Whoosh! Issue 23 - August 1998

THE MUSIC AND SOUND DESIGN OF
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS

IAXS project #294
By Heather Perkins
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1666 words



Behind the Scenes (01-02)
LoDuca's Artistry (03-07)
Soundtracks (08-11)
The Audience is Listening to... (12-18)
Conclusion (19)
Biography



The Music And Sound Design Of Xena: Warrior Princess



Gabrielle reveals she is an ancestor of Zamfir


Gabrielle plays a pan flute in THE PRODIGAL.



Behind the Scenes

[1] While there is no doubt that Xena, Warrior Princess (XWP) is a show that succeeds largely because of its talented and charismatic cast, the talent behind the scenes is just as formidable. Part of the power of the show can be attributed to the high caliber of music and the sound created for XWP. Imagine a battle without Xena's fighting theme, or a fight scene without Hong-Kong style whooshes and cracks accompanying every movement and devastating kick.

I can't get that 'Fish Heads' tune out of my head!


Joseph LoDuca is the man behind the XENA music.


[2] Composer Joseph LoDuca, a frequent Sam Raimi collaborator, creates all of the musical themes for the show. He has also worked on the Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1982), Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987), Army Of Darkness (Sam Raimi, 1993) and American Gothic (TV, 1995-96), and continues to write all of the music for Hercules as well. The sound designers for XWP are Jason Schmid and Tim Bogs of Digital Sound and Picture. They create all of the sound effects for the show. These artists underscore the show's over-the-top romanticism and heroism in music and sound.


LoDuca's Artistry

[3] As XWP moves effortlessly through historical time periods and geographical locations, LoDuca's music blends many elements, using a traditional symphonic style as "glue" to hold the elements together. His use of modern synthesizers and samplers as well as unusual ethnic instruments and a traditional 55-piece orchestra gives his compositions an organic feel. LoDuca's use of strong rhythms propels the action. The blending of Celtic, Arabic, Bulgarian, and African melodic structures give the music a timeless, stateless feel appropriate to a show about a Warrior Princess who "travels the timelines".

[4] The theme song is an example of the excellence of LoDuca's music for the show. The music begins with a wild, stirring call, taking us back to the time of warriors and legends. In a short minute and a half, using the heroic sound of horns and timpani, the music successfully evokes the tragedy of Xena's evil past and the strength of her will. The string break in the middle just misses being too maudlin, and speaks directly to the emotions. It is an unusual composition for a TV theme song -- written in a minor key, using strong tonal colors, and Bulgarian instrumentation and lyrics -- but Xena is an unusual TV show.

[5] The quality of the music and sound is more like that of a film. In a 42-minute show, there is usually around 35 minutes of music, which is more common for a feature film than a television show.

[6] LoDuca uses Bulgarian women's voices as a signature device for the show, from the chorus singing the praises of the Warrior Princess in the title theme to the eerie single voice we hear signaling the arrival of the twisted Callisto. These vocals have a wild, powerful quality, evoking long winter nights and battles in open spaces.

[7] Woodwinds and reed instruments also play a part in the music. A gaida, a Bulgarian bagpipe, begins the show's theme and is heard frequently in other themes throughout the show. In quiet, sad, or romantic moments, a kava (a Bulgarian flute), oboe, or other woodwind is used as the melodic voice.


Soundtracks

Look for the 3-D clip card of the Gab-Drag soon!


The BITTER SUITE CD cover.


[8] The music for the show is now available on two compact discs (CD) from Varese Sarabande records, which are a must for any fan of Xena, LoDuca, or soundtrack music in general. Also available is a CD of the music from the all-musical episode, THE BITTER SUITE (58/312).

[9] The XWP CDs allow a more careful reading of the music. Themes, which are often snipped or faded in and out in an episode, are heard in their entirety on these discs. For example, take the XWP title theme one hears at the beginning of the show. In the aired version, the vocals are mixed in the background, whereas on the cds, the vocals are mixed very much in the foreground. The liner notes even provide the lyrics in Bulgarian and an English translation. The version of the Xena theme on cd is also longer, with a short middle section that has been edited out for TV.

[10] A few tracks stand out in particular. On the first CD, the "Main Title" is powerful, but almost better is "The Warrior Princess", snippets of which are often heard when Xena is fighting [e.g., when she wakes up from her injuries fighting Caesar's men in DESTINY (36/212) or battling the Persian horde in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)]. This music embodies Xena's indomitable will.

[11] Another great moment is "Burial", the song Lucy Lawless wrote using the words from a Hebrew poem and a melody of her own. The performance you hear on the show was digitally lifted from a third generation cassette of Lawless singing a demo of the song unaccompanied, which turned out to be the best version of the vocal recorded.


The Audience is Listening to...

[12] LoDuca's music often contains elements of sound design, and the sound design for the show is, in turn, very musical. From the haunting and powerful XWP title theme to the comical song, "Joxer, The Mighty", LoDuca's music drives the action and underscores the emotional impact, while Tim Boggs and Jason Schmid's sound design brings the characters, monsters, locations, and action vividly to life. Just try turning off the sound for a few minutes and watching one of the fight scenes or the opening montage of the show, and you will begin to see the impact of their work on the show.

[13] The job of a Sound Designer is to 'sweeten," or add sound, to the picture. Often the sound picked up by on-location microphones during filming is inadequate, or there is noise from wind or airplanes. In a show like XWP, the sound has to be "larger-than-life", so even the natural sounds are augmented. Sword clashes take on epic proportions and the movement of an arm sounds like a whip. All of these sounds are created and placed by the sound design team.

[14] The sound design team consists of the Foley artists, who create and record sounds as the video plays, such as swinging a bamboo stick to make the sound of a sword swing, or walking on a platform covered in dirt to create the sound of footsteps on a path; and, the Sound Designers, who create the signature sounds you hear on XWP.

[15] Anyone who attended the 1998 Hercules and Xena Convention in Burbank, California had a chance to hear Sound Designer Jason Schmid talk during the presentation on post-production for the shows. During his presentation, Schmid showed how a few people make the grunting, falling and "oof" sounds for every fight scene, and explained that he created the sound of the Dryads for GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204) from a mixture of animal sounds. The signature sound of the chakram flying through the air, a triumph in sound design, is made from dozens of sounds mixed together.

[16] Much of the sound design team's work goes on after editing is complete. Many sounds must be designed from scratch, often by mixing sounds from an effects library, or by recording and manipulating new sounds in the studio. Designers are very creative, and musical instruments, household implements, and even clothing are called into play. Jason Schmidt described recording the sound of a pair of shorts flapping to serve as the sound of Dryad wings.

[17] Many modern sound designers use computers to mix and process the effects you hear in movies and television shows. One sound may come from may different sources, sped up, slowed down, or manipulated in the computer. Computerized video systems are also used to help 'spot" sound to video, that is, to painstakingly synchronize each sound to its corresponding movement. Each required sound is called a "cue". In a show like XWP, there can be hundreds, even thousands, of separate cues for the sound designers to create. These are recorded to tape in layers, or "tracks", and each show may have 50 to 100 (or more) tracks of Foley and sound effects, along with the dialogue and music tracks, to mix down. This is as complex a job as mixing tracks for an album, probably even more so. The finished sound is added to the video, and the show is complete.

[18] Schmid and Boggs are responsible for every sound cue you hear on the show: the flames of a funeral pyre, the fall of an enemy, the Whoosh! of Xena's head turning, and the impact of Gabrielle's staff. From the screams of the monsters to the thundering of horses to the sound of a sword being drawn, these sounds are all found or created by the show's Sound Designers. The soundtrack forms an audio world to match, even to help create, the world you see on the screen.


Conclusion

[19] The music and sound for a show like XWP, if done well, blend in effortlessly with all of the other elements: the actors, the lighting, the cinematography, the visual effects, etc. However, the tireless craftsmanship that goes into all of these elements is why the whole succeeds, and the music and sound for Xena: Warrior Princess is an integral part of the soul of the show.



Biography

Heather Perkins Heather Perkins
http://www.best.com/~hperkins
Heather Perkins is a sound designer and composer based in San Francisco, CA.
Favorite episode: Hard to pick. Right now it's ONE AGAINST AN ARMY [59/313] (I needed that.)
Favorite line: Xena's wordless cry of grief at the top of the snowy mountain in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Toss up between ULYSSES (43/219) and FORGIVEN (60/314)

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