks recalled.

This turned out to be another false dawn.

Withering Highs

Somewhat elated by the second meeting with the director, Banks decided to give the score a final shot, trying to follow the mercurial director's notes to the minutest detail. He decided to create a set of themes for songs and gathered all his memos and cues into a coherent whole.

"Then I went home and began demoing some actual pieces for the film on the themes that we'd agreed," Banks remembered. Something irked him still, something didn't seem right. Little by little it began to dawn on the composer that the director perhaps did not have very clear musical ideas after all. After having initially been very enthusiastic about the electronic score, the director seemed to be backing away from it completely.

"When it came to thinking about final ideas," an exasperated Banks recalled, "he [Hyams] said he 'didn't like it.' I think he wanted something a lot more conventional than he originally thought he did. The closer I got to writing a Hollywood kind of score, the happier he looked. That was disappointing to me."

Hyams again rejected all the songs, all the themes, and all the parts of the score, simply stating "it wasn't working."

In August of 1984 – six months after agreeing to the project – the news broke that Banks had been fired from the project.  "I was given the sack, there's no two ways about it," Banks said.

Banks felt frustrated by the experience, especially since he had focused so hard on the project, written a stupendous amount of material, and rejected many other film score offers in favor of 2010. "The whole thing wasted about six months," he said, "and it really was a set-back for me. There were quite a few film offers coming in."


Banks later rearranged and re-used parts of the rejected 2010 score for the 1984 film Starship, also known as Lorca and the Outlaws, as well as 2084, and the soundtrack was released on his appropriately named 'Soundtracks' album in 1986.

The album with the rejected 2010 score.

"Peter Hyams really didn't like what I gave him from the word 'go'," Tony Banks said. "I thought it strange since he was the one who contacted me, based on having heard what I had done on The Shout."

The entire conundrum was intensely frustrating and utterly mysterious for the composer.

"I don't know why he got a hold of me," said a very perplexed Banks.

Images copyright ©1986-1999 Tony Banks.

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