This article is reproduced from the Planetarian Vol 1, No.3, September 2012


Judith Rubin – Communications Director, –

Mark Slater with orchestra in studio preparing to record for full-dome film

With 20-40 minute run-times and an educational mandate, it isn’t surprising that full-dome shows are sometimes considered a bit “talky.” Composer Mark Slater suggests that more music and less narration could achieve the goal more powerfully.

The classically-trained Slater, a native of the UK now based in Los Angeles, writes scores for movies and documentaries as well as background music for visitor attractions. He has scored several full-dome shows, including Two Small Pieces of Glass, Solar System Odyssey, Natural Selection and Planet Earth — Expedition Green.

He wants fulldome producers to see music as more of a learning tool. “It engages the mind on different levels. It can improve memory of the material and focus the attention. Music can be used to change the pace of the narrative, clarify and intensify the significance of visuals and words, and provide a link between screen and audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience.”

Slater wants more producers to trust the power of music. “Music helps you say what can’t be said in words. What scientists work to convey, music can telegraph,” he says. “Music accomplishes the scientific goal — it doesn’t get in the way of it.” The right music, that is.

He adds, “It is a challenge to find the appropriate music for a show – something that suits the voice over and provides the right transitions without calling attention to itself.”

Slater’s musical pedigree includes a father who is a professor of music and conductor, a degree from the London College of Music and a background as a cathedral chorister at Oxford. He no longer sings, but plays piano and cello. He is fond of many styles of music, including rock, jazz and opera. “Wagner and his peers would be writing music for film today,” says Slater, who named Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and Ennio Morricone as some of his favorite film composers.

Currently, Slater is working with Evans & Sutherland on the music for some visitor attractions in China, and with Mirage3D on the music for Dinosaurs at Dusk. “A dome, like a cathedral, is a very special space, a place to feel connected, to sense the wonder of the natural world.

He feels that museums and institutions can harness music for good results in more ways than they currently do. It can help drive repeat visitation, making people want to see a show more than once: “The emotional resonance of music creates a positive association.” It can create a sense of arrival in the facility: “Start the experience sooner in museums and planetariums, and make it more immersive. Help visitors feel they are on an adventure. That creates active engagement and excitement.”