From Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands to Underground Silos: Composers for ‘Fallout,’ ‘Silo’ and More Sci-Fi Series on Taking Cues From Otherworldly Settings

Science fiction and fantasy have inspired dozens of great television scores through the years, from “Battlestar Galactica” to “Game of Thrones.” Three more streaming series continued that tradition this season: “Silo,” “Fallout” and “3 Body Problem.”

Atli Örvarsson’s music for “Silo,” the Apple TV+ dystopian drama set in a bleak future where everyone lives in underground silos, was initially inspired by the setting. “It’s a mechanized world,” he says. “The technology you see is very, very old; the computers look like they’re from the ’80s, so there was always this idea that even the electronic sounds should be primitive, not slick.”

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So he relied on Korg and Moog synthesizers from earlier eras, along with an unusual keyboard: the magnetic resonator piano, which uses electromagnets to create unusual sounds from the strings inside the instrument. “There’s a steampunk feel to the design of the show, and this is the ultimate steampunk instrument,” Örvarsson says. It’s all over the score.”

He also employed Shards, an experimental London vocal ensemble whose voices are central to his theme for Juliet (Rebecca Ferguson). “She is the voice of truth in the silo, and there’s nothing more truthful than the human voice. We recorded a lot of vocal effects,” he adds.

The ascending line of the main title theme, the composer realized only after he wrote it, is symbolic of “people trying to get out of the silo.” Throughout the 10-hour series, he said, “I deliberately wanted to be very thematic.” The music of “Silo” has already won a BAFTA Television Craft award.

Previous Emmy winner Ramin Djawadi reunited with former employers for his two sci-fi scores: Jonathan Nolan (“Westworld”) produced “Fallout,” while David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (“Game of Thrones”) produced “3 Body Problem.”

The video-game origins of Amazon Prime Video’s “Fallout” influenced the composer. “Just as the show overall captures the look and mood of the game, I wanted to follow suit with the score, this very moody post-apocalyptic soundscape,” the composer says.

“Fallout” has people living in bunkers after a nuclear war, and a young woman (Ella Purnell) venturing out into the devastated landscape to find her father. The sound needed to be “industrial, with instruments that are not always in tune and percussion that rattles a little. Synthetic and percussive,” he says.

The character of the gunslinger Ghoul (Walton Goggins) suggested an Ennio Morricone-style approach, so Djawadi added an offbeat yodeling sound. The final episode shifts more into traditional orchestra, the composer says. “That’s when everything comes to a climax, and it gets very emotional for all the characters.”

Netflix’s “3 Body Problem” required a different approach. “A lot of the music is very understated, very minimalistic, brooding in the background,” Djawadi says of the heavily science-based adaptation of a Hugo-winning Chinese novel about contact with an alien race called the San-Ti.

“Everything is about communication,” he says, “so there is this underlying idea of Morse code with music, these repetitive patterns that occur that represent communication.” But, he adds, the series is “essentially a love story between two scientists,” so orchestra becomes more prominent in the second half of the eight-episode arc.

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