Moviescore, a site dedicated to tracking film music, reports that New Zealand composer and award-winning music editor Stephen Gallagher has been tapped to score the music for Kenji Kamiyama’s The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Gallagher is probably best-known to Tolkien fans for his work on The Hobbit where, as well as working as music editor on all three films, he composed the songs ‘Blunt the Knives’ and ‘The Torture Song’ for An Unexpected Journey.
Perusing IMDB reveals that Gallagher has previously composed music for a range of documentaries and short films, but arguably this is his most prominent compositional role to date.
He also has a decades-long career as music editor spanning big productions like Avatar: The Way of Water, District 9 and Wolf Warrior 2 to niche films such as Amy Berg’s West Of Memphis and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Last year, he won an Emmy Award for his sound work on Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back.
IMDB states that he’s currently based at Park Road Post Production in Wellington — a facility that’s owned by Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films.
The War of the Rohirrim is slated to release on April 12, 2024. Director Kenji Kamiyama is also currently co-directing on the final season of Ultraman with Shinji Aramaki which will debut on Netflix sometime in 2023.
A speculatory post-script.
I was idly chatting with TORn staffer Justin about the leak/confirm and he wondered if the selection of Gallagher could indicate a return to the style of music that was the hallmark of the Rankin Bass animated features. After all, Blunt the Knives in An Unexpected Journey is very much a homage to the sing-along style of the animated Hobbit of 1977.
Personally, I’m inclined to say no.
I feel that both Blunt the Knives and The Torture Song (as sung by Barry Humphries) owe more to a combination of the children’s tale-nature of Tolkien’s novel and the comedic sensibilities of Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles, anyone?).
On the other hand, the tale of Helm Hammerhand is far grimmer. It’s also a little tempting to add that Kamiyama animes typically play the material straight, but then the quirky Tachikomas (AI spider tanks/mechs) of the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex animated series are a spectacular outlier. Kamiyama leverages them in multiple ways: surreal comics, action heroes, philosophers, and ultimately as beings capable of self-sacrifice. The “cute” Tachikoma moments don’t devalue the serious ones. In fact, they make them more rounded characters (I dare say, more human — a crucial point to the story Ghost in the Shell explores).
So, if Kamiyama could see a way that a quirky, lyrically focused tune would serve the needs of the Helm story, he absolutely has the chops to pull it off.
Neverthless, I think it’s probably better to calibrate musical expectations more in line with the thoroughly grounded nature of Kamiyama’s acclaimed adapatation of the fantasy story Serei no Moribito. If nothing else, it’s still difficult to get folks to take anime as a serious artform that’s not “just for kids” without hobbling your production with a bunch of cutesy tunes. I’m surer Warner Bros. will be keenly aware of that.
Chance Thomas is a composer who has worked in film, television and video games, including when he transported readers to Middle-earth in the game Lord of the Rings Online. He is a Tolkien enthusiast and was happy to do an interview with TheOneRing. We sat down, broke bread and talked Tolkien.
Thomas was involved in several editions of LOTRO including, “Riders of Rohan,” “Mines of Moria,” Shadows of Angmar,” and “Mordor.” I watched recently as fans geeked out at the chance to meet the man who provided the music for the game they loved so dearly.
He has a long list of credits including other Peter Jackson games and an Academy Award winning short film “The ChubbChubbs!”
Chance Thomas: When I was a child, my mother was always singing in our home. She took me to the symphony, we listened to records and sang along with the radio. Great music was always around and it always lit me up.
As I grew older, good friends would often introduce me to cool new bands and recording artists. We would get together just to share new songs we liked with each other. I also started playing in orchestras and rock bands and wrote songs and made recordings. After college, my wife and I entertained together on cruise ships and wrote pop songs.
Really, I have loved music for as long as I can remember.
TORn: Where did your involvement with Tolkien come from?
CT: I read the Hobbit as a tween, but didn’t tackle The Lord of the Rings until I was in my 30s. When I did finally read the trilogy, it was like an eruption of joy and discovery inside of me.
Oh, how I loved it! The world, the characters, the fantasy, the pacing, the descriptions … and the music! Everywhere across the world there was mention of music. Songs, instruments, voices; it was wonderful. As a result, I began to codify all of the references in the book and their inferences about music into a document, “The Tolkien Music Style Guide.” The intent was to keep me authoritatively focused as I composed, so that the music I wrote would resonate with the source material, as if drawn from some sub-dimensional embedding of music in the very literature itself.
TORn: As a composer, do you get a lot of emotional feedback on your work? Do you hear from people?
What a great question. (Thanks Chance!)
Media composers like me generally get very little feedback on the work we do. But that’s not uncommon in the professional world. For example, a plumber who lays pipes and fittings in a new home will likely never get feedback from the people who buy the home unless there’s a problem.
It’s hard for me to imagine a homeowner tracking down a plumber, calling him up, and saying, “Hey man! I just want you to know how much we’re enjoying the water pressure in our shower. It’s amazing!”
Likewise, most of the people who hear my music are busy playing the game or watching the TV show, or going through the VR experience. They’re gleefully consuming the entertainment, enjoying it as a total experience. It’s not often that people will go to the extra effort of tracking a composer down to give feedback on the music.
Having said all that, the one notable exception comes from “The Lord of the Rings Online.”
Players of this game have been unusually active in finding me online and sharing their enthusiasm for the music I’ve written for them. It has been incredibly gratifying, as you can imagine, to have people find me and share how much the music has meant to them over the years.
And actually, now that I think of it, “DOTA 2” players have been great that way too.
TORn: Who are some of your music heroes and also heroes in your more specific field of soundtracks?
CT: Kansas, Boston, Elton John, Billy Joel, Toto, James Newton Howard, John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman, Loreena McKennitt, Earth, Wind and Fire, Quincy Jones, many more.
TORn: For those of us who can’t compose music, how does it feel to complete a piece of music ?
It’s surprisingly dynamic, really. You can feel an incredible rush of adrenaline and satisfaction at times. You can also feel complete contempt, disgust, and self-loathing. And the pendulum can swing from one extreme to the other fast enough to make your head spin. I had that kind of reaction when I wrote the theme for Rohan. Still do. Sometimes I think it’s a really great tune. Other times I think… meh.
I’m not saying that composers are neurotic, but we can tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with our own creations. Sometimes that pendulum can even swing all the way across an entire score. I never was really sure how I felt about my first DOTA 2 score.
TORn: Are there certain pieces you find that you love more than others? You have compared them to children in previous conversations.
CT: I write a ton of action music. Creating action tracks can be super fun. It’s loud, it’s bombastic, its aggressive. It gets the adrenaline going. But more often than not, if I’m just in a listening mood, I prefer the more thematic pieces, the thoughtful tracks, the music with some emotional movement in it. Here are a couple of examples from that part of my composing style. First the thematic afterture I recently composed for Warhammer:
And here is an older one, the tragic hero theme I composed for King Kong:
TORn: Can you watch films or the like and not focus on the soundtrack?
Absolutely. I’ve always been drawn deeply into films. Sometimes my wife laughs when I’m watching a movie because I may physically duck and dodge during fight scenes. In the process of being entertained, I typically consume the music as part of the overall experience. But when the music is meant to stand out and be featured, I dial in to that too.
TORn: What types of projects do you hope to do down the road?
CT: As a fan and as an artist, I adore deeply developed fictional worlds. I love working in them, creating music so that people who love those worlds can be drawn in ever more deeply.
I’ve been privileged to compose music for many such worlds, including The Lord of the Rings, James Cameron’s Avatar, Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, Marvel, King Kong and many more.
Down the road, I hope to continue to contribute to these kinds of fantasy worlds, at higher and higher levels, with broader and broader reach. Composing for the Avatar film sequels or the LOTR television series would definitely be at the top of my list
Larry, thanks for the interview. It’s always a pleasure. May the road go ever on and on!
Award-winning composer Chance Thomas’s work should be familiar to anyone who’s played the Lord of the Rings Online Games: Shadows of Angmar and Mines of Moria. Those are just two examples in an impressive resume. His latest collaboration with LOTRO and Warner Bros. Entertainment is the soundtrack to the new online game Riders of Rohan, releasing September 5, 2012. Posted on Lord of The Rings Online’s YouTube site are three musical selections: “LOTRO Legacy”, “Shadow of the Argonath” and “Boromir’s Last Stand”. Be sure to click on “Show more” on the individual pages for “Shadow of the Argonath” and “Boromir’s Last Stand” to read Thomas’s insight into the composing of the music.
Additionally, the second in the series of behind the scenes videos: “Immersion through the look and sound of Rohan”, posted July 5th, has interviews with Thomas as well as Director Mitch Cohen, Director of Photography Scott Kevan and Senior World Designer Chris Pierson. The composer speaks to how he relied on painstaking research of the literature to create what he feels is “authentic” and true to Tolkien’s vision of the role of music in his stories. This video along with the first behind the scenes and various teasers and trailers for the game are available at LOTRO’s YouTube page. More musical tracks will be posted as the launch date approaches. In the meantime check out Chance Thomas’s official site to hear examples from some of the composer’s other works.