Howard Shore gave a nice two hour discussion today on how to turn a movie image into music. It was a very informative talk on just how a musician puts images into sound. So, here is a little review of the event, and I’ll try my best to remember all the really cool and interesting points Mr. Shore brought up.
First off, the event was not sold out, but the room seemed pretty darn full by the time it did start. It was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which had actually been showing several films that Howard Shore wrote the score for. After this discussion, they screened The Two Towers, which was the final film in the Museum’s film schedule for the year. The screening was sold out within hours of going on sale, but that didn’t stop people from lining up in the hopes of snagging any spare seat that came along. I’m not going to review the film at all, since this is about the music and the man who created it.
So, back to the discussion. There was very little preamble to the event, Howard Shore and a few other walked in from the balcony, he sat down, and started talking about what he was going to talk about. He found the microphone, which made life easier, and launched right into his discussion. Because the museum had been showing several of his films, and the whole film series was about Music in Movies, he did not talk exclusively about Two Towers. That was fine with me, turns out his written music for over 60 different films. He discussed how he approaches creating a score as such:
Talks with the creative team and reads the script or book it’s based on, or whatever will give him an idea of the story and the people in it. He goes on set and get’s a feel for the creative process going on there, and starts formulating ideas. Once the film is shot, the director screens a copy of it, and it’s this point in time he really starts to write the music. He demonstrated this with a very Improvisational piece he recorded the day after watching the directors print of Crash. He then played a tape from the next day, which was a little more refined, and then a tape two days later. All this improvisation was done on the piano, but the tape he played before showing us the final version was of Guitars. Finally, we got to see the opening credits with this improvisational number played on guitars, and then the same number used in a scene involving the aftermath of a big car crash. It was fascinating to hear the slight progression the music made from a Searching pattern to a more urgent and emotional final version. He starts this improvisation right after seeing the film the first time, to start writing down the emotions the film elicited. He really seems to feel that they only way to write a film score is from an emotional base, put the feelings on page and play them.
It was at this point that he explained how he arranges the music after he has begun to write it. Howard Shore grew up around repertory theater, music (he was in a rock band in the late 60’s, early 70’s), and finally went to a lot of opera. When sitting in an audience, watching an opera or a musical, the musicians are placed in a specific manner. You hear the violin on the left, the percussion in the back, the woodwinds in the center, etc. Because movies have surround sound nowadays, he arranges his musicians the way they might be if the film was a live performance. This also helps when there is ambient sound in the scene coming from a person or thing, so that the music is coming from someplace else. I found this concept of placing the musicians in the recording the way it would be in a live performance quite fascinating.
There was then a lot of discussion about his interest in music, learning new forms and sounds all the time, and how he sees his whole life as one big progression preparing him for the next step in his life. Aside from writing the scores to over 60 films, his rock band opened for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, and he was one of the original creators of Saturday Night Live. I knew there was a reason I thought Howard Shore was cool, but could never put my finger on it.
Because of the scope of working on Lord of the Rings, which he is actually enjoying working on such a large project, he sees working in Opera to be a natural progression from this. He can’t imagine there being any other place to be able to work on such a grand scale again. Right now, he’s got 200 musicians at his disposal, and he’s loving that.
He knows he can just use one vocalist or instrument for something delicate, or the full power of the orchestra to fulfill his needs for a scene. OH, and when he’s feeling a bit burned out on scoring films, he writes Chamber Music, just for fun. He says it’s because he has no one telling him what to do, or what to cut out or change, he writes it just for himself.
In regards to the Lord of the Rings music, he did say there were times he was very nervous about it’s scope. At least, in the beginning he felt this way, but there was so much support from Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens. He mentioned that he knew he was really writing a 9 hour piece of music, broken down into shorter pieces, and that he had to get the first one right, because it sets the tone for the following segments. He also mentioned the performances of the Fellowship music at the Hollywood Bowl, in New Zealand and coming up in London. He also mentioned how it is highly likely that in 2004, there will be performances of the entire set of music, which made several people in the audience quite happy.
After taking more questions and running over time longer than they had planned, he stayed around and chatted with anyone who came up. Those of us with tickets for the screening didn’t stick around too long, but it was necessary to at least say hello and thank him for such a beautiful piece of music. Howard Shore is a very nice man, and very eloquent on creating a musical tapestry for films. I’d highly recommend that anyone who has a chance, goes to see him in the future.
I’ll have pics of the audience the Mr. Shore fairly soon, I hope, so I’ll send those when I have them.