Name: Howard Shore
Occupation: Composer, conductor
Nationality: Canadian
Recent release: Howard Shore's motion picture soundtrack to Crimes of the Future is out via Decca.
Recommendations: The work of artist James Siena and the two operas of composer Nico Muhly.

If you enjoyed this interview with Howard Shore and would like to find out more about his work for movies, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook.

Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for film music?

One of the main reasons I was interested in film was for the technology - and I wanted to be in the recording studio.

Which composers, or soundtracks captured your imagination in the beginning? What scenes or movies drew you in through their use of music?

There was an excellent library in Toronto with a music section and you could check out scores and recordings. I discovered all the great names – they had all the classics there, and beyond the classics they had music from films.

I discovered the great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu's music not only in the classical section – but also in film. So I was listening to his music, mostly the electronic music. He released a whole series of recordings which I still have, like "Green."

I collected those on tape that I listened to endlessly; but I also listened to Cage, Stockhausen, Hindemith, Mingus and Coleman.

What made it appealing to you to score a movie yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what did you feel did you have to add artistically?

I really wanted to be in the studio and I felt that film music was a good opportunity to experiment and work with great musicians.

I started working with David Cronenberg in 1979 on his film The Brood. We have now completed 16 feature films. Each score was written to lead to the next.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to film music? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?

I like to read and I like to dream, I always start with the words when I'm working on a film and go back to the original novel, if there is one, or read the screenplay. I like working with the words first. Then I essentially write thematic ideas that I know I can base the score on.

On Crimes of the Future, I wrote nine motifs away from the film. Later I will start to work those pieces into the film, to figure out where they fit. I know they belong somewhere, I just don't know where they go quite yet.

I never like to sit in front of a scene and try to work it out head on. I like to go in on the angle.

How would you rate the importance of soundtracks and film music for the movie as a whole? How do you see the relationship between image and sound in a movie?

Every film is different, you have to ask yourself how will this film be best served by the music?

In the Cronenberg films, we are often working around the edges of the subconscious with the score. You want to support the film, but try not to lead the viewer.

Whereas on The Lord of the Rings, you needed the opposite approach, you needed the music to help clarify the storytelling. The leitmotifs did just that, they allowed the listener to know exactly where we were in the story, with different themes for the cultures, characters, and objects.

There are dedicated scores, sound tracks, temp tracks that ended up staying in the finished movie and even scores that were written without the composer seeing the movie first. How do these different premises affect the finished movie, do you feel?

Music is an expressive language of emotional ideas. There are many ways to express the narrative.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?

I always start with the pen.

I try to stay away from the technology as long as possible. There will be a time for that later, but to express myself in music, I find it’s better to stay in this very 19th century world as long as I can for the composition.

Once satisfied with the compositional ideas I then turn to the technology to ‘score’ the film.

Can you take me through your process of composing a soundtrack on the basis of a movie that's particularly dear to you, please?

I absorb myself in research. Put it all away, take a nap and then I’m ready to compose.

I would assume that a major part of composing for film is the ability of interpreting the images and the narrative at play. Tell me about how this works for you and how these interpretations in turn lead to sounds and compositions.

I stay away from the specific visuals as long as possible.

What I’m trying to do is to get into the subtext, looking at it is not helping you to express your ideas. It’s more understanding what the story is, and how it affects you.

You want to get into your inner workings and not just your visualization of the film.

What, from your experience and perspective, does the ideal collaboration between you and a director look like?

Effective collaboration occurs when all aspects of the film are evenly balanced. Direction, acting, screenwriting, production design, costume, cinematography, editing, music, sound editing etc.

How do the other aspects of a movie's sound stage – such as foley and effects – influence your creative decisions?

I will quite often just listen to the sound of the film without the visual while scoring to understand its rhythms.

The balance between visuals, fx and film music is delicate. What, from your point of view, determines whether or not it is a successful one?

The collaboration between sound and score can produce interesting results.

Scorsese’s Hugo benefitted from Eugene Gearty setting the train station, clocks and train whistles in the same key as the score.

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs benefitted I believe from the close collaboration between music and sound editing and design by Skip Lievsay.

Once the movie is finished, what is the value of the score you composed outside of its original context?

Many film scores have taken on their own life after the film.

There is of course the soundtrack album, scores are played in concert halls, and there are the live to projection concerts.

Different composers could potentially approach the same scene with strikingly different music. Would you say there can be 'wrong' and 'right' musical decisions for some scenes? In which way can some film music be considered 'definitive'?

There are many ways to approach a scene.

In the spotting session, this meeting between the composer and the director about the use of music in the film, one asks what’s really required, what’s really necessary, how is the music going to be used in the film? Is there pacing to discuss? You might talk about the size of the orchestra or the kind of composition or thematic ideas. All these things are discussed in a spotting session.