A Discussion with Howard Shore – UPDATED with Transcript And MP3 Download – The composer sits down and answers questions about LOTR

by Dec 7, 2003Lord of the Rings (Movies)

This past Tuesday had the good fortune to join in the ROTK press junket, sitting down with five other folks from press outlets around the world, and speaking to almost all of the principal actors and movers of these films.  Here is the first in our series, a discussion with Howard Shore! UPDATE: Please scroll down for the transcript!

Additionally, we will be releasing one every few days… upcoming discussions include:

Peter Jackson
Elijah Wood
Liv Tyler and Orlando Bloom
Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd
Viggo Mortensen
Andy Serkis
Ian McKellen
Sean Astin
Bernard Hill
John Noble and David Wenham
Phillipa Boyens
Richard Taylor and Barrie Osbourne

MP3 Format - Click image to listen!MP3 Format – Click image to listen!

TRANSCRIPT (thanks to Laureanna for taking the time and putting this together!)

(0:00) Q: Can you first tell us a little bit about the specific extra scoring for the Extended DVDs?

A: Each year we do an extended version of the film (of the theatrical version) and I did a complete production of composition, orchestration, conducting – we do a complete recording. It is an actual movie. I’ve done many movies before the LOTR. Each LOTR film I think, is comparable to six film productions for me. And the DVD is the seventh. It’s as much work and as much involvement in doing these as in any other film I ever did in Hollywood, and it’s just on the DVD.

(0:55) Q: And why is that, exactly?

A: Just the detail and our process, and the way we created the movies and you probably see that on the screen – like how much detail. The DVD is a complicated thing as well because you are taking the existing film that’s in masters and you’re opening it up, and creating new pieces. And you want it to feel seamlessly. We think the extended versions will be the historical versions of these film a few years from now, so we want the extended version as the thing that we really want to be great. Because we think that will be the one that will really live on.

(1:42) Q: Do you actually rescore when you have to do the insertions where there’s another twenty seconds? Do you rescore the whole thing?

A: Absolutely. The whole thing. (Q: Wow.) Well, I find a good end point, wherever that is in the phrase. It’s like photography, where you’re going back, and you have to relight, specifically, the scene, because you have to create it in the same image. So we go back to the same studios, we have very specific mikeing imagery that we use, the same instruments, and the same players. It’s all very mathematical and scientific to create the same sound for the film, so that when we put it in it has a very seamless quality to it, as if we made that film as well as making the theatrical. It’s a cool thing to do. It’s really hard, detailed work, but it’s really, really cool. We love doing it.

(2:34) Q: (Some discussion back and forth to identify a particular song. Determined that it was Pippin singing in front of Denethor in ROTK.) Did you choose that piece?

A: Oh, you are talking about Billy Boyd’s song, Pippin’s song? No, they’re Tolkien lyrics and that’s Billy’s melody. And he sang it on set. That was done before I even started. I heard about that song. I thought it was fantastic. Yeah, it’s beautiful. I did just the background – I did the pieces of the horses riding into it – but that’s completely Billy’s.

(3:37) Q: Were there any influences you had, for instance, George Lucas played Holst’s The Planets for John Williams before he scored Star Wars. Was there any influence or anything sort of thing in mind that Peter Jackson had before you actually started scoring the entire film?

A: We didn’t really listen to anything really specifically. But you have to remember that Middle Earth is five thousand years ago, so we wanted to create a culture based on this world that was the beginning of European culture, if you will. So we used Celtic music, which is some of the oldest music in the world. A lot of the score is steeped in 19th century symphonic tradition. The singing was important because of its human quality – the idea of using voices and using the Tolkien languages. So you want to create an historical piece that felt as if it was 5000 years ago. And that was the idea, and that if you feel influences now from it, the idea was to create something that was old and that things would have grown out of, so European music may have grown out of this tradition – of this sound from Middle Earth. That was kind of the idea for the score. That, and Peter’s great sense of classic movie making, of epic movie making. He really understood that. LOTR has forty, fifty motifs. He understood that kind of architecture to it. There are motifs created for cultures and for characters and for objects, and he understood that really well. And that things had to have particular sounds to them. We wanted to create a sense of reality to the movies in the music, so when you were in Lothlorien, or in Rivendell, it had very specific feeling and composition to it, use of the indigenous instruments that might have been used in those places, like the hardanger fiddle used in Rohan, because Tolkien described it as a Viking, Nordic culture, and things like that. But we also – this was very important to Peter – we also tell a story, because the story of LOTR is dense, if people haven’t read the book. We wanted to create a movie that people could just watch and they could have references and they would understand that Galadriel was in Lothlorien, because this music had a part of that character – you heard the monochord or the sarongee (?) connected to certain (characters) so it helped you to understand the story, because it’s complicated. In ROTK, when they are forging the sword – Narsil is being forged – Anduril – it’s a really significant event in the movie, because only through the reforging is Aragorn able to become king. Elrond gives him the sword, and you have to understand that the sword came from Rivendell. You have to understand in ROTK that Elrond and Arden are in Rivendell. So there are certain orchestrational things that I would do, certain compositions, to put you back in Rivendell. The music was used, in a way, for clarity of story telling, so you understood it. So there had to be linkages for clarity, but then, there had to be a lot of new creation, too, because you are going to new worlds. You are going to Gondor; you are meeting Faramir and Denethor, and Paths of the Dead, and Shelob.

(7:28) Q: In this last movie, how many times did you hear Peter say the word “tension”?

A: That’s a good funny. That’s right, or “Spooky. This is gonna feel spooky.” I know, there’s quite a lot of it. It’s kind of building on top of each other, I know. Well, that’s the nature of it. It’s just a story that does keep building and building. There was a point, and I knew it was going to come, when you’re writing, and it’s a very iconic movie, ROTK, and there is a moment, when you’re writing the destruction of the Ring and you know it’s coming – you’ve read the book – and you’ve read it many times – but there were those great moments where you had to write that piece and you had to do the pieces leading up to it. There is that moment with Sam and Frodo on Mt. Doom, and it’s all building towards the climax, of the destruction of the Ring.

(8:29) Q: Do you have any favorite theme, musically?

A: Well, I thing the Sam-Frodo. I think that relationship is important to me. The Shire, and elements of the Shire, and “In Dreams”, and the things really related to that. In terms specifically to the ROTK, Gondor is a favorite, and the relationship of Denethor-Faramir is pretty interesting to me, musically.

(9:07) Q: What kind of research do you do to write the piece?

A: A lot for LOTR. I had done literary adaptations before – I did Naked Lunch based on William Burroughs, and J. G. Ballard’s Crash and Looking for Richard, based on Richard the Third, from Shakespeare. So doing the LOTR – Tolkien – it’s a pretty big undertaking. I did, easily, four months of research before I even felt comfortable writing a note. I have to do that. And the research is a way for me to get away from the piece intellectually. Because music is not intellectual to me, it’s an emotional thing. So you can’t write unless you’re – well for me, research means intellectually you have absorbed enough of this thing. So to look at Tolkien, you have to look at what Tolkien was influenced by. Industrial Revolution, change of the country in England, First World War, you have to understand all that. You have to understand Tolkien’s influences right up to the time you’re writing, from 1954, so you have to understand what’s happened in 50 years. He influences all these other things in literature and film and music. So, you look at all that, then you put it all away, and you never look at it again. Ring mythology – put it all away. And then you say “O.K., what is this little hobbit going to do?” and what are you going to do, because you have to be comfortable with your own means of expression. But you won’t be comfortable with it unless you’ve done the intellectual research. O.K. so now I understand this. “So what’s your expression about this?” That’s all it really is. It’s the same with Burroughs and Ballard, You have to understand it, but now what are you going to say about it.

(11:11) Q: I wanted to ask about the Shire. You mentioned about the theme to it, and I wanted to find out: What is your idea of the Shire? What is it that safe place or that happy place that you would like to go back to?

A: It, well, uh, wow! We always thought New Zealand was the Shire, and I think New Zealand had a major influence on everybody creating the movie. I grew up in Canada, in Toronto, and I had toured a lot through Canada. So, actually, going to New Zealand felt very Canadian to me, and I understood it well. And it was also part of the Commonwealth, and all that, and New Zealand always felt like the Shire to us. The Kiwi spirit is prevalent in the movie, such an important part about what we love about LOTR, about Peter Jackson’s love of LOTR, because we love it, too. The Kiwi sensibility is a huge thing about what’s great about it, and that’s a very Shire-type expression to me.

(12:29) [King Kong Q&A]

Q: Did they talk to you about King Kong?

A: Sure, yeah, I talked to Peter about that.

Q: You going to do it?

A: Oh sure, yeah. I had to work with Peter again on a movie, yeah.

Q: So what’s the concept?

A: Well, King Kong. (Laughter) Well, yes, I know. “What are the musical concepts?” Well, that comes a little later. NO, we’re still into researching, and we’re not into that yet. He have to shoot the movie first.

Q: Are you avoiding Peter Rentis’s version? [I can’t hear name clearly, and nothing seems to fit]

A: No, I’m not avoiding or looking, I’m not really thinking on those. That all comes a little later. You have to do the research – same thing – you’ve got to study what led up to it. We met Ray Harryhausen [Mighty Joe Young 1949]. He came to one of the sessions in London. Again, you go through the same process, you look at films and the expression of it, and what people did, and then you work with Peter – what Peter’s going to do. And he’s a great filmmaker, and you work with him. We’re very collaborative, Peter and I. We’re good friends, we work really well together. We work like writers, basically, together. Even though you are writing music, you’re working with him in a very great way. He’s guiding you in terms of expression, step by step.


(13: 53) Q: How much music does he talk to you about? Does he talk in music terms with you? [hard to hear question]

A: He talks the best way. I’ve worked with a lot of really good directors. The best way is to work the way you would work with an actor, because you are composing but you are also conducting, and conducting is a form of expression, it’s a moment in time where something happens. And Peter’s at those moments, so he’s helping you shape the performance, and he’s saying that it could grow here, it could be bigger here, it could be more expressive. He also he just knows the great tape eater. He knows when the orchestra’s doing “the great thing”. And he’ll say to you “that’s it, you have it”. He’s just a great guide for you. If you were an actor he would show you, he would lead you up the moment where you do the really good take, and then that’s it. However directors do that, what ever magic they do with an actor to get it, he does the same with his collaborators. He does it with everybody. I always think it’s a great way to work.

(15:13) Q: What on the soundtrack, to enjoy it, when you sit down to read a book and put on the music, what is it that people will hear that, let’s say, is unusual or will stand out in your mind, that you just hope that they’ll say “oh, wow”?

A: “Lighting of the Beacons” I was pretty proud of. I’m very proud of “The Destruction of the Ring”, it is all pretty cool, with the choir, and just the contrast – it goes from a 200-piece orchestra to one singer, this beautiful contrast. I think Renee Fleming vocals are excellent, and she does four iconic pieces in the film. She does the reforging of Narsil in the Rivendell scene. She does Gollum finally getting the Ring, which is an amazing moment, because we’ve been waiting for Gollum to get the Ring for quite a long time. She does the eagle scene, where the eagles come and pick up. She does the aria there, which I love, which kills me every time I hear her sing it. And then she does the Arwen at the coronation, which is incredibly beautiful. And James Galway plays beautiful tin whistle, two solos. And the song kills me – Annie Lennox’s vocals on “Into the West” – it’s just beautiful. I love the soloists – they’re great. Dermot Crehan plays an amazing solo when the hobbits return to the Shire and they go to the pub – do you remember that scene? – he plays that fiddle it’s so sad it just kills me, and it’s so beautiful. It’s that moment where they know – they’ve gone back to the Shire but things are not really the same – they’ve changed, but everybody else is the same. I love that.

(17:28) Q: Where do you keep your Oscar?

A: At home, in the living room.

(17:34) Q: Are you disappointed that you can’t be [nominated again] because of the ruling that no sequels will now be allowed as a separate sound track?

A: Well, I don’t there is an actual ruling. I think they were thinking of it. As far as I know, we’re OK this year, we can carry on.

Q: [garbled, sounds like a question about other nominations]

A: Well, I’d love to see Peter recognized. I think he’s done amazing work. If anybody deserves that kind of recognition, he really does, for the work he’s done on the three films. It’s all pretty unbelievable. It’s kind of a landmark in movies. So it would be wonderful to see Peter recognized. And, yes, I’m hoping.

(18:28) Q: Is it just the marketing department that comes up with the idea to use the “Requiem for a Dream” sound track on the previews, or how does that happen?

A: Well, that was an ad thing. The didn’t do it on this movie, but they used it on [TTT] . LOTR is such a closed world, in terms of the culture. I think that was the confusion on it. Trailers rarely use the music from the movie. LOTR was so scrutinized, that the fact that it had some other music on it was like “Well, what’s this music???” And in fact, trailer companies do that all the time. It’s like a normal kind of thing. So they just a piece of music. They use my music in other trailers from other movies. But the piece is not in the movie, and not connected to the movie, it’s just part of the advertising for the movie, which is done very “closed”. A contract is given to a trailer company and they have to deliver a trailer and the sound track. So they just do it themselves. You don’t really have any real influence on what they do. It’s a separately contracted thing. On this film, however, I did the trailer, and I did it because of that, because it created so much confusion. So I said, well, I’ll just do it. And I have done them on other movies. Tim Burton does his own. In Ed Wood we used all the music from the film. I prefer that, obviously, but sometimes it’s just not really in your realm of control.

(20:09) Q: What would you recognize as your major influences as a composer?

A: When I grew up, I discovered Tôru Takemitsu and it’s still a pretty big influence and I love his music. He did movie sound tracks and worked with Chris Howe (?), and I also discovered when I was a teenager – and those are pretty big influences – Ornette Coleman, and improvisation. A lot of the ideas of expression are based on immediate feelings that you had. So I use those techniques to do composition. Film composition is based on seeing something, feeling something, and through a form of improvisation, or what ever you want to call it, it’s just an expression of what you feel, musically, and that’s how I write. So those are pretty big influences.

(21:00) Q: You always wanted to write for the movies?

A: I was interested in music more than I was in movies, actually. And when I started doing movies in the late seventies, it was really a way to express myself musically, because I didn’t have orchestras or chamber orchestras or jazz or anybody to work with. I had a lot of ideas. So film became a way to just express music. And this piece has been the most expressive. It’s been over 20 years for me, writing, and now you have this work with a symphony orchestra and chorus and soloist, and it used every expression that I have learned about drama and music. So it was a culmination, really, of my work.

(21:58) Q: Thank you, everybody. [various expressions of thanks and layered comments]


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