Musical Spock

By Jessica Getman

Note: This post is part of The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central and comes to the The Temp Track courtesy of guest blogger Jessica Getman.

“Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor: I survive it because my intelligence wins out over both, makes them live together.”
Spock (Leonard Nimoy), “The Enemy Within”

Spock makes this profound statement in “The Enemy Within.” It succinctly and powerfully illustrates the tension at the heart of the Spock character: he is neither human nor Vulcan, but somewhere in between.1This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3. His struggle as a biracial character is part of what makes him such a compelling character. The fact that he lives in an unresolved space between human and non-human made him a particularly rich locus of creativity for the franchise’s founders, a fact made audible in his relationship to music–both the music that underscores him and the music he makes on screen.

On a fundamental level, it’s true that Vulcans themselves embody an existential tension that is then amplified in Spock, a tension expressed through their music, the most well-known example being Gerald Fried’s “The Ancient Battle” cue from “Amok Time,” heavily inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. 2The same music is found in several other cues from this episode as well, including “Processional” and “The Ritual.” Fried’s use of Stravinsky’s primitivistic style highlights the Vulcans’ violent emotionality as well as their impressive intellectual control.  Its orientalist instrumentation (bells, kettledrums, gongs) and loudly painful dissonances are kept in check by forceful ostinatos and a rigid, asymmetrical meter (5/4). In this composition, Fried, and Star Trek, succeeded in defining the entire Vulcan race as one torn between two personality traits: their violent emotional instincts, and their pursuit of logic. It’s a tension Spock feels especially keenly as a biracial man subjected to human culture on the Enterprise, where expressing emotion is considered healthy.

anicent-battle
From “The Ancient Battle,” by Gerald Fried.

Fried gave Spock his own musical theme in “Amok Time,” one that expressed the personality inbalance that Spock feels as neither fully human (emotionally expressive) nor Vulcan (strictly stoic). Fried assigned the theme to the bass guitar, writing a “very tender solo” for “one of the most untender instruments [he] could imagine.”3“I [Fried] tried to write a warm theme but on such an instrument and in such a register that it couldn’t possibly really sound traditionally warm.” Gerald Fried, interview by Fred Steiner, transcript, April 16, 1982, Fred Steiner Papers, 1975– 1981, MSS 2193, “Star Trek Interviews,” L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Orem, UT. With lush arches and lots of room for rubato, this solo in another instrument could very easily be used as a romantic cue—in fact, it does serve as a love theme for Spock and Nurse Chapel in “Amok Time” when it is played on the cello. The primary instrument for this theme, though, remains the bass guitar. It was recorded by session bassist Barney Kessel, who, though employing quite a bit of rubato and artistic license, still produced a sound that was adequately stilted and thin. Fried’s Spock theme became a mainstay for the character, one that is heard numerous times throughout the series’ second and third seasons.

Gerald Fried’s Spock theme
Gerald Fried’s Spock theme

What is most interesting about Spock’s relationship to music, however, is that he is also musical as a character. Like Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), he performs on-screen several times throughout the series’ run.  This was partially a bid by the series creatives to flesh out his identity as a Vulcan by adding culture, but it was also, I believe, the key factor towards making him not only one of the series’ most compelling characters, but also one of its most compelling love interests, both on screen and for fans. As a musician, Spock’s exoticism is amplified, and the boundaries between masculine feminine are blurred; the on-screen music in which he participates does, in fact, specifically magnify his sex appeal.

Case in point: His Vulcan lyre, which shows off the graceful arches of his neck and ears.

spock_lyre

Second case in point: Uhura teasing him in the crew’s lounge.

Spock does, of course, play music at times throughout the series that do not deal directly with his aesthetic appeal. Sometimes, he plays in order to take part in another culture (“The Way to Eden”; AKA, the episode with the space hippies).

spock_and_friend

It is interesting, though, that the series’ creatives used Spock’s musicality to not only expand what we know about Vulcans or to enhance his romantic appeal, but also to enhance our understanding of how very intelligent he is.  He saves Kirk’s life, for instance, in “The Paradise Syndrome” by deciphering an ancient musical language. View the video for that here. Where his musicality often emphasizes some of his more feminine and sexual qualities, here it bolsters traits that (at least in the sixties) were interpreted as more masculine.

Star Trek amplified Spock’s identity through music—through the underscore ascribed to him and through his on-screen performances.  The precarious balance between his Vulcan and human identities bled into the score and produced several of the most recognizable and effective musical cues in the series.  Here’s to hoping that future Star Trek projects bring Spock’s musical richness into play in a way that the alternate timeline sadly does not.  Give the man a lyre!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3.
2. The same music is found in several other cues from this episode as well, including “Processional” and “The Ritual.”
3. “I [Fried] tried to write a warm theme but on such an instrument and in such a register that it couldn’t possibly really sound traditionally warm.” Gerald Fried, interview by Fred Steiner, transcript, April 16, 1982, Fred Steiner Papers, 1975– 1981, MSS 2193, “Star Trek Interviews,” L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Orem, UT.

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