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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Special Report: The Music of The Outer Limits


The Twilight Zone had the vast CBS Music Library at its disposal (in addition to commissioning several new scores along the way). The show employed several significant composers (Bernard Herrmann, Fred Steiner, Nathan Van Cleave, Jerry Goldsmith, etc.), whose combined contributions form a rich and varied body of work; however, the inherent diversity in this approach denies the series a truly distinctive and individual musical voice (outside of the ubiquitous theme by Marius Constant). The Outer Limits, by contrast, had a single composer providing all the music for every episode (Dominic Frontiere in season one, Harry Lubin in season two).  This approach creates a powerful and singular musical identity and provides a marvelous consistency across otherwise unrelated episodes. In other words, very episode sounds like The Outer Limits.


Dominic Frontiere was fresh from scoring Daystar’s 1962-63 series Stoney Burke, and repurposed some of those compositions for The Outer Limits (one in particularly, which I’ve referred to as “The Stoney Burke Mystery Cue” in these pages, occurs so often that it’s often misidentified as a true Outer Limits cue). Of the first season’s 32 episodes, thirteen contain original scores; the remaining nineteen are “stock scored” with cues from both Stoney Burke and earlier Outer Limits episodes. Frontiere’s work ranges from sweeping romantic fantasy (“The Man Who Was Never Born”) to the avant-garde (“Nightmare”; “The Mice”) and everything in between, and stands as some of the greatest music ever composed for television (and film, for that matter).


Harry Lubin, meanwhile, joined the show after scoring three seasons of One Step Beyond, and brought his library of predominantly electronic compositions with him. Lubin’s cues tend toward the shrill and histrionic (“Shock Happenings" is particularly grating); however, he also provides several dreamy, ethereal pieces that perfectly evoke the loneliness of space and the strangeness of alien worlds.  For the most part, Lubin’s stuff is more generic and unfortunately less memorable (his cue titles are appropriately neutral: “Dramatic Tragedy,” “Dark and Scary,” etc.).



Frontiere’s Outer Limits music has seen two distinct soundtrack releases, so it’s easily obtained; Lubin’s, however, remains unreleased except for a couple of tracks on the One Step Beyond soundtrack (“Fear” and “Weird”) that would also appear on the show. There are bootlegs of Lubin’s library out there, however, including a 2-disc sci-fi/fantasy collection and deluxe 6-disc collection that encompasses The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, and more (I happen to own the later; it’s a marvelous--- if a bit unwieldy--- beast). If you’re interested… well, I know a guy who knows a guy.


5 comments:

  1. Nice recap! I do own both of the Dominic Frontiere collections you mention here. I am always thrown hearing his cues when I've watched episode of "The Invaders". I haven't been able to make it through that series, by the way. It's so formulaic.

    I don't have any Harry Lubin stuff, but as you point out, his output is rather generic. It's fun to hear within the confines of Season 2, but I don't believe I'd listen to it without being accompanied by the visuals of the episodes.

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  2. Nice write-up on one of the most memorable aspects of TOL! I can hear the music in my head for "The Man Who Was Never Born" in my head as I type this. Superb stuff!

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  3. It's to your credit that you're so aware of the music in TV and film -- you've mentioned it from the beginning of your TOL blog. A lot of viewers feel the "mood", but aren't aware how much of it comes from the music. Thanks for opening our ears. Your detailed breakdown of "stock" scored episodes was particularly interesting.

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  4. In their original "One Step Beyond" forms, the two cues you mentioned were amazingly effective on that show. I was a little kid when OSB was new c. 1960, one of the many across the country who would run from the room yelling, "Make them stop the scary music!" Those two cues (altered) didn't fit TOL very well, but we have to agree with you that Lubin did have his moments in TOL's second season.

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  5. Lubin's superb season 2 score was "Demon With a Glass Hand". That music fits that episode much the same way Frontiere's score for "Nightmare" fit that episode.

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