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Shawn Clement Composes Quantum Quest Film Score With Space Sounds

Orchestra recording Quantum Quest score at Skywalker Sound.
Orchestra recording Quantum Quest score at Skywalker Sound.

Shawn Clement Composes Quantum Quest Film Score With Space Sounds
Composer Shawn Clement has had a long and acclaimed career scoring films and television shows, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He's in San Diego for Comic-Con, where he'll talk about composing the score for the new 3-D IMAX animated film "Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey." He recorded the score with members of the San Francisco Symphony at Skywalker Sound.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

You can see Shawn Clement at his Comic-Con panel today, Thursday, July 23, at noon in Ballroom 20.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. A soundtrack is an important part of any movie, but it is essential to the success of a science fiction or fantasy film. Music and sound effects set the stage for us to experience the strange worlds we are about to enter. Fresh from creating music for just such a strange world is my guest, composer Shawn Clement. He has scored videogames, and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he's appearing at San Diego's Comic-Con this week to promote a new 3-D animated IMAX film called "Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey." The movie boasts a stellar cast of voice actors including Samuel L. Jackson and William Shatner. And it also showcases Shawn Clement's musical score performed by an 82 piece orchestra and featuring some actual NASA recorded space sounds. It’s my pleasure to welcome Shawn Clement to These Days. Hi, Shawn.

SHAWN CLEMENT (Composer): How you doing?

CAVANAUGH: I’m doing great. Well, first of all, what can you tell us about the film, “Quantum Quest?”

CLEMENT: Well, it – there’s going to be some things that people are going to see in this movie that I don’t think they’ve seen before. As you mentioned, NASA’s involved with the film to a degree. Some of the visuals, although it’s animated, there’s some visuals that they got that are actual accurate landscapes of certain planets and things like that that we’re using in the film. Also, the sounds we got from Saturn and manipulating that, working out with the music. But, you know, other than that , it’s just – it’s a real fun – it’s a fun, action-adventure film about Dave, and Dave’s the main character. And it’s kind of following his journey. And…

CAVANAUGH: And Dave’s a photon.


CLEMENT: He’s a photon. Whatever that is. No, no. No. Yeah, and that’s the other cool thing about it, too, is you do – there is kind of a science lesson in the whole movie, which is kind of neat. But, yeah, he’s a photon and he leaves the sun and he’s off to do his mission and – and he has the villains and it’s just a – it’s a, you know, kind of a classic tale.

CAVANAUGH: Now when you’re composing the score for a movie, do you have the – do you watch the visuals before you do the – How does this work?

CLEMENT: Well, yeah, I definitely work with seeing the picture. Animation’s a little different because sometimes the animation takes a long time and so you’re never really working with a final version so sometimes you’re working with a storyboard that’s edited in time or there’s stick figures or sometimes there’s rough animation. So it’s – Animation’s a little different. But, on the whole, yeah, I’m working with picture. You know, you’ll sit with the director or the directors or whoever and discuss what everybody wants to do and all that, and then everything I write is perfectly in time. In this movie, too, there’s some scenes where a couple of characters are actually singing along with stuff and so everything really has to be, you know, nailed perfectly.

CAVANAUGH: And I saw a trailer you made about composing for “Quantum Quest,” and you made the point that it has a lot to do with your first impressions…

CLEMENT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …of what the scene is.

CLEMENT: Yeah. Everybody has a different approach and process. You know, like any creative people, we all have our own ways. For me, I, you know, I really like to shoot from my hip so I try not to watch the film too many times. I really want to just watch it and what first hits me, and usually your first impression is right. I mean, you have to trust yourself. And that kind of comes from my background of growing up as a musician. You know, I was a guitar player, played in a lot of bands and, you know, did a lot of improv and stuff like that so, you know, take a solo, once you go there’s no – no return, you know. But that’s kind of how I approach it because I want it to be fresh. Also, too, that comes from working in a lot of TV world where there’s – you don’t have a lot of time anyway so…


CLEMENT: …you have to get through it.

CAVANAUGH: You mentioned in an earlier answer that some actual NASA sounds are included in this soundtrack. Let’s hear the sounds of Saturn’s rings as you use them in your composition. This is part of Shawn Clement’s score for “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey.”

(audio of selection from “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey”)

CAVANAUGH: That was from “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey.” And that’s from Shawn Clement’s score. And what were we hearing there? What was that?

CLEMENT: That, well, that was a part of a cue that kind of goes into a big long battle sequence…


CLEMENT: …and that – Where that ended up going is you’ll have a lot of the themes of all the different characters and all that, so that was kind of like the intro to a bigger thing. That was just kind of a straight-up orchestral – stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Right. That’s what it sounded like.

CLEMENT: Stuff’s a good word. So that was kind of a lead-up. And, you know, it’s kind of setting up the stage. I mean, there’s over that scene, there’s a lot of dialogue going on, like, I’m going to do this, going to do that, and then it kicks into this whole other thing.

CAVANAUGH: And when you got those recordings from NASA of the sounds, first of all, are there sounds in space?

CLEMENT: I haven’t been.

CAVANAUGH: From what you hear.

CLEMENT: I can only go by what they’re telling me. Yeah, they actually generate, the rings of – what we really were using were the – the rings of Saturn make sound. But I think it’s an interp – they interpret it through equipment down here. I mean, I don’t – because I don’t – as far as I know, there’s no sound in space if you’re actually hanging out there.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

CLEMENT: So they’re – What happens is, they give off a frequency then they interpret it down here with, you know, some equipment and then that is what – the information they’re getting. So…

CAVANAUGH: I see. And you, in your score, enhance that with your own sort of string music.

CLEMENT: Yeah, there was a cue towards the beginning of the film where, you know, you – when the movie actually comes up, you’re in space. You see Saturn, and you’re just hearing its sounds. And then as they evolve, it turns into the score and that cue, what I did is try to mimic not only just using their sounds but also try to mimic it with my instruments like I start to really manipulate it. And I did that with theremin and a guitar violin and did all that at my studio. And then as the cue evolves, the orchestra comes in and starts doing stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Right, exactly, and what an orchestra. How did you end up working with the San Francisco Philharmonic at the Skywalker Studio?

CLEMENT: Yeah. Well, when the whole film got green-lit and was going, you know, the – Harry Kloor, the co-director and producer, he came to me and said, hey, can you just take care of all this post? You know, I’m a composer, I usually just deal with music. But it was kind of intriguing. I’m like, okay, well, we’ll see what I can put together. And I just started calling up people I’ve known throughout the years and just started pulling in favors and it was great because the cool thing about working at Skywalker is they can do everything. I mean, the sound is on a Foley, it’s a one-stop shop. So I started making calls and said, can we do this? And can we make this work? And they’re like, yeah. Let’s do it. So…

CAVANAUGH: And what’s the difference between what you’re doing on this movie and just doing the soundtrack? What else did you provide?

CLEMENT: Well, this I oversaw and when still, you know, sound design, not that I’m doing sound design but I’m overseeing all of the audio aspects, you know, all the way up through the final dub. And the final dub is when they do the final mix of the whole film which we’re doing, I think, in about four weeks. You know, overseeing all that and so it’s a bigger piece to bite off.

CAVANAUGH: So are you a big “Star Wars” fan? Was being up in the Skywalker Studios a big thrill?

CLEMENT: Oh, yeah. No, and it’s great. I mean, I’d been up there many times; I’ve never worked up there. This was the first time I got to actually work there so this was great. And it’s a kind of a hoot. After awhile, you just sit there and go, this is kind of neat being up here and – this is not too bad, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear a little bit more from your score for “Quantum Quest.” This is “Universe of Possibilities.”

(audio of “Universe of Possibilities from the film “Quantum Quest”)

CAVANAUGH: That is a string – that is from Shawn Clement’s composition for “Quantum Quest,” and that is powerful stuff. That sounds great.

CLEMENT: Thank you. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And that, actually, is the enhanced sound of the rings of Saturn.

CLEMENT: Yeah, that cue there is what I was talking about. That’s using that combined with adding other instruments and creating the sound of space and Saturn.

CAVANAUGH: You know, “Quantum Quest” is not the only reason that you’re going to be popular at Comic-Con but you’ve also worked on the score for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think that’s in season two?


CAVANAUGH: What was that like, having to create that music every week?

CLEMENT: That was a – that was a really, really fun gig. The cool thing about that show, you know, when you first take a look at it, okay, vampire slayer so you think, okay, vampire music. It wasn’t that at all. It was really – it was a drama and it’s like a young girl and her day-to-day stuff, she just happens to kill demons. So you really got to do a lot of – a wide palette of music. It was – you know, I’m – I really don’t like doing the same thing over and over and over and with that show, you could do all kinds of things. It was a blast. And everybody on it was great and Joss Whedon is very – very fun to work with. You know, he was – it’s always given, he really likes something, he’d be like, yeah, yeah, you know. So it was – it was a – that was a really fun gig.

CAVANAUGH: You enjoyed it.

CLEMENT: Yeah, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Now I hear your latest project, your next project, you’re working on a project about dolphins so I guess people heard that you could use space sounds so now they want you to use dolphin sounds.

CLEMENT: Yeah, I think I’m going to get type cast.

CAVANAUGH: What is this project?

CLEMENT: It’s a documentary. I don’t know a lot – too much about it right now. But it is, it’s a documentary and it’s about dolphin song. I mean, we hear about whale song but this is about dolphin song. And so the same thing, it’s taking their sounds and actually making it into music and – I really can’t say too much more about it but…

CAVANAUGH: I hear that Yoko Ono and Ringo Starr are involved in it.

CLEMENT: Yeah, somehow they’re involved with this. It was – that’s what kind of caught my eye.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. And what are you looking forward to at Comic-Con?

CLEMENT: I have no idea.

CAVANAUGH: Have you ever been there before?

CLEMENT: This will be my second time. I was – I was kind of shocked last year. I mean, it was – it’s nutty. I mean, it’s, you know, a lot of fans. And it’s cool. I mean, it’s definitely a…


CLEMENT: …sensory overload.

CAVANAUGH: And you’re going to be down there with some of the voice stars of this film, right?

CLEMENT: Yeah. Yeah, I still don’t know who all’s being on the panel but I know, you know, last night I was with Doug Jones and Robert Picardo so they’re going to be there today. But I’m not sure who else is coming but it should be really – really fun.

CAVANAUGH: You know, just a last quick question to you. Did you actually work with all of these actors that are in the movie? William Shatner and Samuel Jackson?

CLEMENT: No. With a composer, by the time we get involved, everybody’s gone.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s all cut.

CLEMENT: Yeah, they – especially with animation, the dialogue’s the first thing that gets done because they have to animate to the dialogue. They have to make all the mouths move and all that. So they’re – by the time I get on, they’re way gone. The only time you tend to run into any actors is maybe if you’re on a TV show because it’s episodic.


CLEMENT: They’re going to keep going every week. So – But on a film, usually, you know, I mean, it’s – so it’s – I’m at the end of the rope on it, you know, so…

CAVANAUGH: We – You could meet them today. I want to let everybody know Shawn Clement is at Comic-Con. He’s at a panel today at 12:00 noon in Ballroom 20. And I’ve been speaking with Shawn Clement who composed the score for the new animated film “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey.” Shawn, thank you so much for talking with us.

CLEMENT: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everybody know that we are preparing a health series on These Days and we want to hear from you. What do you think? Are you satisfied with the medical care you receive? Do you avoid going to the doctor because you can’t afford it? Write us with your stories and ideas at or go to and tell us about the high cost of healthcare. You’ve been listening to These Days. Stay with us for hour two, it’s coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

(audio clip from soundtrack for “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey”)

Shawn Clement Composer