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LIANE HANSEN, host:

David Cronenberg's film "A History of Violence" is now in theaters. Fans of the director will hear something familiar when the music begins. The composer is Oscar winner Howard Shore, and it's the 11th time he's collaborated with Cronenberg.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

HANSEN: Howard Shore has some 60 film scores to his credit, including the epic soundtrack for Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, as well as "The Aviator," "Philadelphia," "Ed Wood," "The Gangs of New York," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Se7en," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Scanners." Before composing music for the big screen, Shore was the original music director of TV's "Saturday Night Live," and in the 1970s he played in the rock band Lighthouse. Howard Shore joins us from his studio in Tuxedo, New York.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. HOWARD SHORE (Composer): Hi. Very nice to be here.

HANSEN: It's nice to talk to you. You've been...

Mr. SHORE: Thank you.

HANSEN: You've been working with David Cronenberg nearly 30 years now. When you begin a project, how do you begin to collaborate? How does he communicate to you what he wants?

Mr. SHORE: David is a reader, and so am I, and so, you know, our first communication is really through words, through a screenplay, through a novel. That really, you know, starts our process, the words. I think David's philosophy of making movies is to have great collaborators to work with, and so--and he's interested in what you have to say on this particular subject of the film that he's working on. And what David will do is he'll work with a composer the way he would with a very good actor, you know, where he would give the actor the lines, give him the part and then see where he goes.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

Mr. SHORE: He's not imposing too much. He's just, you know--he's giving me the piece for me to express my ideas about it, and then he'll shape the things that I'm doing. He'll guide me in the right direction. He'll--you know, we'll talk about, you know, the shadings of a scene, you know, very subtle things, and he'll guide me through it in ways that--you know, through verbal ways or just even the way that he's cut a scene will show me, you know, what might be required musically. And as a composer, I'm looking at it very emotionally. I'm looking at the scene that he's created and trying to write a piece that really captures the--you know, the depth and the emotion of that scene.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

HANSEN: Let's talk a little bit about our hero in "A History of Violence." This is Tom Stall, and he's played by the actor, Viggo Mortensen. Immediately when we are introduced to his character, Viggo has a theme, Tom has a theme, and it's French horns.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

HANSEN: Tell us how you came up with that particular instrumentation to illustrate this character that, for all intents and purposes, is all-American and performs an act of incredible bravery that changes his life and the audience begins to realize that he may not be the man that we think he is.

Mr. SHORE: Well, the horn and the use of the horn in that scene, it has a noble feeling to it, and I think the character seems so good in the beginning. As the story progresses, that melody does somewhat corrupt a bit.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

Mr. SHORE: You know, in the beginning I'm just sort of setting the tone and the place of the film, and it's taking place in the Midwest, Midwest America. I'm also working with the idea of the mythic Western to create the idea of this good man of the earth. You know, musically I think I'm just setting the groundwork for the rest of the film and for the rest of the score.

HANSEN: I think I wrote down when I saw the movie, there was one part I just wrote down, `Americana,' as you're bringing us to the town of Millbrook.

Mr. SHORE: Well, I think that's OK. Sure. You want to set--you know, I think in films, you want--I think what we're trying to do as filmmakers is to transport the audience, the listener, take them to this place. When you go into a movie theater and the lights go down, you want to go to these places. Here you are now in Millbrook, you know, in Indiana or in the Midwest. You know, it's really not any different than going to Interzone in "Naked Lunch," you know, and--or taking the audience to Middle-earth in "Lord of the Rings." It's a way to take you there, so by using the right compositional ideas, the right orchestration, the right performance from the players, it's a way to take you there.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

HANSEN: As we're introduced to the characters, there's light on screen and things are kind of a much lighter shade. By the end of the movie, it's almost as if everything's being filmed at night. Do you react musically to that visual cue that you're given?

Mr. SHORE: Yes, absolutely. I think you'll see that with Peter Suschitzky, the way he shot the film, the way he lit it, is that it actually progressively gets darker as the film goes on. It's a very subtle thing, but it's very interesting the way, you know, it moves from light to dark over the course of the film.

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

HANSEN: Were you surprised at the huge success of your music for "Lord of the Rings?"

Mr. SHORE: I think on a--in a global sense it was interesting, because I'd been writing music for a long time, and I was at a certain age--you know, I was in my mid-50s when I started it, about 55 or 56, but I'd had about 40 years of experience leading up to it. I was kind of in the right place, and I had the experience and the energy to actually create the piece, this rather large piece, and I had this wonderful book. And the combination of it, it seemed very daunting at first. You know, you were gonna write this very extensive score with 70 leitmotivs, you know, for this classic novel of the 20th century.

But as I started writing and I worked my way through it and kept writing and writing for years, the con--density and complexity of it actually became more and more interesting. So what it really was, was just an expression of everything that I knew about composing music, about orchestrating music, about conducting, about producing. And the fact that it was then--went on to become so popular and had the critical acclaim and such an audience has loved the work was very gratifying, that you had spent so long leading up to that. And to me, "Lord of the Rings" is a very true sense of expression for me. You know what I'm saying? It's something that just came from my heart really.

HANSEN: It was almost as if you were born to do this.

Mr. SHORE: It was like you--and you--but you had to go through this process of years and years of training to then be able to do it.

(Soundbite of music from "The Lord of the Rings")

HANSEN: A box set of the music is gonna be released in November, orchestras...

Mr. SHORE: Yeah.

HANSEN: ...around the world--you're laughing. I mean, this is huge.

Mr. SHORE: Yeah. I know. I love the fact that the complete recordings is--you know, are coming out of "Fellowship," and when you hear the whole piece, I mean, even I'm looking at it and listening to it and going, `Oh, right, of course, the way this relates and'--I just think it's--I'm happy that it's out in the world so people can hear it.

HANSEN: After all of that--I mean, after that project was over, it must have been tough to get on to something new. You want to write a two-minute pop song, right?

Mr. SHORE: You know something? You know, as I worked my way through it, it was kind of sad to leave Middle-earth. It became part of our lives and something you did every day.

HANSEN: The music to "A History of Violence" is released on CD in the coming week. Does the music work for you on its own without the visuals?

Mr. SHORE: I think it depends on how you listen and what you're interested in listening for and to. But the thing with a CD is that it's only quite often partially what's been recorded for the films. You know, the original CDs of some films is not all of the music created for the film, so I think the attempt is to try to make the CD, which is--you know, has its own basic structure to it and experience of just listening to something and not watching something, to make that a good experience, you know, so when you put it on and you listen for 50 minutes or 40 or 50 minutes, whatever it is, that it takes you somewhere, and it takes you on a journey.

HANSEN: Composer Howard Shore. He wrote the score to "A History of Violence," now in theaters. The music will be released on New Line Records this Tuesday. Audio cuts from the CD are on our Web site, npr.org. And next month, music from "The Lord of the Rings" symphony will have its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall, sharing a program with excerpts from Wagner's "Ring Cycle."

(Soundbite of music from "A History of Violence")

(Credits)

HANSEN: I'm Liane Hansen.

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