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Krypton composer Pinar Toprak talks about scoring music for another world

Contributed by
May 9, 2018

This month, SYFY WIRE is interviewing some of the best composers in TV and film, to get insight on the theme songs and scores that stick in our heads long after the credits roll.

As the composer of SYFY's Krypton, Pinar Toprak is the only female composer to score a live-action superhero TV series in this century. And she is quite proud of this fact, as well she should be, especially because her list of predecessors is very short; the last woman to compose music for a live-action superhero TV show was Shirley Walker, who did the score for The Flash in 1990.

Krypton follows Superman's grandfather, Seg-El, as a young man trying to restore honor to the House of El. To complicate matters further, a time traveler, Adam Strange, shows up to warn him of the coming chaos, leaving Seg with a difficult decision. Does he save his beloved home planet Krypton, or save Earth and protect the legacy of his future grandson?

Pinar has been working as a composer for nearly 20 years. Her credits include writing additional music for Justice League and the video game Fortnite. So, yes, as you might imagine, she is a proud nerd. We spoke with Pinar about her nerdiness, taking inspiration from other Superman scores, and how she creates a sound for another planet.

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She's been following him, so she knows what's up. She decides it's time to tell him the truth, so takes him to… Seg's grandfather's Fortress of Solitude! That sandstone is the key to getting in. (You'd think they'd have copies of it.)

How did you get the job scoring Krypton?

It was right after Justice League came out, which I had the great fortune of writing some additional music for. I got a call from my agent on a Friday night, and he asked if I would like a weekend adventure. I said sure, and he said there's this show, Krypton. I was like, "Wait, Superman Krypton?" They sent me the pilot that weekend, and I talked with the showrunner Cameron Welsh on Saturday and wrote those scenes Saturday night and Sunday. Sent it over. I believe Monday or Tuesday I was hired. It was really fast.

Did you start with writing the theme song?

The theme came later. We weren't really sure of the approach there. I actually started with three different scenes: One was the alley scene, just before Lyta comes in; then there was an Adam Strange scene, where he first talks to Seg; then the other scene was when Seg was talking to his parents in their house.

You went from Justice League to Krypton. Do you consider yourself a nerd, or was this all new territory for you?

It was a really welcome territory! I am definitely a very proud nerd! I've been a huge sci-fi/genre fan forever. I've been reading comic books since I could read, I think. Superman was a huge part of my childhood, so all of this was — [and] still is — surreal. To be even remotely part of this universe is amazing.

Did you listen to previous Superman scores for inspiration, or did you not want to be influenced by that at all?

I know all the scores that have been done for Superman by heart! I didn't even need to listen back, to be honest. It's ingrained in my head. It's probably kind of a wrong approach to listen to something that has been done in a similar world because, inevitably, you will be influenced by it, and that's not the goal. There are some little homages that they've had, both in the John Williams score and in Man of Steel. But the idea was to do our own thing and create our own world.

Henry Cavill as Superman

Credit: Warner Bros.

How do you do that? How do you decide what the music on another planet would sound like? Especially because you wrote all the ambient music that the characters hear.

Those are actually really fun. In a lot of TV shows, when you have source cues, you don't even think about that because [the show] will just license something and put it there. But with this one, what are they going to license? They couldn't just put in anything there, so we had to come up with our own version of what they would be listening to.

It's very electronica-type stuff, but they all have their own vibe. To be honest, not having too much time is a good thing. I started making some sounds and I dove in and thought, "Okay, this works!" Everyone liked what was happening, so I just kept doing more of that. Then we would fine-tune some things... it was just good synergy, I think. It worked. We didn't overthink it too much. It was organic.

How long did you have to turn around music for each episode?

It varies. Seven to ten days per episode is the average.

Do you have different sounds for different characters?

Yeah, we have several themes. We have the Krypton theme, which is also kind of the heroic Seg theme. We have a theme for Lyta and Seg, a theme for Rao and Brainiac... lots of themes.

What is your favorite kind of scene to score?

For this show, I really like the dark stuff. There's not really a rule about how weird I can get, and that's been really satisfying. I have been able to create some really disturbed stuff! It is kind of concerning, how much I enjoy it.