Bear McCreary’s Foundation score sports a well-crafted and quite memorable main theme, which together with an intriguingly mathematical musical style as well as several standout atmospheric setpieces make for a strong start to the show’s music overall.
Foundation Main Title opens the score, with light, rather mysterious-sounding strings both opening the piece and also introducing the overarching main theme. It does take a couple of listens to really get in tune with, but McCreary’s theme for Foundation here is quite good indeed; it’s ethereal and quite otherworldly, holding both a sense of mystery and intrigue while also being quite recognisable (again, after a few listens) and well-composed to boot. With the motif introduced, the main title track then brings the orchestra into the fold, with light, fluttering percussion and increasingly emphatic brass playing the theme for a few further renditions, with each playthrough becoming louder and more dramatic until a crashing percussive crescendo is reached, and the track then draws to a quiet close. Interestingly as well, dotted throughout the track are a series of seemingly random musical notes, but they’re actually not random at all; McCreary was apparently rather inspired by the mathematics and “pyschohistory” (essentially, using maths and probability to predict the future) integrated throughout Foundation‘s narrative, and with this in mind he generated a series of musical notes utilising sampled instrumentation and mathematical algorithms, “playing dazzling patterns…that would be virtually impossible for human beings to play” (- SyFy). The end result of this is some rather odd-sounding yet quite atmospherically intriguing music (played both here and throughout the album) that gives Foundation‘s score overall quite a unique and very interesting musical touch.
Wistful vocals open The Only Story, with the algorithmic musical notes providing gentle atmosphere in the background until a fleeting yet rather enigmatic main theme floats through on upbeat strings and slow brass notes. As the motif then starts to fade, brass takes centre stage while evoking a quiet, almost mournful tone, which then turns to mystery as some particularly Blade Runner 2049-esque vocals (think Wallace) arrive, turning the tone quite dark for the final minute of the cue before then fading quietly away. Worrisome strings take over at the start of Gaal Leaves Synnax, with low-pitched, moody brass and paced percussion joining the fray a few seconds later to further the increasingly downtrodden musical tone. As the track continues however the mood slowly starts to rise, repeating a new, gentle motif over and over while slowly building in wonder and intrigue until a loud, breathtaking crescendo is finally reached, with the track then closing out a few seconds later. Journey To Trantor then continues in this rather upbeat vein, opening with a rather rapid pace, loud, enthusiastic brass and some rather imposing vocals that all together then lead the musical charge for a rather entertaining two further minutes of score. The music then starts to stumble a little at the halfway point though, seemingly becoming less and less sure of itself until confident, rising strings enter the forefront in the track’s final minute, followed swiftly by dramatic brass that then brings the track to a loud, powerful finish.
Slow, gentle strings start off The Imperial Library, evoking a sense of peace and tranquility in the first few seconds of the cue that is then amplified by the addition of wistful piano notes and some rather ethereal overarching vocals. The repeating motif from Gaal Leaves Synnax (which we’ll now call Gaal’s theme) then floats gently through the ambience, playing softly on quiet strings before the track then draws to a quietly wondrous close. Low-pitched, worrisome woodwinds and some rather militant percussion then take over in Visions And Arrest, with quite a melancholic piano joining the fray at around the two minute mark followed swiftly by a solemn rendition of Gaal’s theme on the aforementioned woodwinds, making overall for a particularly downtrodden piece of score. The Trial Of Hari Seldon then picks up where it leaves off, with a loud rumble of percussion setting a very worrisome mood right at the start. From here the orchestra then starts to build behind it, with loud, almost villainous-sounding brass taking centre stage alongside some increasingly concerned strings. Gaal’s theme returns once again at the two minute mark, with the main Foundation motif also following close behind on gently wondrous brass and vocals, and the track overall then crescendoing to a close a short while later. Tense strings open Star Bridge, with determined percussion building to a fast pace as action begins to unfold. A loud burst of frantic brass then kicks things up a notch, with the orchestra becoming louder and more frenetic, and vocals unleashing a powerfully dramatic crescendo. In the final minute though the action then completely fades away, with the vocals quieting to a solemn, almost funeral-esque tone before the music then quietens to a close.
Over The Horizon opens almost apprehensively, with pacing strings and foreboding brass playing a gentle yet rather tense rendition of the main Foundation theme. The orchestra then settles down for a few moments before wondrous strings then start to build in the background, and the main theme returns for several increasingly hopeful and grandiose renditions until practically bursting at the four minute mark with a loudly vocal finale. The Promise Of The Imperium then opens quietly, with some low-pitched brass setting a decidedly morose tone. As the track continues, a rumble of drums pushes the orchestra up into loudly malevolent-sounding territory, with tense strings adding an element of near-horror into the mix alongside some particularly emphatic vocals which join the fray at around three minutes in. All together, this orchestral mix then builds to quite a dramatic crescendo before then fading almost as quickly as it arrived, with the track closing on a quietly mournful note a minute later. Escape Pod opens at a brisk pace, with rumblings of sinister brass stirring in the background until some very horror-like strings pull the music down into an aggressively dark tone, with further strings and tense brass notes elevating this change together with several rather solemn playthroughs of Gaal’s theme.
The Dream Of Cleon The First is where things get very interesting indeed; it’s a ten minute, atmospheric and beautifully serene musical setpiece, with singer Raya Yarbrough held at the forefront as she sings a gently morose new theme for the first Cleon Emperor. Her vocals are also joined by McCreary’s orchestra at various intervals across the cue, with melancholic piano notes and stirring strings helping to emphasize the new motif. Overall it is one of the more ambient tracks on the album but quite a beautiful and amazingly crafted one at that, and it’s solidly tied for standout cue with Foundation Main Title as a result. Anacreon then however shatters the peace completely, with some loud, almost tribal-sounding percussion and aggressive brass notes setting a particularly imposing tone for the titular barbarian world. This then builds in intensity as the cue continues, ending a short while later on an emphatic crescendo at just under two minutes long. Choral vocals then open The Chant Of The Luminous, singing out a dramatic though also rather solemn new motif with rumbling percussion and low brass lurking in the background. This track doesn’t last for long either however before the album then draws to a rather abrupt close with Foundation End Credits. As you can probably guess the main theme features pretty heavily here, with grandiose vocals and brass playing the established motif alongside several algorithmically-generated musical notes (the same ones that also featured earlier in the score), all-in bringing everything full circle for the album’s finale.
Overall, Bear McCreary’s score for Foundation is very good, though I did feel that perhaps there could have been a bit more to it. The building blocks are there – the main Foundation theme for example is of particular highlight, being quite a memorable and apt motif, and the way McCreary utilises mathematically-generated musical notes woven throughout it is an intriguing concept indeed, not to mention a very fitting musical style for Foundation. There are also some great themes for other characters of the series here, whether it’s the gently melancholic motif for Gaal, the wistfully vocal piece for Cleon and the Empire or the loudly dramatic percussive theme for Anacreon, and the overarching orchestral sound is simply sublime to boot. All-in, it’s an intriguingly atmospheric musical start for Foundation, and I am very interested to hear how McCreary builds on the themes and styles as the series continues – particularly now as the show has been confirmed for a second season. For now I would say the music does have a little ways to improve (the themes could have been held higher, for instance) but as the beginning to a long story, it certainly starts the show on a good… foundation (ha!).
Bring on the next season, Mr. McCreary!
Standout Cues: 1. Foundation Main Title/12. The Dream Of Cleon The First
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