Soundtracks have always been a part of my music playlists. What started as more of a ‘reliving the movie’ experience has quickly turned into a background for writing necessity. It’s not just a lack of vocals, because that is not always the case, but more the dynamics of the music, the ebbs and flows, the swells, all in time with a rhythm of drama, that allows my mind to relax enough so the words flow uninhibited. There’s one name that shows up again and again in my playlists of creepy movie soundtracks, and that is Howard Shore.
A former musical director for Saturday Night Live (1975-1980), Shore’s early soundtrack career featured the score for The Brood, which also signaled the beginning of Shore’s long partnership with director David Cronenberg. Name any Cronenberg film and Shore did the music for it. Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Crash, just to name a few. Of Cronenberg’s twenty-one films, Shore has composed music for all but six of them. Shore even went on to produce an opera based on his music from The Fly.
Using traditional orchestral as well as electronic instruments and digital samples, Shore’s early work with Cronenberg gave him the elbow room he needed to experiment with sound and form, utilizing mood and pacing to heighten dramatic cinematic cues. Later scores for films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit proved Shore could work in situations where the music was much more than mere backdrop. Shore doesn’t just work on dark and suspenseful films. One simply should look at films such as Penny Marshall’s Big, as well as Tom Hank’s directorial debut, That Thing You Do! to hear Shore’s incredible style range. His soundtrack for Philadelphia is haunting and beautiful, blending perfectly with music from Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, and Bruce Springteen as well.
For horror fans, it is Shore’s soundtracks for The Fly and Silence of the Lambs that he is most known for. Brooding, emotional, and often extremely disturbing, Shore’s music compliments and enhances these cinematic experiences with a style all his own. As soon as you hear the opening bars of the main titles tracks of those films, you instantly know where they’re from. Strangely enough, if you’ve ever watched David Fincher’s Se7en and wondered why the music sounded so familiar, well … you guessed it: Howard Shore. Fortunately, Shore’s entire soundtrack for Se7en was finally released last year, and it is incredible.
A quick search through iTunes, or Amazon will yield a bounty of Shore soundtracks, and all of them are exceptional. One of my personal favorites is Crash, as Shore revisits a simple melody again and again, threading it throughout as it becomes both familiar and alien. Composing for soundtracks is extremely demanding work, but it seems that is what Shore was born to do. Good thing for us he’s still going at it, so we will have more excellent film scores from him sooner rather than later, as he is currently working on the horror film The Spider, in pre-production now.