Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Music Like Firefly 

I revisited the Firefly TV series recently and it reaffirmed my love for the incidental music chosen for the show.

Sure, there is a lot of cool space battle rah-rah bombast that happens in the score when the guns start blazing, but the thing that I always liked was the odd juxtaposition of the dusty acoustic folk instrumentation with hints of Eastern elements and the occasional ambient/industrial-ish tones.

Much of the highlighted instrumentation in the music I gravitate toward seems to be dobro, mandolin, and violin with occasional acoustic guitar and banjo or piano as underlying accents. Music theorist Jennifer Goltz in her excellent essay "Listening to Firefly" (found in the book Finding Serenity) points out:

"When they flew off after an adventure turned out all right, we
heard slide guitar, a little strumming, sometimes a fiddle: it was the sound
of their home and the sound of everything being right with the world.

And the fiddle and guitar are portable instruments, perfect for the
lifestyle of the crew; the music they make calls up tunes played out
in the open, by people who were hundreds of miles away just yesterday.
[The musical theme] Serenity conjures the nomadic lifestyle
the crew leads and underlines the western aspect of the show."


Since this kind of Appalachian folk has much of its original roots in Celtic music, song forms like reels and jigs wend their way into the soundtrack by way of flutes, pipes, and hand drums. Then from left field, Eastern folk instruments and phrasings would drift into the edges, due in large part to the influence of Chinese culture on that universe. And of course, being a sci-fi show, there are broad stretches of the music that feature atmospheric instrumentation and occasional industrial sounds -- the machinations of outer space.

The soundtrack to Firefly and the Serenity film are great, but they aren't really appropriate as background music. The music tells a narrative to what is happening on-screen including fistfights, space battles and other thrilling heroics, but I was looking for something that could be on in the background while reading or maybe starting a role-playing game that all had the same mood and feel, and kept the signal going.

I pulled together a Spotify playlist of instrumentals that could be found in the Firefly and Serenity universe. As I indicated above, it is mostly instrumental acoustic folk with some bluegrass/Chinese hybrid songs and a couple appropriate tunes from film and video game soundtracks.

Take The Sky - Music Found in the Firefly Universe

The tracklist:
"Interlude (Eastmountainsouth)" - Eastmountainsouth
"Slinger's Song" - Darren Korb (from the Bastion soundtrack)
"Cows / New Dress / My Crew" - Greg Edmonson (from the Firefly soundtrack)
"Robin and Marian" - Nickel Creek
"The Silver Spear/The Earl's Chair/The Musical Priest (Reels)" - Liz Carrol
"River's Dance" - Greg Edmonson (from the Firefly soundtrack)
"Stumptown" - Nickel Creek
"Katniss Afoot" - James Newton Howard (From the Hunger Games soundtrack)
"In Case of Trouble" - Darren Korb (from the Bastion soundtrack)
"Mansinneedof" - Sarah Jaroz
"Winnipeg" - Chris Pandolfi
"Dao Chuilian" - Red Chamber & Mei Han
"The Moon in the Sky (Xiao Yue Er Gao)" - Yu Liangmo
"Scotch & Chocolate" - Nickel Creek
"Spike in a Rail" - Darren Korb (from the Bastion soundtrack)
"Searching for Peeta" - James Newton Howard (From the Hunger Games soundtrack)
"Bill" - Tin Hat (from the Nebraska soundtrack)
"A Proper Story" - Darren Korb (from the Bastion soundtrack)
"Iguazu" - Gustavo Santaoalla
"Ashokan Farwell" - Jay Ungar & The Nashville Chamber Orchestra
"Pastures New" - Nickel Creek
"Aran Boat Song" - Darol Anger & Alasdair Frasier
"Spring" - Bruce Langhorne
"The Crystal Merchant" - The Greencards
"On the Drift" - Bedlam Bards
"First and Last Waltz" - Nickel Creek
"Dead End Alley" - Bill Elm and Woody Jackson (from the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack)
"Vale of Plenty" - Hans Zimmer (from the Black Hawk Down soundtrack)
"Amulet" - Copal
"Journey of the Sorcerer" - Eagles
"Cuckoo's Nest" - Nickel Creek
"Backstep Cindy/Purple Bamboo" - Abigail Washburn
"Saffron's Wedding Dance" - Bedlam Bards
"Choctaw Hayride" - Alison Krauss & Union Station
"Workfield" - Thomas Newman (from the Shawshank Redemption soundtrack)
"Su Prabhat" - The Greencards
"Datun Jelut" - Red Chamber
"By the River" - Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall & Bela Fleck
"The Rock Garden" - Bedlam Bards
"Redemption in Dub" - Bill Elm and Woody Jackson (from the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack)
"Elsie"- Nickel Creek
"River's Jig" - Bedlam Bards
"Big Country" - Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall & Bela Fleck
"A Kazakh Melody" - Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet
"Girls Picking Flowers" - Red Chamber
"Smoothie Song" - Nickel Creek
"Box Elder Beetles" - Wires & Wood
"Peace" - Sarah Jarosz
"Light Black" - Talk West
"Freiderick" - Sara Watkins
"City on the Mesa - Part 3 - Onwards to Meridian" - Joris de Man (from the Horizon: Zero Dawn soundtrack)
"Ah Ya Zein" - Red Chamber
"High Ham" - Psychograss
"Long Past Gone" - Sieber, Kammen, Fulton and Schatz (Music from Braid)
"Dry and Dusty" - Brittany Haas
"Local Honey" - Sean Watkins
"Mandala" - Yu-Xiao Guang
"Short Trip Home" - Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush & Joshua Bell
"Greeneries" - Takénobu
"Going for a Ride" - David Newman (from the Serenity soundtrack)
"Big Country" - Bela Fleck, Mike Marshall, Edgar Meyer
"The Rakers" - Elephant Revival
"Santa Anna's Retreat/Kitchen Gal" - Abigail Washburn
"Little Siam" - The Greencards
"Gone to Fortingall/Wired to the Moon" - Jerry Douglas and Michael McGoldrick
"The Majestic Swan" - Cadillac Sky
"White Snow in Spring" - Martin Simpson & Wu Man
"Maenam" - Sieber, Kammen, Fulton and Schatz (Music from Braid)
"40800" - Yu-Xiao Guang
"Across the Marshland" - Janne Viksten
"Almost Home" - The Greencards
"Blue Balloons" - Blossom
"Public Enemy" - Glenn Stafford (from the StarCraft II Soundtrack)
"Downstream" Sieber, Kammen, Fulton and Schatz (Music from Braid)
"The Beekeeper" - Chris Thile
"Fischer Store Road" - Sarah Jarosz
"The Road of Trials" - Austin Wintory (from the Journey video game soundtrack)
"Paddle the Torrens" - The Greencards
"Leadfoot" - Haas Kowert Tice
"Dance of the Yao Tribe" - Red Chamber
"City of Rome" - Jesper Kyd (from the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood video game soundtrack)
"Pterodactyl" - Grant Gordy
"The Pasture" - Elephant Revival
"River Valley Waltz" - Janne Viksten
"Transit of Venus, Matavai, A.D. 1769" - Stephen Scott
"Lauren's Lullaby" - Tin Hat
"Leonardo's Ride" - The Greencards
"Northern Winds" - Steve Earle
"Havelock" - Goldmund
"Acoustic Traveler" - John McEuen
"Inara's Suite" - Greg Edmonson (from the Firefly soundtrack)

I also started a Pandora station that occasionally surfaces some gems but is often more miss than hit.

I discovered these while digging through lists on, Whedonesque, Reddit, AskMetafilter and from a handful of other helpful browncoats.

Let me know if you think of any other songs that would be appropriate and maybe this list can keep flying.

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