A chat with Michael Giacchino on Star Trek, Live in Concert

Michael Giacchino poses for a portrait backstage after winning the Globe for Best Original Score- Motion Picture for the film Up at the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Michael Giacchino poses for a portrait backstage after winning the Globe for Best Original Score- Motion Picture for the film Up at the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in Beverly Hills, Calif. AP Photo - Matt Sayles

SYMPHONY Orchestras have been blessed with an abundance of Sci-Fi franchises asking for their help with live shows lately.

While the relationship between the far-out fantasies of the future and orchestral music is an old and celebrated one, being able to experience your favourite show as a symphonic arrangement live is becoming a trend.

Now it's Star Trek's turn as Star Trek, Live in Concert tours Australia. 

Kieran Salsone and Matthew O'neill were lucky enough to have a light-hearted chat with Michael Giacchino, mastermind behind the score for the latest JJ Abrams Star Trek Reboot and composer of some of the biggest scores in showbiz. 

Michael's resume includes composing the music for  Lost and Alias, games such as Call of Duty, and films such as, The Incredibles, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Cloverfield, Ratatouille, Up, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

It's an impressive list and it's netted him an Emmy, multiple Grammys, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award.

KS: Some of us were joking earlier that everyone in the Anglosphere who has ever owned some form of electronic entertainment has heard your music. Between the games, television, and movies, is that something you were going for or did it just happen?

MG: No, I didn't plan it that way. I was working in production in the early days of Disney's Interactive division and was able to write the music for some of the video games.

From there I moved to the same position at Dreamworks where I was asked to write the temp music for a meeting my boss was having with Steven Spielberg for the video game of LOST WORLD. Steven happened to like it, hired me to write for that game and then  for his Medal of Honor games.

I was just doing the best job that I could and fortunately, someone played the video games who made television shows, and well, see the next answer.

Michael Giacchino holds the best score and best instrumental composition awards for
Michael Giacchino holds the best score and best instrumental composition awards for "UP" backstage at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010, in Los Angeles. AP Photo - Mark J. Terrill

KS: You first met JJ Abrams through his show Alias - is that how you started your involvement with Star Trek? What kind of significance does the franchise hold for you?

MG: Yes, J.J. played the Medal of Honor video games and apparently was a fan of the music.

One day I got an email from him introducing himself and saying that he was developing a new TV show called Alias and was wondering if I would be interested in meeting and talking about the possibility of doing the music.

I actually thought it was one of my friends playing a prank, but it wasn't. We met, and immediately hit it off.

I worked on Alias, and then LOST. During that time, J.J. got his first feature directing job, Mission Impossible 3, and I worked with him on that, and so on.

I was a huge fan of the original series, having watched it in reruns when I was a kid. I was so excited when I was asked to be involved with the project.

KS: Was there a Star Trek marathon involved in putting the score together? Was there some kind of high level of saturation and immersion or did you try come into it tabula rasa?

MG: Not really, as I said I was a fan of the original series, and had seen a few of the first films.

I knew that while the reboot would be about the same characters I knew from the past, I wanted to approach this as a new adventure, a new version. In fact, my familiarity with the series was actually an impediment at first. I had a difficult time getting the tone right.

At first I thought I was finally getting a chance to compose a great space opera, but nothing along those lines satisfied me.

Finally Damon Lindelof, one of the producers suggested that I forget the space opera idea and think of it as a story of two young men who meet and become life long friends.

Pete Docter and Michael Giacchino arrive to the InStyle/Warner Bros. party following the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Pete Docter and Michael Giacchino arrive to the InStyle/Warner Bros. party following the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in Beverly Hills, Calif. AP Photo - Chris Pizzello

KS: Say there's a die-hard trekker sitting in the audience who has never been to hear live orchestral music. What should they be listening for? How can they get the most out of it?

MG: I just think they should enjoy themselves, nothing to look for, just take it all in.

We have a terrific tech team who created a new mix for the film so that you can enjoy both the picture and the music in a whole new way.

They may find themselves absorbed in the film, and then realize that there are live people on stage actually playing the music…and they will easily bounce back and forth between the two.

At the concerts that I've been to, people didn't sit quietly in the audience like they were listening to classical, it tends to be an enthusiastic crowd reacting to the excitement, action, humor and emotions on the screen.

I would say cheer for the heroes, boo the bad guys, clap and laugh as loud as you want!

MO: How do you feel about the increasing trend of electronics/orchestral fusion in the vein of The Dark Knight/Inception/Hans Zimmer and do you still personally have an interest in making electronic style music?

MG: I'm open to anything. It's a pretty exciting time in music because we have all creative avenues open to us. 

Some use them well, some don't - but I think organic music isn't the only way to go for sure.

I do take exception to synths REPLACING the sound of an orchestra, but outside of that I love to hear what people do with the blend of the live and the synthetic.

MO: Related to that, film music has briefly shifted away from melodies and themes to textures/tones/sound design. Some people take issue with that. What are your thoughts?

MG: It's really all about what works best for the story being told.  

I think a blanket discussion that bemoans the use of themes in film is not very productive.  

Artists use many different techniques to express their stories.  

And all of them are valid. It's up to us as an audience and consumer of art to decide what we connect to and what we don't.

KS: There's a tale about an unpaid internship at Universal that came up while you were still at school and you were the only person interested. Was that true and if so, do you think something like that could happen these days?

MG: It's true. I was the only one who raised their hand. I don't think it would happen today since internships have become such a large part of a young person's experience.

What was interesting about it though was that this was a class full of aspiring filmmakers and the internship was for a marketing position.

A lot of kids in the class probably thought that working in marketing would never help them learn to make movies…thinking an internship as a PA on a film would serve them better.

However, it was a huge help to me that I worked took the job and went on to work in marketing and then producing for several years before I really started writing music.

It enabled me to get a broad perspective of how the industry worked, who the players were, and what was involved in the business of film. Having that knowledge has been a great benefit to me.

KS: Is music education a necessity or a luxury for children in your opinion?

MG: Necessity. Just for pure joy.

I support a wonderful organization called Education Through Music LA who provide music classes to children in underserved school districts. It is as important to have an education in the arts as it is in math and science.

KS: Your Star Trek concert was performed at the Royal Albert Hall. That wasn't a question, just reminding you of how awesome that is.

MG: Totally awesome.

I still can't believe it and always have to go back and look at the photos.

What also made that event special was that  everyone from Bad Robot was in London working on Star Wars, so they all could come to the show.

It was like the premiere all over again, but with a live orchestra and the Royal Albert Hall!

KS: Do you, as a composer, have any other 'bucket list' type aspirations along those lines?

MG: Hmmm, maybe playing the Acropolis in Greece? Is that possible?

KS: Have you been to Australia before? If so, how'd it strike you and if not, have you learned how to avoid drop-bears?

MG: Never! And I was disappointed that the concerts for Brisbane and Melbourne were scheduled during a time that I couldn't get away from work. I want to go there someday.


KS: Did JJ Abrams ever ask if you could put lense flare in your score?

MG: Ha ha.


Tickets are still available for Star Trek, Live in Concert with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra Sat 07 Feb 7:30PM at

Topics:  kieran salsone

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