Soundtrack Month: “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [The Complete Recordings]” (Howard Shore

This probably appears to be an excessively obvious choice, but it’s still worth considering if you really haven’t listened to it yet.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy had some of the longest soundtracks in recent years. In an age when a 100-minute movie is considered long, only Bollywood soundtracks boast a longer average duration than those for LOTR. While the standard-length albums are a fair representation of the scores, there’s a great deal more to glean from this extended cut.

The Complete Recordings version of this soundtrack is notoriously difficult (and expensive) to obtain – not to mention the fact that it cannot be legally purchased as a download to date – but YouTube bootleggers have been universal in their belief to share a good score with the world…and they have a point. This might be the longest soundtrack you ever listen to, but it might also be one of the most worthwhile ones you find for a very long time.

One of the things that struck me about this score is how un-orchestral it can feel. Many soundtracks feel like they’re scrambling for arrangements that sound suitably sophisticated. Instead, this one just looks like music that happened to be recorded with an orchestra. Some of it would sound fantastic on a swarm of half-tuned ukuleles. It’s grand stuff but rarely grandiose. Considering the effort and scale involved to make such a soundtrack, everyone involved made it look incredibly easy in the finished product. You’re more likely to find restful moments than busy “adventure” ones. It’s sweeping but inviting. It’s exciting and awing without also being sugarcoated. It’s also 16 years old but still feels as fresh as morning dew.

If you can’t find something amid this huge landscape – foreboding choirs, thrumming double basses, noble horns – to spur on your writing and general creativity on, you might want to get your head examined.

 

Soundtrack Month: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (Nicholas Hooper)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has a strange place in both the film  franchise and book series. Gone is the startled, biting darkness that Order of the Phoenix so masterfully covered. Harry and those around him are both grimly resolved to fight chaos and irrecoverably entrenched in teen angst. The movie’s overall vibe is dark meditation. The score is suitably textured and moody (it even resembles dark ambient at times), though it isn’t without a few witty bright spots. Choirs, very much in the back seat for Phoenix and even somewhat absent in Goblet of Fire, roared back with a vengeance in this score. Weeping strings pair well with angelic treble voices and tasteful percussive touches. If you want a good mope in full orchestral glory, go for this album.

Joseph Trapanese and M83 – “Waking Up”

While the growling brass at the beginning is irksome, this song unfolds into a fine, rhythmic meditation with plenty of driving strings but no jarring “adrenaline buzz” moments. Sometimes, you need a song that literally pushes you forward, and this one might just do the trick.

 

 

 

Epic Trailer Album: “Magnus” (Audiomachine)

At the rate they generate new material, Audiomachine is, well, practically a machine. Their music is primarily used for advertising and movie trailers, but rumors abound that they have increasingly made more music for the sake of music since the epic trailer genre gained momentum several years ago. Their albums usually have plentiful tracks – which does, of course, mean that some are duds if you look hard enough. However, given the typical price of an album (often under $10 for 60-80 minutes of music), it’s usually worth trying out.

Magnus has a distinctly dark vibe throughout. The percussion is tight, the choral sampling is tasteful, and the countermelodies and general use of counterpoint are delicious (especially on cuts like “Momentum”). Thoughtful quieter moments (the cello solo in “Wars of Faith” and the piano introduction in “The Final Hour”) allow for a little much-needed breathing space. Some songs aren’t memorable on the first listen, but almost everything is likeable on some level. More importantly, it is my belief that every track is eventually useful in some capacity or other.

If you want tense battle music or dramatic but broody fare, this is a fine choice. My only possible complaint is the heavy use of brass and somewhat over-the-top strings in certain spots, which make some tracks feel vaguely like excerpts from a Wagner opera. Luckily, this isn’t a consistent feature from start to finish, so you can avoid the most bombastic moments fairly easily (if you want to).

James Newton Howard – “Zuwanie Arrival at U.N.”

I know, I know, the cut I chose from this soundtrack made for an awkward post title, but hear me (and the song) out. If you’ve never watched it, The Interpreter is a satisfying thriller a-la-Bourne Identity (just replace the lead spy with a diplomat run amuck). In fact, it would be easy to confuse this with several John Powell works.  The music is likewise tense and action-y but also quite structured. Jolty strings pair with plenty of fresh percussion and a swaying melody line in this particular track. If you need perky action music to motivate your writing, I suggest this rather than a snarky, rock-flavored song.