Composer Bear McCreary Conjures Strong Imagery For “Constantine”

Bear McCreary recording the orchestral component to the score of “Constantine.” Photo credit: NBC

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Composer Bear McCreary conjures strong imagery when creating his award winning scores. After reading the script for “The Walking Dead,” McCreary equated his  musical intention to an “earworm burrowing into the brain.” For the upcoming NBC series “Constantine,” McCreary found his musical imagery in watching early dailies of lead actor Matt Ryan (John Constantine) interacting with the set.

“In the scene Matt Ryan is following cockroaches and walking down a hallway. There was something really fun about the way he moved his body,” said McCreary. “It was like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. There’s straight horror texture but his sense of humor comes through; as he walks down the hallway he becomes himself.”

McCreary was brought onto “Constantine” during the pilot’s production by producer David S. Goyer.  Goyer and McCreary’s last collaboration, “Da Vinci’s Demons,” resulted in his 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme. A longtime fan of the DC Comic, McCreary was excited to journey into the show’s exploration of the occult and magic. While the storyline’s horror angle would feature musical dissidence, McCreary was particularly interested in offsetting the tension with elements that would highlight Constantine’s worldview and reluctant passion towards aiding humanity.

See also: Contemporary Music Informs A Period Story: Composer John Debney

Through experimentation, McCreary developed a theme that layers classical sounds with modern drumbeats, heavy metal guitars, electronica and topped with full orchestration. A harpsichord is prominently featured in the melody, supplying baroque cues that harkens back to a musical style popular 200 years ago. McCreary used the harpsichord to offset modern drum beats, enjoying the way the polar opposites “clicked.” He continued to layer sounds together, building a theme that equally defines the tone of the story and the title character’s personality. The melody remains simple to allow each sound to contribute a unique feel without muddying the overall sound.

“When you are working with so many different elements, each needs to be pretty simple. For instance, when you want paprika in your soup, you just add a pinch, or else you’ll ruin the flavor,” said McCreary. “The melody could almost be played with one finger. The simplicity highlights the quirky comedy of the character.”

Working on “Constantine” also provided McCreary the experience of directly influencing production. The third episode’s plot required a blues musician’s voice. McCreary worked with the writers prior to scoring the episode to ensure the text properly reflected the musical style. While McCreary’s work generally doesn’t influence the text, he typically will “plant seeds” within the score that escort the viewer to new character developments and storylines, such as the echoes of a lullaby that relates to a storyline in an upcoming episode.

In addition to “Constantine” and the upcoming season of “The Walking Dead,” McCreary’s scores can also be heard in “Outlander,” the upcoming “Intruders,” “Da Vinci’s Demons,” “Black Sails,” “Defiance” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” McCreary has enjoyed the balance of producing content for network television (requiring a score for over twenty episodes) with cable series which generally has half the episode count. He has strict criteria for the projects he accepts: the score must push him out of his comfort zone and force him to utilize new instrumentation and styles. In “Constantine” McCreary was able to completely invert a musical format he experimented with in “Da Vinci’s Demons” that incorporated modern sounds into a classical format. With “Constantine” he found a way to accent a very modern style with classical instruments.

“That is the draw for me, playing in different musical universes,” said McCreary. “I had never paired a harpsichord with driving drums, then adding an orchestral element that is broadly cinematic. It’s edgy and contemporary. It’s been really fun for me to work on.”

An unexpected influence on McCreary’s work has been the birth of his daughter, Sonatine. While family members have appeared in a number of his past scores (his blues vocalist father-in-law and guitarist/singer brother Brendan McCreary are featured in upcoming “Constantine” episodes) McCreary admits he feared fatherhood would inhibit his ability to create and perform. However, watching his daughter grow daily has provided him with new inspiration and creativity.

“I wasn’t expecting the change of perspective that being a parent brings, but it is extremely positive. I use my creativity and time in a different way,” said McCreary. “She’s grown up with these sinister sounds, but it’s funny, she won’t be able to watch what I’m working on for a long time.”

“Constantine” premiers October 24th on NBC. To learn more about “Constantine” please visit:
http://www.nbc.com/constantine