The final season of Paramount+’s Star Trek: Picard was a great closing to The Next Generation chapter. The entire series captured some must-appreciated nostalgia while furthering the plot with new characters and modern problems. Season three embodied all of this but it was one particular aspect of this entry which broke away from the previous seasons – the score. To find out more about how the music and scoring evolved, I spoke to composers Stephen Barton and Frederick Wiedmann.
It should be noted that seasons two and three of Star Trek: Picard were filmed back to back. There was no downtime for production or post-production work. So Barton’s task of making each episode build sonically from the previous became more challenging as the season proceeded. To independently score each episode without reusing themes and cues, Barton and showrunner Terry Matalas brought in Wiedmann. (Listen to their work as you read how they brought it to life, below.)
Wiedmann: “I think Stephen was on episode six at the time. And this show had just taken on such a massive scale and the attention to detail needed to make it as good as it deserves to be. So they’re looking for some extra hands-on. It just happened that the editor had found one of my rather obscure sci-fi scores on Spotify. It was cool and kind of the vibe he was thinking about when he was cutting it. Terry and Steven decided, why don’t we ask the person we have in the temp? Because that seems to work with all of us. So then they reached out.”
Even with the extra help, the speed of the music production was intense.
Barton: “The cuts were 95% there. Because we had two weeks to check them out, score them, and then record them. And obviously, once we record them we can edit stuff, but you try and edit as little as you can. Because we finished scoring, then they’re on the dub stage and mixing it the following day. Three days later, it’s done. So there’s not much leeway.”
Wiedmann: “The orchestral aspect of it, as amazing as it is to have. It just adds a huge level of complexity to the whole process per episode that people often don’t really understand. First of all, this complex orchestral stuff takes a lot of time to make decent-sounding mock-ups. So Terry and everybody can make some good decisions. Then somebody needs to prep that for orchestration. And they have to orchestrate it. And they have to send that to the parts people. All that within two weeks of 40-plus minutes of music. It’s a complex machine, and you really have to have good people around you to keep it going.”
Part of the complexity of the music is, in part, the return of legacy themes that happen in certain moments of the show. Weaving in an older melody into a modern score can often work less than an older visual effect on modern film.
Barton: “We wanted to go back to the legacy but we don’t want to just merely needle drop it and press the button. Oh, when Seven of Nine is on screen, play the Voyager theme. It’s got to be done with a great deal more reverence and love than that. You’re trying to look beyond the mere notes of the theme. Take the legacy and work with it. But then also take new steps as well.”
The re-emergence of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D from the Fleet Museum scene in S3E9 is a prime example of how well the legacy theme was weaved into a more modern score. While the nebula birth scene in S3E4 is a prime example of a modern score fitting into the legacy and feel of traditional Star Trek. And that is what both Barton and Wiedmann did so well during this season, threading that musical needle.
With a fast-paced schedule and a high sonic bar to clear, the duo did an amazing job bringing emotion and complexity to the ears of the audience. From honoring the legacy of what has come before to boldly going where no one has gone before, Star Trek: Picard is an audio delight.