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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Doug Adams speaks about the book "Music of LOTR films"

Doug Adams, the author of “Music of the Lord of the Rings Films” speaks to backgroundscore.com about the book.

Your blog (musicoflotr.com) Posts, articles in film score monthly magazine, your interviews with Howard Shore and Complete recordings’ liner notes - I have read almost everything that was written on the music of Lord of the rings films so far. What is new in it (the book) for me?

The materials that you’ve read before, namely the sections on Themes and the Annotated Score have been previously available in a condensed, reduced form. These were originally written in a more complete form for the book, then were altered and transported over for The Complete Recordings. Now that the book is finally being released you’ll see these pieces in their full forms. There are still a handful of themes we’ve never discussed, and the Annotated Score digs into the material much more seriously.

We also open and close the book with large chapters that tell the story of the production – how Howard came to this project, how it and where was recorded. You’ll meet the performers, and see how Shore worked with the filmmakers. So the book is really two stories wrapped together – the story of the production, and Tolkien’s narrative. And of course we also have material that relates to the Rarities Archive, so you’ll see new choral texts, etc. in there. With all the pieces in place, it’s a pretty unique experience!

Did all those other writings of yours on the score make the book-writing easier? What was the toughest part of writing this book?

As I noted, the book actually existed first. When some of that material was selected for use with The Complete Recordings, it was abbreviated and adapted. Then, when the time came to reassemble the material and incorporate it into the full book, we reformed everything and vastly improved it. The book we have now is not the book we would have had back then, and it’s much, much better for that process. It’s was a strangely circuitous path, but it worked for us!

As for the toughest part – well, it’s hard to say. It was a dream project. I got to work with brilliant people on something I felt very passionate about. The constant stream of airplanes, rental cars, hotels, and coffee shops was physically taxing, of course. But it was such a thrill, I never really noticed.

Does this book go beyond just annotating the score? Would we get to read in the book, any new way of approaching a film score?

The book is structured as a ‘narrative analysis.’ In many ways, this book is a storybook – it’s the story of the analysis. Tolkien loved myths and tales, and I wanted to stay true to that spirit, even when dealing with what is essentially analytic subject matter. I think that’s a fairly unique thing … and this is why the book should appeal to both musicians and non-musicians – it’s a dramatic work. The characters are themes, the plot is their development. And if we use a technical term, we simply define it with a footnote. I think people will be shocked how easily this material can be understood, and how moving it can be when contextualized properly.

LOTR music is hugely popular, but not every LOTR fan would be a connoisseur of orchestral film scores to understand the subtleties in it. They would have gone home whistling Fellowship theme, Shire theme, Rohan theme or Ring theme, but they would not have gone deep to the extent of realizing that war at Helm’s deep opens with “Lothlorien theme”. Will the book engage such listeners, who listen to film scores just on the surface? Could you elaborate what is there in the book for them?

If the book is successful it will bring in ‘surface-listeners’ and reveal a whole new level of meaning to them. In fact, I hope it’s a revelation to many people. The book should reveal the music’s true face and show readers what’s really happening in Shore’s carefully crafted music. It’s not just moods, it’s an incredible web-like structure that’s every bit as involved as Tolkien’s Middle-earth. I want this book to enrich listeners’ perspectives.

In the sample chapters of the book, I could see that there are staff notations of the score - both hand written and printed. There are a lot of technical descriptions of the music, but how have you handled the emotional part of the score? Sometimes those staff notations and musical jargons may put-off the starters, who are just beginning to embrace and understand the orchestral film scores?

The music examples are there to further illustrate points to those who can read them, but they exist on their own level. The real analysis, and the real emotion of the ‘narrative,’ is in the text. You should be able to read straight through the book without the ability to read the music examples and still walk away with a profound understanding of Shore’s work.

How significant are the images from the films and the original sketches by John Howe and Alan lee for the book? What gap do you think these sketches would fill in the communication between your words in the book and the readers? If you have an image from the scene in the film or the original sketch included in the book, does it reduce your job of having to explain the whole scene from the scratch?

I think that John and Alan’s incredible sketches – and the film stills, as well – help us to create that storybook feeling. They’re transportive; they take you right into Middle-earth. Tolkien’s stories have inspired so much art: visual, musical, literature, etc. I wanted to represent as much of that as possible in the book. Each art has to have its own integrity, and together they cumulate to create a satisfying whole. I tried and make my writing just as strong as the musical and visual aspects … I don’t pretend to know if I pulled it off, but that was the goal!

Complete Recordings CDs or Movie DVDs of LOTR – which one of these a reader of the book must go to refer or verify while reading the book and why?

The book should be its own experience, I think. The theatrical films, the DVD edits, the original soundtracks, The Complete Recordings – each of these told the story of The Lord of the Rings in its own way. The book should do that too. And just as the films make you want to hear the CDs, and the CDs make you want to see the films, the book should make you want to return to the films and the CDs. They should all work together.

I always felt that there is a necessity of new mediums of communication through which common film goers can understand the nuances of a film score. We have DVDs where there are options to watch the film with audio commentaries of Production designer, Costume designer, screenplay writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, VFX supervisors and even the actors. I always wished for an audio option with just composer (Howard Shore) and a musicologist like you discussing the score in each and every single scene of the film. Is that the next step?

If they want some commentary for a deluxe Blu-ray edition of the films, I’m ready to take their call!

Now that, you have spent a few years of your life into LOTR film scores and have come up with this book, do you feel that there is nothing much left in LOTR music for you to dig into or understand better? I guess you know LOTR film score better than Howard shore himself.

I’ve sat with Howard during the Live to Projection performances, and sometimes he’ll lean over during a certain passage and say, “I think I should re-orchestrate the trombone part there, I don’t like the voicings.” You’re never really done with a big project like this, I suppose. I think that’s true for everyone. There’s always some new observation waiting to be discovered, and I’m sure I’ll think of something that I’ll wish I had mentioned in the book! The scores, like the stories, are endlessly revealing. That said, Howard and I are confident that the book sheds light on all the themes, the developments, and all that makes this score such an important work. We worked a long time to make it a truly comprehensive document.

Howard often tells me I know the scores better than he does, but I take it in the spirit of good humor. He has such a brilliant mind; he’s always a step ahead of everyone else.

The book seems to be a complete package with a rarities CD including 21 alternate score material unheard before. Why is this necessary? What does it add to the book? Is it meant just for the listening experience?

It’s meant as a beautiful listening experience, but it also enhances the part of the book that details the creation of the score. It shows you some of Shore’s early ideas, some of his alternate concepts, and gives you an insight into his creative process in a purely musical way. It’s a wonderful collection, and can be listened to either straight through as an album, or scrutinized as an archive.

We have heard a lot about the clash between the score and sound, in films. Even in liner notes of Complete recordings, I remember reading that some of the musical score cues were replaced with sound effects? Does the book talk about this clash between sound and music in LOTR films and about what went behind in choosing one over the other? It would make a fascinating read.

This is quite typical for a production such as this, so I wouldn’t want to characterize it as a “clash.” Composers often write music for scenes knowing that directors can choose between either music or sound effects alone. There’s rarely any specific reason one is chosen over the other. It’s part of a director’s creative process, and is more instinct than anything else. It’s almost always a case of “It just feels right.”

Now that, the book is on the verge of release, how do you feel about this whole LOTR journey? What is your take away from this experience?

It’s truly been the adventure of a lifetime. I hope we can go back again when The Hobbit comes around.

I am sure Howard Shore was with you throughout the journey of this book. What did Howard Shore say to you when he saw the final print of the book?

As a young musician, Howard was one of my idols. He is now a dear friend. I’m not sure I have enough words to express what that transition has meant to me. Howard called when the book finally came in and simply said, “It’s beautiful, Doug.”

Sometimes the simplest statements are the most meaningful.

Have you heard Indian film music? What do you have to say about it? What did you think of A.R.Rahman's score for Slumdog Millionaire and the subsequent Oscar win?

I actually studied Hindustani classical music a good bit when I was in music school. I think it’s fantastic to see these traditions represented in film. We’re entering a world now where musical borders are becoming increasingly diminished, and that can only be a good thing for the art!

Finally, can I say “Music of the Lord of the Rings Films” is the One Book to Read Them All?

Yes, I think you should say that! 


Ravi Krishna said...

Excellent interview, Suresh. I really hope to purchase a copy of the book someday.

silvarbullet1 said...

Great interview! Very in-depth. Some curious questions and great answers. Looking forward now to getting the book!

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Ravi Krishna - Thanks. The book will be available in India through Flipkart.com.

Silvarbullet1 - Thank you.