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Howard Shore's The Desolation Of Smaug (Hobbit Part 2)


gkgyver
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If it sounds so stunning to so many people surely it is great music.

Well, one might say that should be a good pointer why it is no great music, but let's leave it at that... ;)

Well, we might also use that logic with Mozart, Goldsmith, Beethoven, Williams, etc., but lets leave it at that... ;)

Yeah but they don't exactly top the music charts either. People can't dance to those (easily).

In all seriousness, I have to reluctantly admit, hearing Howard Shore's (no doubt detailed!) orchestrations handled and polished by Conrad Pope makes me realize Marcus [Paus] was spot on with his assessment on Howard Shore's weaker orchestration chops.

There is a clarity to the soundscape of these samples that we haven't heard heard before in the Rings films. And I don't think it's just the recording quality or the change in orchestra, though I'm sure they contribute.

A valid comparison here is Conrad Pope's influence on The Matrix Reloaded.

I'm actually not very familiar with the circumstances surrounding that, I'd love to hear about it though!

Conrad Pope orchestrated both Reloaded and Revolutions. Did you notice that change? Interesting that Pope said the score was very much complete, just like Williams' or Goldsmith's, so there was not much to do. That's what he said.

I greatly enjoy Shore's Middle Earth scores and see that he put a lot of thought into them, resulting in a lot of beautiful, suspenseful, rousing and/or scary passages. And one thing you can really say is that they are really homogenous, not in the sense of everything sounding the same, but everything sounding like one big developing work. I think this is a direct consequence of his broad-stroke style to melodic writing and orchestration. A composer used to writing much more instricate counterpoint or even "Mickey-Mousing" (to mention the extreme opposite) would have had much more trouble to keep the sound coherent over so long an opus. I agree to what has been said before, Shore really has a very different style than the usual suspects of epic fantasy scoring, and I like that this sets his scores apart from others and makes them instantly unique.

But I have to agree with Publicist, that Shore often has serious limitations in writing effortless, organic harmonic/melodic progressions, subtle instrumentation and a lively texture, as much as it mostly works to his advantage in the case of these scores (as mentioned above). Between the high points, there are countless passages of simple blocky triads (usually in the low brass or strings) repeated for suspense, minute-long stretches of increasing tension scored via chromatically rising almost-full-orchestra block chords (taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ta Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ta TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA TA TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!), which becomes so formulaic that I wasn't really surprised about Shore's Kong rejection after hearing the exact same thing in the preproduction diary on those scoring sessions, and simplistic melodic ideas (mind you, not nearly all of them - but not too few, either). The strength of those simple melodies lies in the variation and interconnection throughout the scores, which is the reason I really enjoy discovering those and listening to the slow development. When he writes counterpoint, similarly to his harmonic progressions, it often feels forced - laboriously crafted to mostly fit together, but not exactly organic. (To add a moderately mean remark: his music sometimes sounds like he looks when conducting, judging by the scoring featurettes :P). Again, I feel I have to interject this, I enjoy many of those passages, but I see the limitations there - repeated sudden jumps in a counterpunctual line, jarring modulations that are only motivated by fitting to the underlying harmony... And regarding the comparison with Wagner earlier: Wagner uses to modulate a lot (in later works often constantly) and thus moves from one key into the other. Shore often jumps without any established connection. Yes, he also uses mediant relations a lot, and this is a nice trademark of his style, but there are also places where it just seems that there is no intrinsic harmonic connection.

A loaded topic, I know. I just enjoy this music for what it is, for what it isn't, and for what it evokes - there are so many passages in the trilogy, and some again in the first Hobbit score (and I hope many to come) that move me profoundly, I can't even start to count them (and that's not only because of the connection with the source material, I was in love with "The Ring goes South" and the Dwarrowdelf reveal as soon as I got the first CD back then, two weeks before the film).

Well put, that's exactly how I feel about his music, only don't have enough knowledge to articulate it this well. :) A lot of those laborious passages might result from all the constant rewriting, though.

Karol

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I may have missed something, Mr. Afonso, but did you hear any substantial amount of music outside the production diaries to justify your saying that Shore's replacement on Kong was not surprising because of lacking development and simplicity?

Because considering his work with Jackson on LotR and The Hobbit, as well as the quality of works like Aviator or Hugo or Eastern Promises in between, I would say the possibility of Shore not being up to scratch for Kong is extremely unlikely.

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If it sounds so stunning to so many people surely it is great music.

Well, one might say that should be a good pointer why it is no great music, but let's leave it at that... ;)

Well, we might also use that logic with Mozart, Goldsmith, Beethoven, Williams, etc., but lets leave it at that... ;)

Yeah but they don't exactly top the music charts either. People can't dance to those (easily).

In all seriousness, I have to reluctantly admit, hearing Howard Shore's (no doubt detailed!) orchestrations handled and polished by Conrad Pope makes me realize Marcus [Paus] was spot on with his assessment on Howard Shore's weaker orchestration chops.

There is a clarity to the soundscape of these samples that we haven't heard heard before in the Rings films. And I don't think it's just the recording quality or the change in orchestra, though I'm sure they contribute.

A valid comparison here is Conrad Pope's influence on The Matrix Reloaded.

I'm actually not very familiar with the circumstances surrounding that, I'd love to hear about it though!

Conrad Pope orchestrated both Reloaded and Revolutions. Did you notice that change? Interesting that Pope said the score was very much complete, just like Williams' or Goldsmith's, so there was not much to do. That's what he said.

Are you referring to DOS being very much complete or the scores to the Matrix sequels? If you're talking about DOS, could you provide me with that quote from Pope? I'm interested to read it.

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I remember Davis saying something that orchestrating is a very good exercise and that he likes to do it himself. In the case of The Matrix sequels he had two films and 7 animated shorts to work on - understandable that some help was required.

Conrad Pope didn't say anything about Shore's sketches, but Doug Adams shorely did, and several times (as someone who has access to those). Same case as with the other mentioned gentlemen,

Karol

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I may have missed something, Mr. Afonso, but did you hear any substantial amount of music outside the production diaries to justify your saying that Shore's replacement on Kong was not surprising because of lacking development and simplicity?

Because considering his work with Jackson on LotR and The Hobbit, as well as the quality of works like Aviator or Hugo or Eastern Promises in between, I would say the possibility of Shore not being up to scratch for Kong is extremely unlikely.

Don't take me too seriously on that point - it was just a snippet, although one where I thought upon hearing it the first time "Hm, sounds pretty much like something out of LotR, I hope that's not representative of the score as a whole". Sadly we never found out (but I hope hope's not lost entirely on that front...). Of course I can't judge the whole of that score on those few seconds alone, but as they were, they didn't sound very original, so when the rejection was announced, it crossed my mind if perhaps the score was too close to the LotR sound and Jackson wanted something different - judging from his films so far, he seems to value musical diversity.

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If I had to bet, I would say it was the other way round, that Shore wanted something more ethnic and different, and someone, Jackson or the producers, didn't want to take that chance. If the film version of AUJ is any indication, Jackson isn't much of an experimental guy when it comes to music.

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If I had to bet, I would say it was the other way round, that Shore wanted something more ethnic and different, and someone, Jackson or the producers, didn't want to take that chance. If the film version of AUJ is any indication, Jackson isn't much of an experimental guy when it comes to music.

I have to agree. I can't remember where I read it, but around the time of the Kong situation, it was suggested that parts of Shore's score were very much a homage to the old Kong scores, sort of like a "period piece", while Jackson wanted something very Lord of the Ring-ish, very contemporary and modern. Shore's decision to score it like it was the 1930's was too "artsy". Wish I could find where I read this. If only Doug could talk more about the score....

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I'm not saying I'm really eloquent enough to put these points forward as precisely as I mean to (you'd need a wizard for that...) ;) These are my observations, and as mentioned a lot of it is deliberate on Shore's side to keep the music archaic (which works really well), other things are just intrinsic to his style, which has its strong points in other areas (just from the top of my head - compare Elfman, who is really good at creating very creative and intricate single cues, but less so on the "keeping it coherent for several hours" front). I haven't really heard anything by Shore yet that has convinced me that he is really comfortable at a more instrumentationally woven style.

I totally see where you're coming from and you raise an interesting topic. However, we really cannot escape the flat fact that any film composer doesn't write blind and/or following necessarily what maybe would be his/her own personal preferences (or the fans' wishes!) in a pure musical sense. The choices of the whole musical lexicon (melody, harmony, orchestration, counterpoint) must always gel with the necessities of the film itself. In the case of LOTR, it really is a choice of economy to keep most of the underscoring simple and lean--these 3hrs-plus movies are accompanied by music from beginning to end, hardly there is a tacet for the orchestra. If the orchestrational/harmonic language is too dense and fancy, then it would be totally overbearing. Of course this is also a stylistic choice on the filmmakers' and the composer's parts, but these choices have to deal also with practical issues of keeping things clear in the sound mixing room (the dialogue track is still the King there).

Of course you can bring the example of The Empire Strikes Back, where Williams pulled out all the stops and delivered an almost outrageous score where there is hardly an "homogenous" or homophonic passage (and indeed quite a few passages were dialed out in the final mix). But the original Star Wars films were very different beasts in comparison to LOTR--those Lucas' films were space adventure capers requiring an almost cartoonish/Korngoldian musical gesture, while Peter Jackson's Middle Earth films looks like more faux-historic fantasy epics and the score follows suit in that sense.

So, in this sense we should never compare the film work of composers like Shore or Williams to Wagner's operas.

You raise a very strong point Maurizio.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Fellowship of the Ring, which is paced and edited very slowly and deliberately is filled with these long meandering homogenous passages, whilst Return of the King, which is edited and paced more like a summer film has the more dense, elaborate, and exciting musical set pieces.

Seriously, if you want a fun learning activity give this a shot: Grab a stop watch and time the average time to scene cuts in the two films, it's shocking how different they are.

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Is that not more a product of being the third film in a continious story arc with no real new character introductions needed?

Also, the CR of FOTR has tracked music (the same bit of the History of the Ring is tracked thrice/twice over the (arguably) more interesting true compositions) where the ROTK CR does not, so I would not totally compare the two (I personally find ROTK to have more meandering sections than FOTR.)

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Because considering his work with Jackson on LotR and The Hobbit, as well as the quality of works like Aviator or Hugo or Eastern Promises in between, I would say the possibility of Shore not being up to scratch for Kong is extremely unlikely.

Considering the punchy dynamics and slick orchestrations of James Newston Howard's replacement score, i find that EXTREMELY likely. If they wanted that, Shore was to wrong guy to go.

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JNH was going to write the score he was going to write. In that timeframe, there is no way they had time to fine-tune the whole thing. That Shore can't have been entirely wrong is apparent in some of the concepts that were transported into JNH's music.

If there is one thing the Kong thing showed, then that there is no room for experiments anymore in these kind of films.

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I'm intrigued by Doug's comment that the first track, 'The Quest for Erebor', "is largely based on preexisting themes ... with some unusual surprises!"

So the preexisting themes - possible candidates include the Shire (title), Thorin, Gandalf, Azog, Erebor, hints of The Dwarf Lords, elements of An Ancient Enemy (not really many themes here - that we know of - but it would make sense). But it's the 'unusual surprises' that's interesting. Hopefully that's not a warning that we'll see some apparent misuse of established themes here (though Thrain's ring offers some curious possibilities), but rather hinting at the return of the Moria, Dwarrowdelf and (fingers crossed) Balrog themes. Perhaps a Bree theme building on material heard in FOTR? Can't really think of much else that would qualify as an 'unusual surprise'.

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It's very possible, unless he's content to make do with Erebor and the Dwarf Lords for those individuals. A Thrain theme would make sense given that he'll reappear later.

I suppose it depends if Doug meant brand new themes when he said 'unusual surprises' or the use of established themes that we might not expect to hear (I think something like the Balrog material would fall into this category).

(And yes I know it was Dain who saw the Balrog but they might easily change it so that it plays into Thrain's descent into madness, given that he'll almost certainly end up in Moria after Azanulbizar and this is likely where Gandalf finds him and acquires the map and key).

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Also, the hugely exaggerated dynamic range of the scores sometimes make it harder to connect with or pick out the "themes" and motifs in some cues.

How does dynamic range has anything to do with "connecting" with themes?

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If you cannot hear it, you cannot conncect to it!

also listen to your favorite cue of all time, that you get Goosebumps/shivers etc. from, at 10/20% volume, and tell me if you enjoy it as much as normal.

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Yes.

For example the Fate of the Ring in The Heir of Numenor, or the Evil Times motif in The Land of Shadow. I never heard them until I made my 3 disc Deluxe Edition style edit, with the quiet sections moved up to acceptable levels (some dynamic range is good)


And please, do not misunderstand me, I am not proposing that OST's should be brickwalled and compressed to death, but you should not have to reach for the Volume knob to even hear the cue.

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When I try to listen to the CRs here at work through my computer speakers, I constantly have to reach for the volume knob because I can't hear the quiet parts so I jack it up, then a loud part comes in and it's just BLASTING out, etc..... I was considering making a compressed version where the quieter parts are louder but I've been too lazy to do it (I don't think there is any plugins that would automatically do this)


Obviously when listening to the CR on my home stereo system, the mix is great

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I was considering making a compressed version where the quieter parts are louder but I've been too lazy to do it (I don't think there is any plugins that would automatically do this)

I have heard of Automatic Faders, but I am not sure if it does what your are talking about.

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Something that would scan an entire WAV file and make the quieter parts louder, without making the louder parts louder as well.

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When I try to listen to the CRs here at work through my computer speakers, I constantly have to reach for the volume knob because I can't hear the quiet parts so I jack it up, then a loud part comes in and it's just BLASTING out, etc..... I was considering making a compressed version where the quieter parts are louder but I've been too lazy to do it (I don't think there is any plugins that would automatically do this)

Obviously when listening to the CR on my home stereo system, the mix is great

Some balancing issues still remain. In FotR the Pass of Caradhras has the Seduction of the Ring choir that is mixed pitifully quiet as is the first rendition of the Way to Mordor motif on solo horn in My Precious in TTT. I still strain my ears to hear those every time I take a listen to those CR sets.

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Did you miss the entire crux of my story about how I have to constantly reach for the volume knob when listening at work, but it plays home fine, and the compressed version would only be for computer speaker listening?

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The 5.1 mix sounds awesome on my surround system at home.

And the OSTs are OK for quieter listenings. But with the CRs, i'm constantly reaching for the volume knob.

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Right, but when I'm trying to work, I don't want to think about it, I just want to work with background music playing. I find myself listening to other scores instead of the CRs of LOTR for this reason.

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JNH was going to write the score he was going to write. In that timeframe, there is no way they had time to fine-tune the whole thing. That Shore can't have been entirely wrong is apparent in some of the concepts that were transported into JNH's music.

If there is one thing the Kong thing showed, then that there is no room for experiments anymore in these kind of films.

I don't know what you mean with the word "experiments", but in my opinion the musical choices are again the consequence of the type of movie. As always, it's the movie that dictates the approach. Jackson took a naive fantasy adventure film and turned it into a huge (i.e. bloated) monster movie epic adding elements of horror and drama. So music has to cover a very broad canvas, addressing many different elements of the narrative. I guess it's always hard to find the right way to approach the overall tone in these kind of films.

I don't know what Shore originally wrote and what nurtured the creative disagreements between him and Jackson in this case, but judging from what JNH wrote in the end, it seems that the filmmakers wanted to stretch a lot the rhythm and the pulse of action sequences, to pile up even more the excitement (more choir, more percussion, more brass blarings etc.).

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I wish we could hear Shore's score. It seems Doug's heard it.

Of course Doug's heard it! He was keeping track of the music since it was being written. It was kind of his job (in this project at least)...

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Really? Doug was involved with the King Kong score?

Yep, I was on my way out the door to visit the sessions NZ when the phone call came in telling me to unpack my bags.

Later the following winter, Shore had me over to hear his full Kong score, but only so we could talk about it on a personal level. He asked me to please leave specific details out of the public discussion, and so I honor that request.

I will tell you that it was astonishingly beautiful, and that it had a great deal of heart ... I hope that everyone has a chance to hear it one day.

So does that mean then that not every thing he wrote got recorded?

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Really? Doug was involved with the King Kong score?

Yep, I was on my way out the door to visit the sessions NZ when the phone call came in telling me to unpack my bags.

Later the following winter, Shore had me over to hear his full Kong score, but only so we could talk about it on a personal level. He asked me to please leave specific details out of the public discussion, and so I honor that request.

I will tell you that it was astonishingly beautiful, and that it had a great deal of heart ... I hope that everyone has a chance to hear it one day.

I hope in a future Collector's Edition from Howe Records.

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