A Conversation with Joseph LoDuca

Composer Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess

Q: How long have you been working with Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi?

A: I was introduced to Rob and Sam in 1980. They were editing their very first feature film, "Evil Dead" and they were looking for someone who could make frightening music. I was fresh out of school as a composition student and as a performer on guitar. I put together a demo tape for them and they were intrigued. It was my very first film score. It was also the first time they had commissioned a composer, so together we've learned how to make film music. Since then I've scored "Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness," as well as the pilot to "Mantis" for them. Our collaboration is a very long and fruitful one. From what I understand, it's going to continue for the next two seasons on "Hercules" and "Xena."

Q: Many of the NetForum users really enjoy your work. What do you feel are the most satisfying and interesting things about your work?

A: The first is that I am given the resources of an entire symphony orchestra. That's uncommon for a composer in any field. For me it's very gratifying; to drive yourself nuts for three weeks with little sleep and then hear the results. The whirring up your turbine engines played back in your face is probably the most exciting thing that a composer could want. Also, I think that our fans should be aware that it's an indication of the value that Sam and Rob like to bring to their shows.
      The second is to be able to work with people who'll stand behind your wild and crazy ideas. Rob and Sam have been supportive of my unusual and unconventional ways of producing music. They themselves are very musical in an intuitive way, and come up with great suggestions.

Q: Some of our NetForum questions come from aspiring film composers. What advice would you give to them?

A: For those aspiring film composers out there, I have to admit it was the furthest thing from my mind when I started out. Unwittingly, I had developed a number of skills and interests that enabled me to become a good musical dramatist. I was first a literature student at the University of Michigan and I've always been a musician. A musician who loves all kinds of music. I played in a rock band throughout my teens. I moved to New York City to play jazz for two or three years. I was completely taken in by the classical guitar for a number of years; then music from various cultures from around the world. These divergent and unprejudiced influences have given me a very broad range of experiences to draw upon when I write music for "Xena," "Hercules" and "American Gothic."

Q: Could you describe the process for scoring a television show -- how long on average does it take for you to score a show like "Xena"?

A: The simple answer is: you have as long as you are given. When we are in the throes of production, there is a new show every week. I always hear about special episodes coming down the pike that may require source music for someone singing or dancing. Sometimes we're preparing tracks well ahead of time, sometimes not. Basically you have enough time to go with your first impulse and stick to it. There is usually little time for changes so you have to be well prepared. The music is sometimes written for orchestras, sometimes for synthesizers and sometimes for ethnic musicians. The logistics -- things like travel, working over long-distance phone line all have to be worked out. I have a great assistant who lines up these sessions. It's quite a mad dash to the finish for anyone who works in television.
      A "Xena" or "Hercules" episode lasts about 44 minutes in length and will usually have somewhere in the neighborhood of 34 or 35 minutes of music that we're responsible for every week. I have to credit my music editors and my support staff for helping me put it all together.

Q: When you score shows like "Xena," what kind of prep work do you usually do?

A: There is just enough time to get your first inspiration and run with the ball. I have had to score long action sequences with computer-generated monsters that I have never seen. There was an episode this season where Gabrielle was playing a flute. I had to put notes into her fingers and into her breath where none existed. There have been scenes where we have had to make dancers dance to music that we didn't have access to. What hopefully happens is that I put a unique stamp on each episode. Xena's character is full of possibilities. I've been developing Gabby's musical personality. Since she's a bard from Greece her music has a Greek flavor.

Q: Where did your inspiration come for the music for "Xena"?

A: Xena, as many of the fans will remember, was introduced as the Warrior Princess in a trilogy at the end of the first season of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys." I credit a lot of the initial suggestions to our producer Rob Tapert. He came up with the idea of Bulgarian singing. I had written a powerful women's chant in an eastern European style on "Hercules and the Amazon Women" that he liked very much. This show was originally temped with "Conan" music. I thought that that was just too masculine. Hong Kong action fighting scored with over-the-top singing was very appealing to us. In Xena's theme, I heard a way to marry primitive drumming, eastern European rhythms, and a Bulgarian women's chorus. When I dove deeper into the musical culture of Bulgaria I found a shepherd's flute, called a "kaval" that I use in love scenes. Overblown the "kaval" produces a very chilling effect for Xena's chakram toss and her paralysis trick. I've used a bagpipe called a "gaida," which has a war-like sound combined with drumming and water castanets. We used instruments from all over the world to create a piece for Darfus, Xena's lieutenant in the Warrior Princess trilogy. We played conches, shofars, Chinese cymbals and digeeridoos; when combined with an orchestra the result is scary and unique. I've tried to keep Xena's music distinctly different from Hercules. The tone of Xena tends to be more exotic, tends to be darker because of her past and her stone-faced posture. The dramatic situations are more complicated, more adult. There's a lot less major key writing in "Xena" than there is in "Hercules."

Q: What aspects of Xena as a character are you trying to underscore when you use the "gaida," the "kaval," various choral themes, or is it a particular mood you are trying to create?

A: Any and all of the above, I guess, would be the answer to that question. Warlike, chilling sounds help to create an atmosphere of ancient culture, even though the dialogue is contemporary. As we are in a fantasy world, I try to enhance the drama with emotional authenticity and immediacy. And while TV economics, as they exist today, demand that quite a bit of the music is synthesized, we always go out of our way for the human cry. It adds mystery and intrigue to Xena's world.

Q: Stories are circulating on the NetForum about whether Lucy Lawless actually sang the dirge for Marcus' funeral in "The Path Not Taken", could you give us the inside scoop?

A: That's an interesting story. Lucy gave a cassette of her singing a melody she made up to our producer, Rob Tapert. To the best of my knowledge, the lyrics are Hassidic. It was a song that worked well in the episode "The Path Not Taken." Xena sings over the processional for Marcus, her lover. It turned out that the best performance that we had was on a 3rd-generation poor quality cassette. Yet there was something that was very moving about Lucy's performance -- she's a very talented singer as well as a great actress. I wrote the setting for the song. It will appear on a Xena Soundtrack CD to be released on Varese Sarabande Recordings later this summer.

Q: Where did your inspiration for the music for "Hercules" come from?

A: From the outset Rob and Sam were interested in trying to do something different with Hercules. Originally we thought I would created an exotic and Arabic score. When the first film footage from New Zealand came back, I felt that this was not going to be the best approach. I saw lush landscapes and colorful costuming that almost looked medieval. It was broader and more fantastic than anything as specific as Arab music could describe and there was nothing exotic about the "new" Hercules in this show. He's a tall, blond hero with a good heart. Hercules' theme came to me in about an hour as I was leaving for Los Angeles to present some ideas. Our hero was good and true. His theme reflects these qualities. We would instead surround him withe the hummus, as I call it, the ethnic spicing appears around him as required; the score of "Festival of Dionysus" for example. It's a hybrid of Brazilian escola de samba with an Arabic melody.

      There is another aspect of the music in Hercules that distinguishes it from "Xena." There is a lot of cutting up in the script and on the set. There's a lot of physical comedy. Musically we haven't shied away from that. We have actually gone over the top and commented on it. We have a Typhon, the clumsy giant, kissing Echidna, the mother of all monsters, so I write the "Honeymooners" over a big, sappy, romantic screen kiss. Aphrodite is windsurfing so I write with surfin' "oud" (Arabic lute) music along with some broad nods to the beach comedies of the 60's. The music is as good-natured as the show. We get in on the fun and I hope it's fun for the listeners.

Q: In what ways are you using technology to produce musical "Hercules" and "Xena"?

A: The most current technology pervades every aspect of music making. I compose and synchronize to picture using my PC. I E-mail files to my copyists, print out music using notation software. Music is kept in the digital domain most of the time; most cues are sent to the dub stage via ISDN lines. While the setting of the shows is BC the music is made in ways that look to the millennium.

Borrowed from the Official MCA Xena site

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