an old quote that says “Writing about music is like dancing about
architecture”... Of course there was a lot of pressure on this one
too,...inheriting this responsibility from TOLKIEN's storytelling, which went to
PETER JACKSON's storytelling, which went to HOWARD SHORE's storytelling,
and then all of a sudden landed in my lap. I just said to myself, “If
I screw this up, I'm going to be the letdown of a lifetime”." -
Tracksounds talks with author Doug
Adams about his new and mammoth project which has resulted, not only
in the epic book THE MUSIC OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS FILMS, but also
a new CD containing previously unreleased music, mock ups and
alternate cues. Adams shares about how he came onto this
project, his working relationship with Howard Shore, and just a hint
at what might lay ahead for THE HOBBIT.
interview has been transcribed and edited from the original audio
CC: This time we're talking to DOUG ADAMS, who's
an author and musicologist, and author of the upcoming and -might I add-
highly-anticipated book titled: THE MUSIC OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS FILMS.
The book is slated to be released by Carpentier and Alfred music
publishing, first in the European Union, on September 28th, and for the
rest of us poor suckers in the U.S. and elsewhere worldwide, on October
5th , 2010. DOUG, welcome to the SoundCast.
DOUG ADAMS: Thanks, CHRIS. I think that was my
first official introduction as an author, so it was a little weird, but
CC: Well, I'll be in Wikipedia somewhere.
[laughs] I'll be some trivia somewhere in your life, as I am in many
people's lives. Let me just describe this book a little bit. It's a
416-page full color volume, that has a forward by HOWARD SHORE, an
introduction by the LORD OF THE RINGS screenwriter and producer FRAN
WALSH, original sketches by JOHN HOWE and ALAN LEE; it has lots of images
from the films, an audio interview with you and HOWARD SHORE, and of
course, it has that rarities archive, a CD that has 21 tracks of
previously unreleased music created for the films. This is a pretty “epic”
package, I would say.
DOUG ADAMS: [laughs] Well, it was an epic
production, so I'm glad we ended up with something at the end, but it
feels like all of our efforts were well spent.
CC: I understand that HOWARD SHORE himself
picked you to do this project. How did that go, was it a phone call,
out-of-the-blue email saying “Hey, can you do this mammoth project”?
DOUG ADAMS: My first exposure to the
professional world of film music was kind of in your shoes, doing a lot of
interviews with people. I was a writer and still do occasionally write for
FILM SCORE MONTHLY magazine. I was sort of the go-to guy for the HOWARD
SHORE pieces. HOWARD and I did our very first interview on COPLAND, the
STALLONE film. We got along very well; it was one of those things where
you do the interview and then sit and chat for another hour about this and
that, and the state of the musical and film worlds. So he and I did a
number of interviews over the years and I think it was in '01 that I did
an interview with him on the FRANK OZ film, THE SCORE. This time, I did
know that HOWARD SHORE was signed-up to do LORD OF THE RINGS, but you
know, as an interviewer you try to keep it on target. You don't want to
blurt out, “Are you doing LORD OF THE RINGS?!” [laughs]
CC: Right. I do that though... [laughs]
DOUG ADAMS: [laughs] Well, I was trying to
maintain my composure; I don't know if I actually pulled that off. I
didn't bring anything up, and at the end of the interview of THE SCORE, we
wrapped things up and went into our usual sit-and-chat type of mode, and
he said “I've got this LORD OF THE RINGS” coming up...I don't know if you
know about that”. I replied, “Oh yeah, I'm aware of that, HOWARD”. And he
said, “This looks to be larger and more special than your average
run-of-the-mill project. Maybe it'd be good if you stuck around and we
could do something on this.”
I honestly don't think I slept a wink that night. My only night of
complete insomnia in the history of my life. We didn't really have a
specific idea, but it was a tremendously exciting invitation. HOWARD had
long been one of my idols, musically speaking, so getting to meet and
speak to him was thrilling, and now I had an invitation to do something
with him. It was just completely shocking, and it came out-of-the-blue,
and I don't even think we knew, at the time, what it was going to be.
Over the next couple of months and years, I would visit his office in New
York, and we would dig through the scores for the LORD OF THE RINGS films.
We would do that on one trip, and I'd come back a few weeks or months
later and we'd sit and watch the films together and just talk about
everything. We'd get into that head-space and I would really try to
understand what he was trying to create here. We had been doing that for
about a year and a half. We had been visiting for quite a while when I got
the idea that I should sit down at the computer and start to assemble some
of the ideas we had, but we still had no idea what we were aiming towards.
DOUG ADAMS: I was still finishing up grad school
at the time, so I was living with my parents, and I was, quite literally,
printing things on my little home computer in my bedroom where I grew up.
I would bring them to HOWARD and say “Here are some ideas that I put
together, if you want to look at it. It's nothing big. It's sort of a
humble first-assembly of ideas”. HOWARD took it home, and he came back the
next day. He brought it back, and had read the entire document very
carefully, and had it marked with a red pen, with helpful professorial
notes in the margins and such.
It's one of those “How have I convinced one of my idols to read this thing
that I did in my bedroom” moments. But we seemed like we were really on
the same page with everything, and from that moment on, I think we were
really shooting towards some sort of a book, which would be the final
If you followed a bit of the production, you would know that it wasn't
necessarily the most linear path for us. Because it's been a very unique
project, it takes a while to create something like this. We spent a number
of years together, taking some of the material I'd been assembling, and
working it into the liner notebook for the complete recordings. When we
got to the end of those, we switched gears and moved into the book world.
That's sort of where we've been now for the last several years. It's been
a mammoth production, HOWARD and his entire staff have been incredibly
I've had just an absolutely amazing creative team to work with. GARY DAY
ELLISON has done our art direction for us. In addition to bringing his own
beautiful ideas to this book, he also put us in contact with ALAN LEE and
JOHN HOWE, who did all the design work on the original films for PETER
JACKSON. So a lot of his beautiful work has never been seen before because
it was done as conceptual design work. He he happily allowed us to use
whatever we wanted to use and populate our book. And, of course, there are
the film images that we have in there. We also have dozens of musical
examples from HOWARD, the original pencil sketches, where you can see his
early ideas for thematic material, and features like that. So it's just
been an enormous project and taken a lot of time to assemble, but I think
at the end of it, we're incredibly proud that, in a world where there's
never anything new under the sun, we have something that we really feel is
a completely unique project. Never has anyone tried to represent a musical
creation in a literary way quite like this, so it's very exciting, and I
could not possibly be more honored to be involved with this.
CC: I can certainly see how you'd feel that way.
How much of your early propositions on what your project should be
survived to the end?
DOUG ADAMS: I think I came into it as
open-minded as I could. I don't think I really wanted to say, “Look,
here's what this has to be”. There were some basic structural ideas, that
were important to what I was trying to create, and it's essentially an
analytical piece, but you want to do it in such a way that it feels like
storytelling. Analysis is usually such a dirty word, because it's usually
this off-putting, dry academic thing, and it doesn't have to be that at
all. Analysis simply means a method of comprehension, or the way of
understanding. That's what it should be. It shouldn't be this sort of
lofty ivory tower thing that we try to keep the pee-ons with.
I think a lot of my ideas on how to do that relate to structure, that you
want to approach everything analytical from essentially a narrative point
of view. The way HOWARD constructed this score was to translate TOLKIEN's
cultures of Middle-Earth into a population of musical ideas. So it seemed
to me, the way to translate that into a written explanation is to keep
that structure. HOWARD had this brilliant structure that was built upon
the brilliant structure of the PETER JACKSON films and TOLKIEN's writing,
so I keep that. Present the themes as cultural elements, and from there,
put them back into the story and show how this thematic material
essentially tells the story of the LORD OF THE RINGS. You don't want to
create something that loses that passion. It's a beautiful heart-felt
story, so you don't want to just do diagrams and stick-figures. It has to
be just as passionate.
Of course there's also the story of the creation of the score, how HOWARD
came to the project, what his early ideas were, what the recording
sessions were like, what the collaboration with the filmmakers were like,
and all of that has that theme of narrative imagery to it. So you try to
retain as much of it as you can. I think some of those ideas were in my
very early home-made drafts of the book. I think I had the idea of
presenting things culturally back then, and I had the idea of introducing
the themes as characters and then telling the story with those thematic
characters. So some of that was there, but a lot of this book, like
anything else, was created through trial and error. You see what works and
what doesn't, and hopefully you have something at the end of the day where
you've retained all of your strongest ideas.
CC: Now that you've talked a little about the
structure of the book, what you were aiming for as far as your target
audience? Were you aiming for the hardcore LORD OF THE RINGS fans, the
hardcore HOWARD SHORE music fans or both? Who is this product intended
DOUG ADAMS: The real goal was to write this
thing in layers so that it has a genuine connection to a different number
of bases. Hopefully, a musician should pick up this book and feel like
this book is for them; that it's finally written in a language that's
directly speaking to them. At the same time, I want a non-musician to pick
up the book and feel exactly the same way. The same goes to those who are
strictly fans of film music or modern music in general, or those who are
fans of TOLKIEN and his brand of beautiful storytelling. My underlying
goal is that comprehension is context, so if you present this in the
correct way, it's understandable to everyone. So I think we've tried to
create something that whoever you are, you should feel that this book was
created specifically for you.
CC: That's a tough, tall order.
DOUG ADAMS: That's a very tough one, yes. This
is not the most linear creative path, because we did have a long time to
work on this just to get the logistics worked out, and I think that ended
up being a very fortuitous thing because you really consider what you're
writing in that process. You get a chance to say “I have to adjust this a
little to the left or right”, and now it's really connecting with people.
So as the deadline for production kept getting shifted around on us, so
did my ability to do re-writes, restructure and reconsideration, and I
think that was a lucky circumstance in that sense, so we'll see if I
pulled it off.
CC: I look forward to seeing if you did. I think
if you touch on those things, the story, and put the music in that
context, I think that will grab a lot of people, so I'm excited to
experience that for myself. What was the most difficult thing you faced?
Was it going through all of HOWARD SHORE's notes, or picking the notes for
the rarities CD? What was the toughest thing?
DOUG ADAMS: That's a good question. In terms of
the research, that was certainly very demanding in that it required a lot
of airplanes, rental cars and hotel rooms, but it was always a complete
thrill. One of the things that pushed me towards wanting to do this book
initially, even before I heard a single note from the LORD OF THE RINGS,
was when HOWARD just proposed that we do something. I thought “how has
film music been understood over the years?”. Think of how hard it is to
even look at a page from the conductor's score to a film score. Suddenly,
here I was in a room with stacks of them, and they were all there for my
convenience. So that and the research part was just thrilling and
wonderful. I think if anything, the biggest challenge of this project was
-there's an old quote that says “Writing about music is like dancing about
architecture”- so I asked, “What can I do to properly convey the real
essence of this music?” Of course there was a lot of pressure on this one
too, because I was fresh out of grad school and I was coming down,
inheriting this responsibility from TOLKIEN's storytelling, which went to
PETER JACKSON's storytelling, which went to HOWARD SHORE's storytelling,
and then all of a sudden landed in my lap. I just said to myself, “If I
screw this up, I'm going to be the letdown of a lifetime”. This incredible
heritage just landed on me.
CC: Well, RALPH BAKSHI's in there too, and
LEONARD ROSENMAN. [laughs]
DOUG ADAMS: Yes, LORD OF THE RINGS has taken a
lot of twists and turns over the years. But in terms of the specific
lineage to this project, everything had been a smash success, and you
don't want to be the weak spoke. The whole thing would just fall apart
because I couldn't keep my end of the bargain. So that's pressure, but
it's good pressure, because you know that the world is watching, so you'd
better bring your A-game and do something worthwhile.
CC: Absolutely. Now has PETER JACKSON seen it
and commented on it?
DOUG ADAMS: Yes. FRAN WALSH did our introduction
for the book, so I had some contact. I met PETER at the recording session,
so he was certainly aware of who I was, and a lot of my experience at the
recording sessions was sitting in the recording booth next to him, trying
not to disturb him as he was concentrating on his last part of the
creation of his films. But FRAN dropped me a nice couple of emails and I
was showing her what I had, and asking her if she'd be willing to pen
something for it, and she said “Both PETER and I have been reading this
over the last couple of days and we really enjoyed it, and it's a great
presentation of HOWARD's work”.
CC: What about the rarities CD? How did you go
about selecting just 21 tracks? Because I'm sure there were piles and
piles for you to go through. What was your process for that?
DOUG ADAMS: That was the last thing, as I gained
trust from everyone on this project, that I was granted access to; all
these alternate takes from the films. All of these films from THE LORD OF
THE RINGS had unusually long recording sessions. They lasted over the
course of several months, whereas usually, even in very large films, you'd
get 2 weeks worth of sessions if you're lucky. So that meant there was a
huge amount of alternate material.
As HOWARD and I were getting to the end of the complete recordings and all
of that, he said “I've got filing cabinets full of alternate material. Do
you want to start digging through it? I'll let you listen to it, and you
can maybe start giving some thoughts on it”. So that was a whole other
research project. Over the course of a year and a half I'd visit him every
couple of weeks or months, and literally by the fistful, cart CDRs out of
storage into the listening room, sit there with a cup of coffee and go
through them day by day, and make my notes for myself. I came up with a
little system of post-it notes that I put over everything, so that when
I'm back in Chicago, I could speak with everyone in New York, where
Howard's offices are located. Then I needed to find, for example, a CD
labeled 4-56, it's got a track 12, at 5 minutes in.
It was a huge amount of material that I'm actually glad that it was spaced
out over such a huge period of time. Had I tried to listen to everything
straight through, I think I would've been a bit numb just from the sheer
volume of it. But spaced out that way, it really gave me time to sit and
listen, and consider what I had, and what is truly different in such a way
that it's of interest to fans.
The goal of a book is that it's always something analytical, but something
that can be read as a narrative book. To be read linearly from the front
to the back, and feel that you've been told a grand story in the end. Even
though much of that material is analytical and thought-provoking, you want
to have that narrative trust there. I think we approached the rarities in
much the same way. The rarities is this incredible archive collection of
unused material. Some of it is alternate passages within compositions that
you recognize, some are compositions you've never heard before, some are
early mock-ups using sampled instruments to show some compositions are
early versions of themes. It's a wonderful collection. But we wanted to
also create something that you could listen to straight-through as an
album, and have that wonderful shape to it, a nice flow to it, and it
feels satisfying in the way all of the LORD OF THE RINGS films were. So
again, I think it was great to be able to consider what's actually
available and how we create something that has a satisfying shape to it.
And I think it's a really great companion piece for the book, because it
really gives it context, because you really understand what these passages
and alternate compositions are. It really makes sense when you see how
HOWARD's creative process works, to be able to hear some of these ideas
that were part of the process. I think it ended up being a nice, organic
flow between the two projects and I'm glad that they're being released as
a single entity in that way.
CC: So do you reference and discuss those
specific tracks within the book?
DOUG ADAMS: Actually, the book is essentially
the notes for the rarities. It lists how these compositions relate to the
final compositions. There were also some choral texts that were never used
in the compositions, so it has those listed. It's very similar to what you
see in the liner notes for the Complete Recordings, except this time it's
part of the book and related to the separate discs.
CC: People have been following your blog since
you launched it. Now that you're right on the doorstep of this being
released, what are some of the feelings you're having now; having it in
the can and just waiting for it to get out there at long last?
DOUG ADAMS: There's the whole pop-up phenomenon
of course, but one of the things I'm most proud of is that it's never been
tried before. But that's also very nerve-wracking, because you can't say
“This worked well for Joe-Shmo, so this ought to be well-received”. It's
such a unique thing that you just hope that -no pun intended- it strikes a
chord with people; that they really feel what you're trying to show them.
We've had incredible proving grounds with the Complete Recordings, which
certainly presented some of the material that's in the books. It was
almost a way to give people a taste of what we'll be discussing here, and
how one approaches film scores from a point of view of wanting to
understand them better. So I do have a glimmer of hope, as the reviews
were all very successful and people seemed to respond to them, so I'm very
grateful for that. So here's the full unimpeded form of that voice.
CC: Is this being produced as a Limited
Collector's Edition, or is it going to continue on as they keep making
DOUG ADAMS: I think that's the thought, just to
keep it available. As long as people want it, I think they should be able
to get it. It's certainly not a one-and-done type of thing.
CC: I interviewed HOWARD SHORE a few years ago
and I asked him then about THE HOBBIT, and he said he was already toying
with ideas in his head. Do you talk to him about that much? Is there
anything you can share as to where he may be going with that, or no?
DOUG ADAMS: I'm pretty sure I'll have 13 angry
dwarfs show up on my doorstep if I said anything, but I've heard a few
conceptual ideas float around, and I'm pretty sure that other people will
be just as thrilled to hear them as I am, so we'll leave it at that.
CC: Excellent. If this project goes well, I
would assume we can expect to see something like this several years down
the road again for THE HOBBIT and the two parts of it.
DOUG ADAMS: Yes, I'm sure that's something we'd
love to do. We have talked about it and said that if all goes well, that's
something we'd like to pursue.
Transcription: Vince Chang.
Editor: Christopher Coleman.
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