Composer Sean Callery returns to “24: Live Another Day”
BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor
Sean Callery was excited to get involved with a ground breaking television concept: a political drama set over a 24-hour period unspooling in real time. The script’s main character, Jack Bauer, wasn’t yet cast and the pilot wasn’t picked up, however composer Callery knew the content had exciting possibilities. Thirteen years later, he is still revisiting Jack Bauer’s very long days.
“You work on a pilot not knowing what will happen to it. It was only picked up for thirteen episodes, not a full season,” said Callery. “It had been a meaningful project for me: I worked with great people and made many friends. Returning to ‘24’ is like a Christmas gift you get to keep on opening, it just keeps giving!”
From the first episode of “24” Callery wanted to incorporate the notion of time continually ticking into the score of the series. He turned to his past experience as a sound designer for inspiration. Working on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, Callery was part of the team creating the sounds of aircraft take-offs, phasers and doors closing. Callery felt that incorporating elements of sound design into the “24” score would heighten the elements of suspense and “under-the-skin goose bump tension.” Some devices Callery utilized were burning sounds and the ticking of a clock, which he sped up and layered within sections of the score. Callery also extended music used in action and high tension from one scene to the next. This allowed new activities and characters to blend into the storyline, and kept the essence of time moving forward. With every season of “24” Callery maintained a common sense of adrenaline and vigor in the score; however the style continually evolved with the character’s personal and professional growth. To prepare for the latest chapter, “24: Live Another Day”, Callery revisited season eight to review Bauer’s evolution.
“The music both stays the same and changes. Jack Bauer has gone through many different phases. He’s made sacrifices of himself for others and for his country,” said Callery. “To get the sound I sit with the new season and explore the energy of the story and the picture. We have a new location but I didn’t pre-decide on instrumentation based on that. Even if it was set in L.A. the sound would still evolve.”
When Bauer’s clock ran out in 2008, Callery was able to provide the score to another critically acclaimed political drama, “Homeland.” The role of the “Homeland” score was opposite of “24’s” wall to wall, racing-against-time soundscape. While the score for “24” ebbed and flowed between connecting storylines to aid viewers in understanding characters connections, “Homeland” music assists in maintaining a viewer’s uncertainty.
“It’s sparsely spotted and not a lot of it. It’s designed to never instruct the viewer how to feel,” said Callery. “Season one had an open question of loyalty and allegiance. I had to leave it ambiguous without darkness or uplifted feelings. There were not a lot of flourishes or gestures. I had to study the episodes carefully and pick just the right places and focus on the level of intention.”
Regardless of the intention of the score, Callery approaches every project from the same place: observing both his emotions and physical responses when reading a script. He finds these initial “honest reactions” to be the best clues as to how to proceed. This approach greatly aided his creation of the score for “Bones.” Callery has consistently admired the writer’s ability to maintain a delicate balance between the seriousness of the criminal cases investigated with the light-hearted banter and the character development that’s maintained a strong following over the show’s nine seasons.
“It’s not the kind of music that jabs an elbow into the funny bone; it gets out of the way and allows the characters to banter,” said Callery. “If you turn the music down there’s some heavy visuals; the grisly finds, the science in the labs, but with the sound up there’s a light patter. It’s amazing to me how the music and the acting are able to disarm the visuals.”
Through the course of his career, Callery has earned 13 Emmy nominations. His three Emmy wins all stem from his work on “24.” A graduate of New England Conservatory, Callery turns towards his classical training on the piano when he begins any score. However, his first step in writing is slightly unconventional: he uses a player piano that records onto floppy disks.
“It has a digital display and you put your disk in, and you record or play,” said Callery. “You record what you are playing. I find it’s the easiest way to record an idea. Yes, I still use a floppy! It still records, and it still works.”
“24: Live Another Day” premieres Monday May 5th on Fox. The season has been condensed into twelve hours. For more information on “24” please visit: