Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: A Soundtrack Review

Well, likely many of you reading this today got a chance to head over to your local theater and join the craziness that was the midnight showing of Peter Jackson's rendition of The Hobbit. I was not among that throng, but I have been able to get a good listen to the soundtrack over the past few days, so that's what I'll review for the time being.

I have not been disappointed in Shore's return to Middle Earth. Well, except for Neil Finn’s performance of “The Lonely Mountain Song,” which will run under the film’s credits. The light, reverb-laden vocal interpretation of an otherwise excellent theme did not succeed in capturing the essence of the Tolkien universe the way Annie Lennox’s “Into the West,” or Enya’s “May It Be” did.

That small failing aside, The Hobbit soundtrack strikes a wonderful balance between resonance and awe. The interpolation of themes Shore used in The Lord of the Rings creates the exact feeling that readers who return to Tolkien's work time and time again crave--that sense of immersion in the atmosphere of his story world. The Hobbit's warm clarinet rendering of the Shire theme is just as perfect as it was played on wood flute in The Fellowship of the Ring. The underscore of Bilbo's departure on the adventure recalls the flight of the hobbits from Farmer Maggot in Jackson's first trilogy, and it beautifully sets the tone as yet another hobbit flees from a small set of problems into larger dangers.

The dwarves' theme is equally soaring and weighty, and is perfectly suited to the serious side of the dwarves that Jackson places on screen, giving them a chance to be majestic and awe-inspiring. For a long-time Tolkien fan like me, this came as a great relief, since in The Lord of the Rings, the only dwarf represented, Gimli, ended up shouldering the bulk of the movie’s comic relief—a decidedly un-dwarvish job. Sure, there will be members of the company that will still inspire laughs, but Shore’s soundtrack helps undergird and remind the viewer of the dwarves’ formidable nature.

When the movie draws characters into deeper peril, Shore does not shy away from the use of instrumental performance for atmospheric sound. Many of the later tracks in the score contain heavy dissonance, brash playing, and the use of improvised percussion instrumentation--all perfectly suited to clashes with goblins and the darker forces of Middle Earth. He makes use of dramatic and imposing men’s vocals, and pits them against ethereal women’s choral work (for example, Galadriel’s vaguely eastern-inspired theme) and the purity of boys’ choir.

I'm excited to see how the themes I now have had the opportunity to internalize will enhance the visuals Peter Jackson has chosen to depict on screen. My advance familiarity with the score will free me up to appreciate the amazing synergy between sound and image The Hobbit is bound to offer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Productivity in Writing

Well, I got to post my "winner" badge for NaNoWriMo on November 30th, with 12 hours to spare. Looking back, the question I ask myself is this: will I ever do NaNo again?

For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, November is National Novel Writing Month, and NaNo is a challenge to authors to write 50,000 words in one month. This boils down to just under 1700 words each day, but for most real people, works out to many more words per day they write, because very few people I know (if any) write EVERY day on the same project.

Like most NaNoers, I slumped in the middle. A nasty cold got a hold of me and obliterated my plans for getting up at 5 am to write every day. Or maybe the cold was just an excuse. While there are things I did genuinely like about working in the quiet of the predawn hours and starting my day off with some creativity, I am, by nature, a night owl, so I probably only got up at 5 for about two weeks total.

I may get back to the getting up at 5 routine after the holidays, but not every day. Likely every other day. But I don't think I will tackle NaNo again, and here's why:

  • November is a gruesome month to try to write like crazy. We have performers in my house, and November typically begins the craziness of holiday rehearsals. It's just too dang busy to be pouring every spare minute into writing top speed.
  • I don't have a problem being prolific. I can see NaNo as a huge benefit to writers who struggle to make progress on their projects, and it's likely very rewarding to see the word count pile up. I did gain some gratification from making headway into my work, but...
  • Writing without revision does not fit my creative process. Under normal circumstances, I write a passage, let it sit overnight, come back to it, read it, tweak it, and write the next passage. Doing so helps me avoid continuity errors and repetition. The 50,000 words I cranked out in NaNo have some nuggets of good stuff, but because I only outline in the loosest interpretation on the word, I need to have a very solid grip on what poured out in the last writing session before I plow forward into the next. I am going to be getting this draft off to my crit partner, with the understanding it is a ROUGH draft, but I don't like working this way. I don't want to waste my crit partner's precious time in asking her to read and comment on stuff I know isn't really written to the best of what I think I can do without input.

So am I glad I did NaNo? Sure? Will I do it again? Probably not. But what I will do is challenge myself to set aggressive word count goals year 'round. After all, the folks waiting on the next Windrider book and the next installment of the Risen Age Archive deserve that.