Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Road to AET, part 1

Over the course of this blog's lifetime I must have mentioned a couple of times that it took about twenty years for me to get to where we are now. Since I was going to write it down at some point anyway, I thought it might be also interesting for you to learn how it all began. Let's go back in time.

1991 (est.)

Poland was undergoing economic, social and cultural transformation. TV shows from beyond the ocean slowly started to trickle down. It was probably somewhere in 1991 when my neighbour from the fourth floor, Paweł (who influenced my taste in music and sci-fi a lot) told me:

"You know, there's this TV show about this very smart guy. You should watch it, because the theme song is similar to Jarre's "Orient Express". It's called "MacGyver"."

Paweł introduced me to the electronic music of Jean Michel Jarre (whom I also met) a year earlier and I became an instant fan. "MacGyver" theme was also love at first "sight" (actually I do *see* music thanks to my synæsthesia).

I got my first keyboard (a Casio MT-640) in September 1990 and as far as I remember whenever I heard something I liked I wanted to be able to play it myself. "MacGyver" theme was where my passion for performing TV show music started.

At that time I was still very young and I was naively assuming that basically *any* music could be purchased on a cassette tape. Even though my attempts to get a hold of a "MacGyver soundtrack" (that I presumed existed) kept on failing, I was persistent.

Spring 1994

Can you imagine my surprise when finally my question "do you happen to have music from MacGyver?" was answered with a definite "YES" three years later? It was in an old camping van converted to a cassette store located at the market approx. 200 meters from where I lived at that time. Boy, was I excited to finally make some progress. The theme was available on the "Koto... plays Science-Fiction Movie Themes" (please visit spacesynth.net for more information about this album)


My excitement wore off a little bit having discovered it was a cover album done in a style (called "spacesynth" or "space disco") that was not to my liking at that time. That being said, have a quick look at the track listing:


Do you see what I did here?

Yes. Track 3 was my first exposure to the Airwolf theme ever, and to the words "Airwolf" and "Levay" in general. My initial reaction was far from what you would expect coming from me. To put it mildly: I did not like it. I found it to be a boring and repetitive piece of music and one of the least interesting pieces on the album (even though I found the main melody to be quite catchy). I hope to get a time machine one day, go back to 1994 and show my past-self from 1994 the "Airwolf Extended Themes" cover signed by Sylvester Levay. The look on that little bastard's face will be priceless!

Fall 1994

Several months later I was browsing the TV guide. A broadcast schedule of "Polsat" for Wednesdays caught my eye: 8:00pm: "Airwolf". "Ah, that boring track" I thought instantly (please keep in mind that at that moment I had no idea what the show was about - I only knew Koto's cover version of the main theme and the name of the original composer). After short consideration, I decided that since I already heard the theme music I should perhaps at least see what the show is about. Especially given how far Koto's rendition of "MacGyver" was from the original I thought it deserved a chance.

Now that I think of it, it was one of the most important decisions in my entire life so far.

I immediately noticed that the actual theme music is simply another league. I also loved the premise of the show, the characters and obviously, the helicopter. But the main theme did something to my brain. I'm not sure how I arrived at this habit but since the airing of fourth episode I would record on tape ALL main theme versions that would appear in every episode. I would do that twice: on the original airing on Wednesday evenings and then once again during Thursday reruns around 12 pm and 3 pm (on second viewing I knew pretty much exactly when the music is actually going to start). I would always record the teaser trailer, opening theme, all incarnations of the main theme within the episode and the closing credits. All my tapes were labeled with a date (always a Wednesday).

Recording gear that I used. Photo from here
Between 1991 and 1994 there were a couple of TV shows with theme music that I enjoyed. "Airwolf", however was a different beast: none of the other shows I watched featured the main theme *inside* the episode. Not only "Airwolf" had this, but the main theme versions were different pretty much in every episode.

The surprise

Polsat broadcasts were far from being perfect: the episodes were not aired in order and some were missing altogether ('MIND OF THE MACHINE' or 'THE HUNTED'). Luckily the shuffling would only occur within the confines of a season, with one notable exception. Polsat was somewhere around the first quarter of Season 2, it must have been February or March 1995. It was Wednesday around 8:00 pm, the commercial break was over and I was patiently (right...) waiting with my fingers ready on the "Rec" and "Play" buttons on my recording gear. To my surprise, instead of the Ascending Bridge used in Season 2 teaser trailers I heard Season 1 teaser music. Polsat aired a "lost" Season 1 episode: 'BITE OF THE JACKAL'. It was a real treat for me, main-theme-wise. Being an early episode it contained many interesting variations of the main theme: the unusual Ascending Bridge orchestral arrangement during Archangel pickup; the mid-episode start-up with unusual ending (included on Airwolf Extended Themes obviously!); the extended finale aerial with weird sound effect near the end. But the biggest excitement for me was to hear the closing credits (please note that by that time I hadn't seen 'DADDY'S GONE A HUNT'N' yet): not only they were done in minimalist fashion (no main theme melody, muffled drums), they were done in the E-key (which was only used for Season 1 teasers) and when I heard the second verse I was pretty much like "OMG a saxophone! No way!". I was so excited that I woke up around 5-6am the next morning just to listen to the recording a couple more times before going to school.

The birthday gift

Another memorable moment happened on my birthday in 1995. On May 10th Polsat aired the third season episode "Eagles", which featured an aerial with a unique synthesizer + orchestral version of the main theme, with some additional brass staccatos during the Ascending Bridge. Neither this version nor said staccatos were ever used in the show again. It was the best birthday gift I could possibly get at that time.

The snort

I mentioned earlier that I pretty much naively assumed that there is a soundtrack release available for everything. It must have been somewhere in 1995: my Aunt from the U.S. was on the phone and I spoke briefly to her. I asked if she could check for "Airwolf" soundtrack release in the U.S. As I was asking her, my elder sister was passing by and commented on what she'd just heard with a "yeah, right" patronizing type snort. Well, guess I showed her: not only I have the soundtrack after 18 years - there's also my name on it!

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story Jan, glad you came around and fell in love with the theme, thus giving us this ***Spectacular*** AET collection! :D

    When I first saw Airwolf, it was the Movie version and to be honest not til later into the 2000s did I actually started to pay attention to the music of the show. It was pure love of the helicopter that kept bringing me back to it. But when I started to notice the music, I fell for it hard! It is one of the best theme musics I have ever heard on TV! The copter and the music compliment each other, which is rare in entertainment in my opinion! So thank you very much for doing this for us all! :)

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