Los Angeles Times

Music has starring roll in theme park

List the ingredients of a great theme park and wild rides surely will come out on top.

Entertaining shows, lovable characters and a clean, friendly atmosphere are certain to make the cut too.

But great music?

''Music is a direct line to our emotions -- I can control the kind of emotion I want you to feel by the kind of music I play,'' said John Rust, a Hollywood soundtrack producer. ''We go to the effort of theming every other part (of a theme park). We need to theme the music too.''

Universal Florida executives agree -- so strongly, in fact, that they hired Rust to produce a soundtrack for their second Central Florida theme park, Islands of Adventure, to open in 1999.

The company hired Rust three years ago, when there was little but a rough design of the park. In doing so, Universal set out to create an entirely new sound for the park and its ''islands'' rather than use existing music.

''Usually, music is the last thing everyone thinks of instead of the first,'' Rust said. ''Music is usually badly underfunded.''

Other theme parks companies -- notably Disney -- have commissioned new music for parks and rides, but Universal officials say their parkwide effort is the most ambitious yet.

To make the project a success, Rust was given almost free rein. He opted to keep the well-known John Williams Jurassic Park score for the island of the same name -- some of the music was in the movie, some of it wasn't. Other than that -- with the exception of some short ditties associated with popular cartoon characters -- he decided to go with all new music.

In the Port of Entry, for example, Rust wanted an exotic, multicultural sound. In Lost Continent, which focuses on mythical themes, he sought an ethereal effect.

Download a QuickTime video of Composer William Kidd and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra recording new music for Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Listen to a Real Audio recording of Universal Florida's original music for Islands of Adventure.

He wanted something whimsical and silly for Seuss Landing, something powerful and rocking for Marvel Super Hero Island and something to unify the many theme songs associated with the characters of Toon Lagoon.

The music for Lost Continent and Port of Entry was recorded in December in Seattle, at locations ranging from a state-of-the-art soundstage to a former monastery. Recording sessions for Toon Lagoon, Seuss Landing and Marvel Super Hero Island will be held later this month in Los Angeles.

Creating so much new music is expensive and time-consuming, but Mark Woodbury, Universal's vice president of design and creative development, said it's time and money well-spent.

''What we do is create immersion experiences,'' he said. ''Music is a tremendous part of that.''

Giving music a starring role at Islands of Adventure makes sense for Universal, a company known for making movies, Woodbury said. Films rely on music to set a tone and foretell coming events -- and there's no reason a theme park can't do that too, he said.

Although music is important at Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood, both parks are based on movies and therefore have ready-made soundtracks, he said.

When it came time to come up with a new sound, Universal was open to all but the most outlandish ideas, said Tony Humecke, who composed music for Seuss Landing and Toon Lagoon with his partner, Chip Smith.

Some Toon Lagoon music was deemed too dark, for example, but very rarely was the duo reined in, Humecke said.

''We were happy not to be asked to do the typical stuff,'' he said.

'The typical stuff' was precisely what Rust wanted to avoid. Instead, he wanted the park's soundtrack to bring the feeling of each island to life through music.

To do that, he first studied the concepts, rides, shops and characters of each island. He then put together a ''treatment'' for each island containing both a story line -- it's the 1930s, you live in a bleak fishing village, playing this penny whistle is your sole escape -- and a list of key adjectives -- zany or ominous, for example.

Finally, he chose composers he felt were best suited to each style and challenged them to set the stories and words to music.

For the Port of Entry, Rust worked with William Kidd -- a protege of famed soundtrack composer John Williams -- to blend the sounds of several different countries. Kidd, who wrote the score for Return to Lonesome Dove and the theme song for Lois and Clark, also conducted the recent Seattle recording sessions.

Just as a movie soundtrack changes as the plot progresses, the music changes as visitors move through the Port of Entry. The sound culminates with a lush adaptation of the park's theme song, which is played as visitors pass under an arch and see the five islands before them.

Kidd also wrote the music for Lost Continent, which conjures up mythical themes through the ancient instruments of several cultures -- a Javanese gamalan orchestra, which includes metal, percussive instruments; a Celtic band complete with bagpipes; and a Greco-Etruscan band featuring ancient instruments from the Middle East, India and Greece.

For Seuss Landing, Rust chose the composing team of Smith and Humecke, who have written and scored music for television, movies and theme parks.

The original plan was to create the imaginary instruments found in Seussian books. But many of those creations were cacophonous and the resulting orchestra sounded ''insane,'' Rust said.

Instead, Rust and the composers decided to stick with a march tempo with a few Seussian sounds tossed in: singing kids, honks, squeaks and a harp strung with rubber bands.

To reach the island's young target audience, Rust plans to aim speakers so that the ''sweet spot'' -- the point at which the music sounds best -- is 4 feet off the ground.

Smith and Humecke also created the sound of Toon Lagoon.

At Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, they took the 30-second ditties from Jay Ward's cartoons and expanded them into a piece of music with a 1960s sound.

At Popeye's Sweethaven, Rust wanted music that evoked life on the seashore in the 1930s. For Comic Strip Lane, where many classic characters reside, the composers crafted a central piece of music that brings together themes heard one at a time as visitors walk down the road.

Betty Boop, for example, sings, ''I Wanna Be Loved By You'' over the central theme. Flash Gordon's rocket fires to the beat. Dennis the Menace yells, ''Mr. Wilson!'' when the music breaks.

For Marvel Super Hero Island, Rust worked with Howard Drossin, who wrote music for Menace II Society, to create a theme song for each character. The Incredible Hulk's theme is techno rock punctuated by laboratory sounds. Dr. Doom's dark theme is underscored by the out-of-tune scales that Rust imagines the evil doctor was forced to play as a child.

In the end, Rust came up with hours of music, some of which Universal plans to package and sell as a compact disc -- perhaps with a radio-friendly, celebrity-sung theme song.

He won't say precisely how much new music is being recorded for the park, but he says that if you arrive as the park opens and stay until closing time, you won't hear it all.

And although Rust realizes many people won't even notice the soundtrack he labored long and hard to create, he has no doubt his efforts will enhance the experience of every visitor.

''This music is as important as everything you will see at the park,'' he said. ''The right music will tap into your senses; the wrong music could break the illusion.''

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