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Friday, December 13, 2013

Making Music For ‘The Hobbit’

Composer Howard Shore (howardshore.com)

Howard Shore wrote the film scores for the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies. (howardshore.com)

Composer Howard Shore has written dozens of film scores. He’s worked with directors Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorcese, and he’s a frequent collaborator with David Cronenberg. But he’s probably best known for his work with Peter Jackson.

Shore wrote the scores for all three “Lord of the Rings” movies, as well as the two “Hobbit” films, including “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” which opens today. He’s won three Oscars for his work on “The Lord of the Rings” films.

As Howard Shore tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti, he sees the music that he writes for the movies as “a way to give clarity to objects, places, cultures, to moments in the story.”

Interview Highlights

On composing music for the dragon Smaug

“This is a very special dragon, and he’s a very powerful creature. He’s very sly, very cunning, sinister. He creates this sort of sickness in people, you know. He creates what we call, ‘dragon sickness.’ It’s almost a feeling; it’s a physical feeling that you get when you’re around him. … I’ve got the great story of Tolkien and the imagery, and I set to you. I mean, Smaug is a character that I felt came pretty easily.”

On what it takes to illustrate Middle Earth with music

“The compositional process really starts quite early. This is a rather large piece, it’s a large canvas, and there’s over a hundred themes and light motifs in the piece. So I must say when I started, quite like Tolkien, I believe, that you kind of put one foot in front of the other, and you kind of found your way through Middle Earth step by step.”

On writing over 100 pieces of music for the films

“I did it for clarity of storytelling. I mean it’s a very complex story, Lord of the Rings. By using the motifs, it was a way to give clarity to objects, places, cultures, to moments in the story. And it was a way to express differences in the culture.”

Guest

  • Howard Shore, Oscar-winning composer who wrote the music for the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHAKRABARTI: How do you write the soundtrack for a dragon?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHAKRABARTI: Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore knows. He's written dozens of scores for directors Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg. But his best known for his work with Peter Jackson on "The Lord of the Rings" films.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHAKRABARTI: Shore works his most recent musical magic on "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Smaug being the dragon who bedevils the hobbit Bilbo and the band of dwarves in the movie, which opens today. Howard Shore joins us now from New York. Welcome.

HOWARD SHORE: Hi. Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: I've got to first ask you. When writing the soundtrack for a dragon, what's the first step?

SHORE: Well, this is a very special dragon, and he's a very powerful creature. He's very sly, very cunning, sinister. And he creates this sort of sickness in people, you know? He creates what we call dragon sickness. And it's almost the feeling in - it's a physical feeling that you get when you're around him.

CHAKRABARTI: Right. What do you do to translate that into the music?

SHORE: Oh, I wish I knew.

(LAUGHTER)

SHORE: Oh, I love Tolkien's work and Peter's films. The imagery in the films is also a great source of inspiration. So, you know, I've got the great story of Tolkien and the imagery, and I set to work. I mean, Smaug is a character that I felt came pretty easily.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHAKRABARTI: At what point in the film's production are you starting to sort of tinker with character themes and music from major scenes? I mean, do you start that before they even start filming?

SHORE: The compositional process really starts quite early. This is a rather large piece. It's a large canvass, and there's over a hundred themes and light motifs in the piece. So I must say when I started, quite like Tolkien, I believe, that you kind of put one foot in front of the other and you kind of, you know, found your way through Middle Earth step by step. Each days is just another step forward - more pages of music being written, more score being written. I write my scores in pencil so it's just - it's a very handwritten piece, you know, each day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHORE: I write a lot of music away from the film. You know, just have the story I know. And this "Hobbit" film, the second "Hobbit" film, I wrote about 35 minutes of themes and motifs quite away from the film, you know, over a period of months. And then once I start working with a film, then I'm applying the composition. I am what I call really the scoring part of it where I'm taking my thematic ideas, the light motifs, and applying them to the film and scoring it.

CHAKRABARTI: Hmm. Lovers of the movies will absolutely know that they hear certain musical motifs from film to film and even from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, now into "The Hobbit" movies. So I want to talk to you about one of those motifs that's very familiar to fans, and that - it also appears in this latest - part two of "The Hobbit" series. So let's listen to a little of that first.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHAKRABARTI: So that, of course, is music that's associated with the ring of power. It's one of the central motifs of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. But we hear it in "The Hobbit" films.

SHORE: The piece you just heard is called "The History of the Ring," and it's how the ring has changed the world of Middle Earth and how it's moved from one person to another. And it's a historical and, you know, it's evoking an ancient world 5,000, 6,000 years ago. And so there's going to be a connection because of Bilbo, and Bilbo's discovery of the ring happens in "The Hobbit." And, of course, that's really the starting point where it affects the whole world of "The Lord of the Rings."

CHAKRABARTI: I heard you just say that's - you've created or written, you know, more than a hundred motifs and different pieces of music for these films. That's a lot.

SHORE: Well, I did it for clarity of storytelling. I mean, it's a very complex story, "The Lord of the Rings." By using the motifs, it was a way to give clarity to objects, places, cultures, to moments in the story. And it was a way to express differences in the culture. I mean, part of what Tolkien does so brilliantly is he shows you differences between the Elven world of Rivendell and Lothlorien.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHORE: And now in "The Hobbit," the Woodland Realm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHORE: He shows you the world of men in different and varying cultures. So the themes and motifs show you different worlds and how they're created and used by Tolkien and how they're created to show you the world of Middle Earth. He shows you the points of the compass - north, south, east and west.

CHAKRABARTI: Howard Shore, I'm wondering what it's like to work with Peter Jackson because I've hear in the past some directors say that the soundtrack, the score of a movie is so important that they do treat it like an additional character.

SHORE: Yes. I worked with David Cronenberg, and he thinks of me like as a character actor in his film, even though I'm composing music for us. I'm adding another voice, another character into the film. The work with Peter was really a way to take you on this long journey. I mean, these films are quite lengthy, and we knew that we were in a long journey. And it was a way to, as I said, you know, create clarity and intimacy to the characters and to also bring real clarity to the storytelling.

CHAKRABARTI: Now the third and final "Hobbit" film will be released next year. It's going to be the end of a long journey for you. Are you going to be sad to leave behind the world of Middle Earth?

SHORE: I don't know. I have to wait and see until next year. I know when I was writing, finishing "Return of the King," I had written so much music at that point and I was so deeply involved in it that they had to kind of drag me away from it and say, OK, that's enough. Put your pencil down now. But now having picked up the pen again and there is one more part to the story - but, of course, you know, we have to finish.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Howard Shore is an Oscar-winning composer. His latest film score is for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." Howard Shore, thank you so much for joining us today.

SHORE: Thanks. It's been fun talking to you.

CHAKRABARTI: And before we go, we want to update you on .

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • Caroline

    Music does just that! It is “a way to give clarity to objects, places, cultures, to moments in the story.” I don’t even need to see a movie, but music bends pictures in my mind – shapes, and folds and sometimes makes me fly, or hide. I’d like to say, “Thanks, Mr. Shore!” Thank you for all the adventures I’ve had in my own mind.

  • James

    Thank you for this thoughtful interview, which vindicates Here and Now for its sorry excuse for a movie review of the same film — which inspired me to see (and hear) it.

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