The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Soundtrack

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

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The second instalment to The Hobbit trilogy has received many compliments, not only referring to the film itself but the score which shapes it. The score was composed by Howard Shore, the world famous composer, in addition to his previous Lord of the Rings pieces which won him Academy Awards for “best original score.” He is also recognised for his contribution to the Silence of the Lambs and the third Twilight film.

The Desolation of Smaug score comprises of 28 tracks over 128 minutes and the flow wonderfully into each other, particularly when compared to the previous Hobbit instalment which can seem a bit disjointed. The soundtrack is divided across two CD’s, the second half being much more melancholic as Smaug enters the scene. The interesting thing to remember about this score is it acts as a bridge from the first film to the last and therefore has a very different tone to the first. The composition is much darker and creepier as new themes are introduced, old themes are built upon and new themes are foreshadowed.

Something Shore has become loved for is his use of themes in the construction of his score. The first Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, was complimented for its use of leitmotifs which were so strong that cues of music could be instantly assigned to a character or place (such as Shire theme, for example.) Desolation of Smaug incorporates this thematic composition and introduces new themes to accompany the darker storyline. It is not just the notes which form a leitmotif in score, but the instruments used to play them. In this film, the Shire theme crops up from time to time with its Irish inspired folk instruments including fiddles, whistles and harps. Although the presence of this theme is much less in the Desolation of Smaug than in the first instalment, its strength reinstates the comforting and jolly atmosphere associated with the Shire. On the other hand, brass instruments and strings are used for the more impending themes, however Shore has used a variety to create a contextually rich score.

A new theme introduced by Shore in this score, is Smaug, the dragon from the film in which they are trying to overcome.  The theme for Smaug is six notes long but inflicts such a morbid and daunting sense upon the listener, seeing the film isn’t necessary to know this character is dangerous. It consists of swaying notes being repeated but gaining length with each stroke. Smaug’s theme follows a similar template to Sauron’s theme and can be heard across a few tracks in the second half of the film. Shore interweaves fragments of Sauron’s theme to imply his presence yet he is not revealed until A Spell of Concealment where his theme is played with trombones and violins shrieking over each other with trumpets dominating the melody. Sauron’s theme is also present alongside Smaug’s which cleverly suggests Sauron’s influence over the dragon.

Another theme which really stands out if that of Tauriel, a heroic she-elf. Her theme adopts flutes and oboes alongside a heavenly voice which is reminiscent of Arwen from the Lord of the Rings series. She also has a heroic battle theme when paired up with Legolas which can be heard in Flies and Spiders and the Forest River.

There has been some criticism over the removal of the Misty Mountains theme which dominated the first Hobbit soundtrack. Granted the physical location has changed however this theme was more about representing the dwarves than anything. Another aspect of the soundtrack which has received scepticism is the song developed for the ending credits. Following tradition of using a pop singer to accompany the credits, Desolation of Smaug employs Ed Sheeran with the song “I see fire.” Some are not so keen on the choice however Sheeran’s gentle voice and soft guitar playing end the film on a beautifully and surprisingly epic tone. He repeats Thorin’s words as the chorus which echo a sense of unity amongst the characters.

Overall, the score for Desolation of Smaug is much darker but also more complex and textually rich than An Unexpected Journey. Fans of the joyous Shire music and harmonic elven themes may be disappointed as they are replaced by those of impending doom however Shore has done a magnificent job of weaving these together to not only accompany the film but help shape it. Shore’s use of interlinking leitmotifs has given this score its magic and to be able to follow the tension of a film through the music alone is impressive.

Elysium Soundtrack

Elysium

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The curious thing about the soundtrack to Elysium is that it is a debut by Ryan Amon as a film composer. His works consist of trailers and adverts and it is interesting to see how this could affect his film scoring. The soundtrack comprises of 29 tracks over 72 minutes and is a mixed bag of music with tracks being fresh and innovative, others being generic electronics, some being action packed and others seemingly superfluous. It consists of modern and sometimes innovative musical techniques to suit the futuristic setting yet it also contains mind-numbing or overly aggressive sounds which seem to lack a theme to tie them together, which perhaps reflects Amon’s experience in composing excerpts rather than full soundtracks.

The soundtrack opens with Heaven and Earth which introduces the modernity with a strong resemblance to Hans Zimmer by using electronic sounds backed by percussion. This track, although not particularly revolutionary, does set up the final two tracks nicely. The sounds are very similar to the generic electronic music of films like Pacific Rim and Man of Steel and therefore lack originality and personality.

The score alternates between ambient melodies in tracks such as Darkness to aggressively electronic songs. This is necessary though as the action tracks can be quite overpowering and require the slower songs to restore the balance. The slower songs in comparison however can become quite monotonous and almost boring and seem to be included just to give the ears a rest. The Raven, a track towards the end of the score, is a simple, throbbing percussion which does not alternate in tempo or timbre and seems to add no value or meaning to the score. A Political Sickness simply overuses the electronic horn so characteristic to Pacific Rim and Transformers while adopting a fast drum beat to amplify tension. These tracks seem simple and appear to lack any real depth or thought.

Some of the more interesting pieces use techniques to add a bit of texture to the electronic synths however this does not necessarily make them pleasant pieces to listen to. You said you’d do Anything is a track which introduces an electronic throat singing paired with a repetitive three beat drumming. The singing and percussion gives the piece quite an eerie feel while the electronic spin casts the image of a modern civilisation. Breaking a Promise is a track which really stands out, using wordless vocals and slow strings to portray a sense of loss and impending sadness. The voice almost freezes time which builds tension effectively. Elysium follows this track and is a harmonious mix between orchestral and vocals which increase in intensity, concluding the composition with a beautiful yet melancholic atmosphere. For this reason, this track would have served better as the final song however Amon then added New heaven, New earth which re-invites some dramatic stabbing of synths which perhaps rises the action again instead of ending it like a final track should.

On the whole, the Elysium composition does now flow as a stand-alone score and does not make a pleasant listen without the visuals to accompany it. It comprises of such mixed quality that it makes it difficult to judge. The soundtrack contains overpowering, aggressive tracks which are supposed to heighten the action yet they do not develop, making them fade into the background as annoying throbs. Despite being an action film, the slower songs are the strongest. It is evident that Amon has attempted to introduce some techniques to vary the electronics however they are not strong enough to make up for the lack of quality and abundance of simplicity. One major flaw with this soundtrack is the inconsistency – the balance is on both ends of the scale and with no themes, the pieces appear disjointed which perhaps indicates Amon’s experience to crafting short trailers as opposed to lengthy soundtracks. Many of the tracks could be cut out as they add no meaning and make the composition seem all over the place, without thought or revision. The use of electronic synths lacks the personality and originality that perhaps a debut composer needs. The bits that are good are very good however there are not enough of these highlights to make Elysium a successful composition.

Steel Pan review

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The Steel Pan (also referred to as the Steel Drum) is a percussion instrument originating from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930’s. It is a widely recognised instrument with a unique sound and rich history which is characteristic to Caribbean culture. Although the steel pan was originally designed to play Calypso music, modern influences have integrated the steel pan due to its versatile nature.

The steel pan was an instrument used in street music and designed to be played at festivals, known as Calypso music. When French planters arrived in Trinidad in the 1700’s they introduced the concept of carnivals and their slaves had their own festivals which were driven by drum music. After emancipation, the music become noisier and drum music was banned by the British government. Tamboo-bamboo then surfaced, which were bamboo cuts being struck on the ground which was also then banned in 1934, thus the emergence and survival of the steel pan. People began experimenting with pots and pans lying around and the steel pan became iconic to Trinidadian culture. By 1941, the sound of the steel pan had entered America.

The steel pan is originally made out of 55 gallon industrial oil drums. The process consists of ten steps including sinking the drum, marking and denting the metal and tuning the notes. Modern steel pans use sheet metal instead of oil drums. The instrument has three main parts; the skirt, the belly and the playing surface. The skirt is the surrounding base of the drum – the shorter the skirt, the higher the pitch. The belly is where the sound resonates and the playing surface contains the notes. The higher pitch notes are made of smaller indentations that the lower notes. The tenor steel pan is a typical example of a short-skirted, higher pitched drum and is the most recognised. The metal is then hit using mallets. Talented pannists may sometimes use two mallets per hand. The grip can alter the sound produced so there is a specific technique to be mastered.

This Trinidadian instrument is extremely versatile and although developed initially for calypso music, it can be used to play any genre. The steel pan has been used in reggae, ska, western pop and even contemporary Christian music. For example, The Hollies used the steel pan in their song “Carrie-Ann” and Prince popularized the sound in his “New Position.” The steel pan is also the defining instrument to the Disney song “Under the sea” in the Little Mermaid. It seems to be a popular choice as its high pitched sound promotes an exotic and tropical image. This makes the steel pan useful for producing upbeat and happy songs which resonates sunshine and unity.

The steel pan is still undergoing development, with advancements in notes, tuning and attempts at simplifying the manufacturing processes to allow mass production. Steel pans can also deteriorate quite easily and need retuning twice a year. Sheet metal can now be used as an alternative to oil drums. Electronic pans have also been designed; the E-pan for example, by Salmon Cupid. British composer Daphne Oram was the first to use an electronic steel pan in her composition.  This instrument is only 80 years old which allows for expansion however traditional pannists will insist that there is nothing like an original Trinidadian steel drum.

Trinidad holds various competitions for Steel bands, honouring their tradition. The most famous is the World Steel band Music Festival which has been running since 1964 and invites competitors from across the world to re-interpret calypsos and perform a piece of their choice, usually a classical rendition.

The steel pan is a unique and inspiring instrument with an enriched history which is upheld with each playing. The joyful pitch and exotic tones can transport listeners to an auditory paradise, while Trinidadians are reminded of their rejoice and conquer from oppression. It is an instrument with room to develop, perhaps making it an innovative choice to use in a modern, Caribbean inspired composition.

Assasin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Soundtrack Review

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The soundtrack for Black Flag was designed by American composer Brian Tyler, whose works include The Expendables, Iron Man 3 and the video game Far Cry 3. The latest Assassin’s Creed instalment is based upon Caribbean pirates so the soundtrack needed to generate a nautical authenticity, which it does very well. The overall composition is 34 tracks and is a wonderful blend of extensive orchestral and rock instrumentation. The tracks may have a familiar sound to them as they are strongly inspired by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt with their work on Pirates of the Caribbean. The main opening theme for the game has a strong resemblance to the lively folk jig of the first POC film.

The tracks in Black Flag really create a seafaring atmosphere and vary in timbre to compliment the player’s actions. The three prominent tones vary between jovial jigs, dramatic combat and calm exploration. The jigs are used when the player visits the towns and comprise of Irish folk music using percussive drums, strings and brass. This maintains the nautical feel while providing some light hearted music to accompany a pirate’s errands. When exploring a relatively safe location like a jungle for example, the music takes a more minimal approach. The drums are quiet and light in the background while strings play delicate yet lengthy notes. As tension increases when entering battle, the strings are shorter, sharper and used in repetitive bars. The drums become dominant as they increase in volume and tempo. A key instrument to this soundtrack and other music depicting the Golden Age of piracy is the Marimba. This is a percussive instrument made up of wooden bars. It originated in the West Indies by African Slaves in the 16th and 17th century, making the sound characteristic and relevant to the Black Flag soundtrack.

When sailing the high seas, the music disappears (unless in combat with another ship) and is instead replaced by sea shanties. These are collectable in the game and allow your crew to sing while sailing and include famous shanties such as Drunken Sailor. The singing can be turned on and off by the player. They add a charm to the game and reinforce the authenticity of the setting however if the player is not a fan of drunken chants they can become quite irritating, especially when you find yourself singing along even when not playing the game as they are extremely catchy. When the shanties are turned off, there is no music at all apart from the gentle lull of the waves which although slightly boring, is an accurate portrayal of being a pirate.

Although wonderfully composed, the integration of the soundtrack can be inconsistent at times. The music tends to alter in tone, becoming tenser which makes the player think they are approaching danger when they are not. It then ebbs away again into the previous music which can be confusing. It can also phase in and out randomly leaving the player nothing to listen to but their own footsteps, for quite some time until it kicks in again. With 1 hour 38 minutes of play time, the music can become quite tedious as there are no tracks which really stand out. The tone does change to accommodate battles, but there are no individual songs which really represent a character or a place and they all tend to sound quite similar. Even when listening to the soundtrack when not playing the game, there is no song which really sparks an association.

Overall, Tyler’s composition is outstanding representation of 17th century piracy and has been beautifully crafted to fit around the needs of the game. It produces such an authenticity that it really enhances the setting and atmosphere of Black Flag. Except for a few small inconsistencies, the music is flawless and lends a hand to making this instalment evolve from the other Assasin’s Creed titles.

I’m not going to make it…

But I’m surprisingly okay with that!

NaNoWriMo – five days left and still below 20000 words which in itself is a failure but I am adopting a different perspective!

I have managed to write all my pivotal, action chapters from start to finish. It was like my subconscious knew I wouldn’t make it, so my brain rushed to get the main parts down so I could revisit and plump it out at my own leisurely pace. I’m just relieved to have the main story down, the rest seems like a casual stroll in the park which sure I will not accomplish by the 30th but I can spend time really looking over and adding when I feel like it. I admit defeat – time to grab a drink and chill out I think.

The main reason/excuse for completing NaNoWriMo? As lame as it sounds, my partner had 2 weeks off work and I wanted to make the most of it before baby comes! Also had a few birthday/christenings crop up. I know i know, that’s life. I also did not account for what I like to call “pregnant days”. The days where I wake up and the day seems so pointless, I debate getting out of bed. Or the days where I do get out of bed and the world suffers as a simple act would put me in a bad mood for a couple of days. Not just a bad mood. A dark abyss. The depths of hell. Thanks hormones!

So there we have it. Not completed or near to it but still a personal achievement and a work in progress. I have never written anything I have felt so committed to and excited about but this is different!

Well done to those writers who have/could still make it, you are an inspiration and source of jealousy to us all! 

Procrastination; the writer’s nemesis

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8 a.m: “Today I will write all day”

Breakfast

Check emails

Check news

Wash up

Fix washing machine

Sew button onto jacket

Sort through clothes

Clean windows

Research symptom

Make doctor’s appointment

Check blog

Browse forums

Arrange baby shower

Pay bills

Lunch

Shop for lunch

Rearrange fridge

Settle down to write

Research idea

Watch documentary

Watch E4

5 p.m  “So, did you do some writing?”

 “Mentally, yes.”

Writing a birth scene

So I’ve come to a stand still with my story at the final leap. The ending is a birthing scene but I’m staring at a blank page realising I have never read a birth scene.

There seem to be a major lack of them in fiction – sex scenes in abundance but the aftermath is usually glossed over but with such a powerful, emotive act surely it should be explored.

It is from the husband’s point of view which is what I’m finding difficult – obviously there is a lot of waiting around and he can only assume how his wife feels.

Its a home birth but there is a doctor present. (The story is set in a time where this baby is illegal and they have had to hide it from the government etc.)

I have never given birth, although due to very soon which makes tacking this even more frightening.

Does anybody have tips on writing a birth scene (no twilight shit!) or have they read any? What makes a good birthing scene, is there a balance between gore and emotion?