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Spectrum is Green

Robert Weedon | Television | Saturday 20th February 2010

The composer Barry Gray is, in some ways, the unsung hero of the Supermarionation productions of Gerry Anderson. It's noticeable that after he retired after the first series of Space 1999, they never quite managed to capture the magic that first beholds one when watching the incredible Thunderbirds launch sequences or the spine-tingling green circles of the Mysterons in Captain Scarlet. The combination of sound and visual are inseparable, and without the music of Barry Gray, all of Anderson's justifiably loved puppet series would have been much diminished.

With this in mind, I was keen to improve the coverage of Barry Gray on Wikipedia, and on noticing that the Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons article is particularly excellent at the moment, decided to add some short transcriptions of the significant musical cues.

However, what soon becomes apparent when writing them out and analysing them is why the score of Captain Scarlet is so successful. It's because the three main musical motifs present throughout the incidental music are all variations on themselves. Let me demonstrate:

This is the four note melodic motif which always precedes an appearance or action of "The Mysterons", the unseen alien force at war with Earth for their "unprovoked attack on our Martian complex":

Mysteron motif.

It's an interesting little theme. In this key, it's probably a first inversion of C major, but because it does not use the third of the chord until it's too late, instead choosing to go for a bare fifth, the key is unable to be determined very exactly. Add to this the implication of a tri-tone (our old friend, the "devil's chord"), and it's a very chilling prospect indeed - this is what gives it its spooky, supernatural feel, a bit like the unseen Mysterons themselves.

What's more interesting, however, is what happens when you look at the theme which accompanies Captain Scarlet himself:

Captain Scarlet's motif.

Note that it's almost exactly the same melody, but with the first note an octave higher. Yes, what Barry Gray has done here is to subtly imply the events of episode one, in which Captain Scarlet briefly becomes a Mysteron agent himself, by making Captain Scarlet's theme a variation on the four note Mysteron theme.

By getting rid of that bare fifth, the tune sounds less threatening. So much so, that it's sung triumphantly on the end credits, at first by session musicians (including Gray himself as the echo), and later in a full song by a Monkees rip-off band amusingly called The Spectrum, which features such wonderfully awful lyrics as "They crash him, and his body they burn/They smash him, but they know he'll return (to live again)".

However, it's clever composing, as it means that whenever we hear Captain Scarlet's name sung, it subconsciously implies there's something Mysteronny about his character, which is of course, his indestructability.

Speaking of them, we now turn to Spectrum's own leitmotif, a moody military march which always precedes any scene taking place at Cloudbase, or just the organisation as a whole:

Spectrum motif.

Nothing odd about that, apart from when we analyse it further we find this:

Spectrum motif green.

Strange, eh? It seems that it's yet another variation on the Mysteron theme, with the little four note motif hiding in there. But what can this possibly mean? Could it just be there to subconsciously remind us of the ever-present threat of the Mysterons, or something more sinister? I guess I'll leave that up to Mysteron conspiracy theorists to decide. S.I.G.



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