Howard Shore, Billboard/THR Maestro Award Honoree, Talks Legendary Film Scores (and Naps)
The composer says of his working process: "You want to get into the subconscious. Isn't that what music is and what movies are? You're in a dark room, you're looking at all this flickering imagery, music is all ephemeral, it's just vibration in the air"
To hear Maestro Award winner Howard Shore tell it at the 2014 Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference, you might think he was the inspiration behind the film Forrest Gump -- which is surprisingly not among the 80-plus films he's scored. Shore, who spoke at the presentation for the confab's Maestro Award, was seemingly at all the right places at all the right times, with some of the most musically and culturally right figures in the business.
Over the course of his five decades in music, the 68-year-old Canadian-born composer has worked with, among many others: Lorne Michaels and David Cronenberg, both from his native Toronto; Jimi Hendrix; Big Brother and the Holding Company; the Mahavishnu Orchestra; the Grateful Dead and Elton John, whom he played with while on tour with his band Lighthouse; Ornette Coleman; Sun Ra and Keith Jarrett, whom he booked for Saturday Night Live when he was the show's first music director (and where he christened the Blues Brothers); and seemingly random luminaries like the illusionist Doug Henning, crime photographer Weegee (Shore moved into his New York City apartment after he died), and Annie Lennox, among many others.
Shore's massive and varied body of work is similarly impressive and includes three Oscars, for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Other touchstone films he's scored include Philadelphia, Hugo, The Aviator, Ed Wood, The Silence of the Lambs, Big, Naked Lunch and Mrs. Doubtfire. He is also the recipient of three Golden Globes and four Grammys.
Shore's process for scoring is nearly as fascinating as the people he's worked with and the music he's composed, with one very unexpected component. "There's a lot of naps," Shore says. After he's fully immersed himself in the original source material for a film and begun developing an "attitude" towards the content and seen the film, Shore says he delves deep within himself.
"You want to get into the subconscious," he says. "Isn't that what music is and what movies are? You're in a dark room, you're looking at all this flickering imagery, music is all ephemeral, it's just vibration in the air. If you want to create that you have to get into your own subconsciousness and the subconsciousnesses of the movie and then you will get into the subconsciousness of the audience." Shore said his score for 1988's Dead Ringers was, in fact, "all from a dream."
The hard part for Shore is writing it all down, which he still does with pencil and paper. He writes every day and says it's a "discipline he's been doing since he was 10 years old." Shore explained that he had tested well for music on an arts-vocation test as an 8-year-old, which started him on a path of music. His first instructor was Morris Weinzweig, whose brother was influential composer John Weinzweig. Weinzweig taught Howard about harmonies and counterpoint.
Another major part of Shore's creative process is the recording itself. "A lot of my interest in music has always been about recording and how to use recording studios and electronics," he says. He bases part of the recording on the "physics of the room" and carefully considers mic placement and instrumentation. For Cronenberg's Crash, for example, Shore says he designed it in a specific way for the score with "six electric guitars left, center and right, two on each part and three acoustic harps and percussion. "I design the recordings as well as the orchestration."
Shore's passion for what he does shone through most when interviewer Benjamin Svetkey, senior editor at The Hollywood Reporter, asked Shore if he enjoys the films while he's working on them. "I'm loving it," he said, "even when I'm looking at an actor with a green screen behind him, I'm loving it."
Among Shore's next projects are a guitar concerto and the score for the final installment of the Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of Five Armies.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.