What’s the process I use when I start to work on a show? The music needs to support the story and blend with the other creative elements. The Hobbit is a great example of this.

The variety of characters and emotions throughout the show is much more extensive once you start looking at incorporating music and sound effects…Bilbo and the shire, Gollum in a cave, Gandalf, trolls and dwarves. Questions have to be answered…like…what does a Hobbit doorbell sound like?

As I mention on my Music Samples page, I first create a theme and run it by the directors. We made some changes and here is our theme for The Hobbit; it’s meant to sound like a friendly walk through the shire (my wife, the stage manager for the show, thinks it sounds “Hobbit-y”). A lot of the sound cues will come from sections of this or have the same sound palette.

I like to incorporate music as soon as it’s logical for the director and cast; this is especially helpful for the cast if there is any timing involved. It also helps to get them comfortable with one of the design elements before tech week when they start to deal with costumes and lights. Here’s a great example of the process; Smaug’s death.

The first piece was an “uneasy” underscoring to the entire scene, I used strings and choir and alternately incremented each piece up a step for 3 minutes, here’s a sample:

Here was the first version of the death scene before seeing rehearsals:

In rehearsals, I see that the actor playing Smaug takes off the Smaug head, lays it down and walks off slowly so I added another section at the end of the death scene to support that segment.

The scene also needed a small bridge between the underscoring and the death scene:

When you put it all together, here’s what it sounds like:

This production of The Hobbit had 104 sound cues, about half with music.

Theoretically, opening night forces you to put your work to bed and move on, but I will tend to make small changes as needed; maybe the actors’ timing has changed due to having an audience or I feel that balance/level/mix of a cue needs to change. I may also get requests from the director or other designers that helps to make a moment more cohesive.

Going back to my first post from May, ‘what does a Hobbit doorbell sound like’? In Tolkien’s words,

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a dirty, nasty wet hole filled with the ends of worms; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort. Hobbits have little or no magic about them except the ordinary everyday sort.”

They live in the ground and are simple folk; so a doorbell is, simply, a bell.

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