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Foundation: Season 1
  • Composed by Bear McCreary

Based on Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction stories (the first volume of which is seventy years old!), Foundation is the latest attempt to “find the new Game of Thrones“, this one by Apple. I’m not sure they’ve come close to doing that (for good or bad) but the flawed show does at least look absolutely stunning – if it isn’t the most expensive tv show ever made, then it certainly looks like it is. The premise is that in the distant future a mathematician works out a way of predicting the future algorithmically – and when his prediction is that the empire will fall, that doesn’t go down too well with the empire itself.

The show sounds pretty great too, thanks to Bear McCreary’s score. He does so many projects concurrently it’s hard to keep track – and while he is known for bringing distinctive colours to his different scores and creating individual sound worlds for each of them, from time to time he plays it straight and that’s what he’s done with Foundation, a traditional blend of orchestral drama and excitement with modern electronics.

Bear McCreary

What sets it apart from the crowd is its fabulous main theme, driving and dynamic and with some great “mathematical” synths and samples augmenting the orchestra. It’s no surprise that the composer uses it a lot – much of the early portion of the album is taken up with all sorts of variations on it, some of them quite heavily disguised, ranging from tender drama in “The Only Story” through a little bit of action in “Gaal Leaves Synnax” and culminating in the terrific, rousing “Journey to Trantor”.

After this the music takes a gentler turn in the beautiful “The Imperial Library”, celestial harp accompanied by calm strings and ultimately choir, before we hear a belting arrangement of the main theme for what sounds like a slightly softer variant on the duduk (somebody more sensible than me would no doubt recognise what it actually is). “Visions and Arrest” starts more low-key, with some moody percussive noodling before a pretty tragic little burst of the main theme.

In “The Trial of Hari Seldon” there is grand drama as strings and horns swirl with a bit of menace, and this leads into one of the standout tracks, “Star Bridge”. It opens with gritty percussion before a little string ostinato gets more and more agitated and then an explosion of brass (and choir) announces the great event; but what really makes the cue so great is the way McCreary dials that down into a gorgeous choral requiem, which is really nicely done. It’s not as stirring, but the drama continues into “Over the Horizon”, a piece which carries a great momentum – subtle wordless female voice adds some additional flavour, but it’s really about another set of variations on the fine main theme.

“The Promise of the Imperium” begins in slightly more humdrum style but it gets some meat on the bones as it progresses – it’s a slow-moving piece, suggestive of grand power, but creates tension quite nicely and the tension gives way to out-and-out action in the second half. “Escape Pod” too opens with tension – this time a little prodding percussive figure creating a bit of psychological drama, then the composer uses horror movie techniques from the strings and brass to make it more overt. This gives way to a pronounced anguish, an emotionally-strained variant on the main theme bringing with it a real sense of tragedy.

Perhaps the cue that will prove most satisfying to many listeners is the ten-minute “The Dream of Cleon the First” – it begins with kaleidoscopic notes for piano and harp, floating around the stereo spectrum like twinkling stars. Smooth, swoony strings appear and there is a beautifully fluid feel to the piece. This is only accentuated by the added vocal support provided by Raya Yarbrough, whose performance has a hypnotic quality to it, and seems to float in and out of consciousness. While the main theme dominates the album, this extended track is based on a secondary theme which is revealed to be very beautiful.

“Anacreon” is a very different-feeling track, based around a much darker melody, played by something like an electric cello (perhaps it is an electric cello – again, needs someone more sensible to confirm). Driving percussion accompanies it and it’s impressive. Different too is “The Chant of the Luminous”, which (perhaps not particularly surprisingly) is a chant – a monastic bell accompanies it which lends it even more of a religious feel than it has anyway, with an undoubtedly liturgical sound coming from the female choir. After this, a brief reprise of the main theme (for the end titles) closes the excellent album.

There’s some great music being written for tv series these days – there’s no longer any particular gap in quality between tv and film music – though the recent trend towards releasing every note of it, with individual episodes often getting individual albums these days, makes it rather harder to enjoy away from the show. Therefore it’s nice to see Foundation getting a more traditional album release, an hour of highlights from the whole season – albeit heavily-skewed towards the first couple of episodes (perhaps McCreary becoming a little less hands-on after that?) – it’s a very satisfying listening experience and while it might be a little too “traditional” for some of the composer’s fans I think it’s his best album for a while.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Vincent Desjardins (Reply) on Saturday 9 October, 2021 at 16:36

    I always enjoy reading your reviews. They have often helped me to decide to buy (or not buy) many a soundtrack. I’ve been enjoying watching Foundation and during several occasions I found myself noticing how great the music was so I was happy to read your mostly positive review. I did notice though, when I was checking out your other reviews for Bear McCreary scores, on the Reviews by Composer listing page, you only give Foundation 3 stars, yet at the end of the actual review itself, you have 4 stars. I imagine it’s a typo on one of the pages so I am wondering is it a 3 star review or a 4 star review?

  2. ghostof82 (Reply) on Sunday 10 October, 2021 at 22:52

    McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica scores were simply magnificent and haven’t been bettered- the range of themes and motifs developed over the five seasons made it seem like the TV equivalent of Howard Shores Lord of the Rings three-film opus. I don’t think anything he has done since has matched that (imagine if he’s been given Game of Thrones to score), I’m curious enough to perhaps give his Foundation a try.

  3. David Hand (Reply) on Wednesday 13 October, 2021 at 18:42

    Good evening from the U.K.

    i have just watched the first episode of Foundation and it looks promising.I particularly liked the music and fully agree with your review. You can always rely on Mr. McCreary to produce music which so well fits the action on the screen, and he may have have surpassed himself with this one

    I look forward to listening to further music in this series.
    Kind regards,
    David Hand

  4. Panciraptor (Reply) on Sunday 24 October, 2021 at 17:33

    Mr. Southall, you gotta give Bear’s score for Godzilla King of the Monsters a spin. Much as I loved Alexandre Desplat’s music for the first movie, I think the sequel’s music is the crown’s jewel of the MonsterVerse.
    Love your site. All the best.

  5. Mike (Reply) on Sunday 23 January, 2022 at 13:31

    Did uou notice how similar the main theme is to the BBC’s His Dark Materials?