Scoring Star Trek’s Utopia: Musical Iconicity in the Star Trek Franchise, 1966-2016

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Sommerfeld, Paul Allen


Gilliam, Bryan

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“Scoring Star Trek’s Utopia” investigates music as articular of the Star Trek franchise’s shifting discourses. This study focuses on the role of the fanfare from The Original Series title theme in foregrounding, concealing, or initiating Trek’s ideological tensions. By analyzing how the fanfare is complicit in Trek’s narrative and philosophical efforts—that is, its part in scoring a futuristic utopia—this dissertation uncovers continuities and discontinuities within the franchise’s fifty years of production. Star Trek has become one of the largest brands of the twenty-first century: thirteen films, six television series, interactive concert performances, and thousands of fan creations. The contributions of the fanfare, a near-constant presence, are both lacking in study and vital to a more nuanced understanding of the growth of Trek's brand.

Using previously unstudied archival sketches and scores, the filmic texts themselves, and viewers’ reactions to them, this study grounds an analysis of Trek’s musical-ideological developments within the practice of media consumption. Through archival research and close viewing of Star Trek’s films and television series—arguably its most well-known media—this study traces music’s crucial role in building the franchise’s ubiquity for American audiences. It examines choices made during the filmmaking process, such as where the fanfare appears, how it is altered, musical material derived from its characteristics, and its audiovisual placement. Over thirty different composers have contributed to Trek’s scoring (not to mention the directors, screenwriters, and actors involved), increasing the directions the franchise has taken. Drawing on scholarship that considers the construction of meaning, memory, and nostalgia in music, "Scoring Star Trek's Utopia" argues that viewers can and do retain awareness of the fanfare’s past and present manifestations. Even as Star Trek reifies its past, the potential within its multifaceted directions offers an enduring, yet malleable legacy for the present and future. In so doing, “Scoring Star Trek’s Utopia” approaches an understanding of franchised film and television scoring as well as illustrates music’s integral role in branding an ever-expanding media universe.






Sommerfeld, Paul Allen (2017). Scoring Star Trek’s Utopia: Musical Iconicity in the Star Trek Franchise, 1966-2016. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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