I was eight years old when the X-Files premiered in 1992, and I was immediately hooked. Did I understand what was going on ever, even a fraction of the time? absolutely not. But there was something about the show that fascinated me. With 20/20 hindsight I can see that it all started with that theme music.
You know the one. It's stuck in your head now simply because I mentioned it. Simple, propulsive, and eerily constructed from a few disparate elements, that echo affect and that whistle. Composer Mark Snow told NPR in 2016 that he was "looking for something that Boy Scouts could hum at the campfire, as a scary song..."
Snow also took inspiration from The Smiths' anthem "How Soon Is Now," which you'll now never unhear.
It's always hard to judge whether or not a piece of music is successful in saying what the songwriter intended it to say, as songwriters are notoriously not fond of explaining their intentions. But with TV and movie themes, the intention is obviously to match the vibe of the show, and we can tell when they do that well. I don't think any movie or TV theme ever matched its show's vibe as well as the X-Files theme.
The X-Files theme sets a haunting scene with no words
The X-Files theme conveys the spooky vibe of the TV show with just a very minimalist instrumental. That makes it, in my opinion, the spookiest single piece of music ever written.
The X-Files theme is iconic. Why else would the X-Files theme have been remixed and covered so many time. The list of remixes is crazy. While the original was a chart hit in the UK and France, a trance version by Italian producer DJ Dado was also a hit in several countries. A Japan-only EP also contained remixes by MIke Oldfield, Satoshi Tomiie, and the Dust Brothers.
But when Snow himself tried remixing the theme for the X-Files 2016 reboot, he and producer Chris Carter came to the conclusion that there was no improving on the original.
Snow also released an album of his own music, including the X-Files theme, but that had the tune listed under the title "Materia Primoris." Now, my Latin is a little rusty, but I believe that's a reference to the concept of "prima materia," the primitive chaotic formless base of all matter.
The primordial chaos at the heart of all being is certainly the vibe of the X-Files theme.
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