Posts Tagged "Lord of the Rings Online"

Interview with LOTRO Composer Chance Thomas

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 in Gaming News, Misc Articles | 5 comments

Chance Thomas is well known to those of us who spend some time in the Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online trouncing across the Greenfields of the Shire, exploring the dark places of Moria, or most recently, charging across the plains of Hytbolt. Mr. Thomas is responsible for the merry melodies of the Shire, the ominous opuses of Foundations of Stone and the riveting rondos of Rohan.

But Mr. Thomas is more than just a video game composer. He’s created music for the Academy Award winning short film The ChubbChubbs!, as well as the wildly successful History Channel show Pawn Stars, and scored commercials for just industry giants as McDonalds.

Even when it comes to Middle-earth, Mr. Thomas has contributed to more than just Lord of the Ring Online. He’s contributed to numerous digital incarnations of Middle-earth, including Liquid Entertainment’s War of the Ring, EA’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and a personal favorite of mine, Sierra’s The Hobbit.

Mr. Thomas was kind enough to spare a moment to sit down and talk with me about his music, his creations, and exactly how does one go about scoring a modern myth. Thank you, Mr. Thomas, for giving me this opportunity. Let me begin with the obvious question: How exactly did become a musical composer? Tell me about your journey from appreciation to creation and how that lead to the long and winding roads of Middle-earth.

Chance Thomas: It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to, right? I never started out with the intention of scoring films, video games or any other form of dramatic entertainment. But I’ve always had this profound adoration of music, and a realization of its impact on the human soul. I suppose that set my feet on a path of musical immersion from a very young age. I picked up several instruments as a lad – piano, cell, double bass, drums – and dabbled with the guitar and violin. I started writing songs around 10-12 years old, and that just opened the floodgates. Since then, the road has simply gone on and on.


James “Bandoras” Spahn: In addition to your published works of music for Middle-earth, you worked on several projects that never quite made it to the ears of your audience, including the video games Treason of Isengard and the original incarnation of Lord of the Rings Online called Middle-earth Online. When you put the time and effort into a project that never makes it to your audience, what becomes of those pieces? Do they see the light of day in future projects? Do the simply fade into a myth and legend? I mean, I can’t imagine that after putting the word and passion into a piece that one can simple cast it aside so easily.

CT: You’ve done your research. I’m impressed. Most of the music created for cancelled projects simply goes away forever. The music I write is so intrinsically tied to a particular set of visuals, specific storyline or gameplay, etc. To take that music and transplant it onto something else is just too artificial. Besides, there’s plenty more where that came from. It seems to me that the ocean of inspiration from whence all creative ideas flow really is limitless. Just when you think you’ve heard everything, along comes something new that totally blows your mind. And no, I’m not talking about Gangnam Style.

JS: I think it’s for the best that we avoid talking about Gangnam Style. That thing spreads like the plague. Music itself is at the heart of Tolkien’s story. Eru forged the world from song, and it constantly was a great protector and weapon of for the Free-People of Middle-earth.

CT: If I recall correctly, Eru sang into the void, and it was no longer void. Then the music he sang began to take on shapes and colors. I’ve often used this tidbit to good naturedly rib Art Directors about the preeminent place of music above art in the Tolkien mythology.

JS: Again and again, music is shown to be of an expression of the divine. Given that music is such a powerful force of nature in Tolkien’s Middle-earth and so many musicians have crafted song from his Secondary World, what do you do to make your music stand out when compared to a menagerie of artists like the Elbereth Orchestra, the Tolkien Ensemble, the Lonely Mountain Band, Maury Laws (composer for the Rankin-Bass animated film), Leonard Rosenman, and most recently Howard Shore.

CT: Not to mention my buddy David Arkenstone, another composer who has partaken freely from Tolkien’s deep well of inspiration. You ask a question I’ve never considered. What have I done to make my music stand out? Honestly nothing with that end in mind. My purposes when I compose for a Tolkien-based project are to use music to conjure up the feeling of time and place that is Middle-earth as we know it through the literature of professor Tolkien. Many years of researching the literature have yielded a very specific set of instrumental templates and themes which I use constantly in my LOTR-based writing, always targeted to the appropriate location/race and game purpose. If my work stands out in any way – and I’m not sure that it does – I would owe that to my intense quest for authenticity and resonance.

JS: Even your own Middle-earth musical works have been for different types of games. Scoring something tactical and direct like Liquid Entertainment’s War of the Ring has got to be an entirely different thing from scoring a happy-go-lucky game like Sierra’s The Hobbit. How do you keep the distinct feel of those games while still staying true to the central nature of Middle-Earth?

CT: I liken it to various planets orbiting around a common sun. Each game has its distinctive flavor, but they all orbit around a common Tolkien center. The templates and themes I spoke of earlier help create a center of gravity around which all the rest of the music can revolve. Each score takes on a distinctive voice appropriate for the game purpose it’s underscoring. But the literature-informed templates and themes tie the various scores gently but inexorably to one another.

JS: For many fans of Middle-earth and Lord of the Rings Online players, your music has become an iconic expression of Eriador and beyond. The booming, haunting Lament of Thorin Oakenshield captures the majesty of the dwarves, the haunting, melancholy melodies of Lothlorien, and the airy whistling songs of the Shire. Each song, like each of the Free-Folk is but a small piece in the great tapestry of Ea. I’d have to say that among your fantastic pieces a great many fans have a particular kinship for “Let Us Sing Together,” the eager, bright-eyed composition that is first heard when we enter into the House of Tom Bombadil. Recently it was even reborn as an anthem for all the Free People who brave the dangers of Rohan. Can you speak a little to what some (myself included) believe to be an iconic piece in the crown of LOTRO’s music? How do you feel about this piece?

CT: In life, there are some things that you plan out in painstaking detail, which then unfold like clockwork and turn out exactly as you’ve envisioned. And then there’s everything else!

The song called, “Let Us Sing Together”, which I’ve also seen referred to as, “Tom Bombadil’s Theme”, is ironically from the latter category. It is a happy accident, as much due to the implementation genius of Steven DiGregorio (Turbine’s audio director) as to my own compositional acumen. When I wrote the song, I originally called it, “The Road Home”. I wrote it with the intention of underscoring a player’s return to The Shire after successfully adventuring around in the game world. It has a homey flavor to it, and to my mind speaks of happy returns to familiar surroundings and welcoming friends, with tales to tell. But Steve realized it would work better as a tune to set apart the iconic home of Tom Bombadil. And so he renamed it, and implemented it just east of the Old Forest where Tom and Goldberry have their home. Brilliant.

JS:Do you have any pieces that stand out for you as moments of pride or where you feel, as an artist, that you hit the nail on the head when it came to your creation?

CT: I do have a few favorites. The Dwarves Theme that you mentioned, which threads its way through many music tracks placed in Moria, Ered Luin and other Dwarven haunts succeeds somehow in capturing the essence of their conflicted nature and history. Proud, relentless, mournful, determined, plodding, united, ancient… Somehow that theme hits all those emotions for me.

The themes for Lothlorien and Rivendell feel good to me. There is something especially magical and beautiful about Elves, almost otherworldly. These two themes, with their floating string melodies, augmented fifth in the harmonies, with the purity of the woodwinds and harp, each seem to describe in music the feelings I get while reading about each respective location in the literature.

The theme for Gondor is another one I think is right. We’ve heard bits and pieces of it in Shadows of Angmar. We hear it in the new login music, and in the East Wall where Boromir makes his last stand in the shadow of the Argonath. It’s a regal theme, a noble theme. And I look forward to developing it to a fuller extent in a coming day.

Finally, there are all the new themes in Rohan, which seem to be resonating really well with much of the player base. I’m so genuinely happy about that. Honestly, you never know how people will react to something that finds its way from your imagination and then out into the real world. I’ve made a montage of some of these themes accompanied by screen shots from the game and pictures from the recording session which you may want to share with your audience:

Riders of Rohan Soundtrack Highlights

JS: Stepping away from the world of Arda for a moment, your body of work goes far beyond just Tolken’s work. As I mentioned earlier, you’ve developed quite a diverse portfolio. For the Oscar-winning short film 2007 film The ChubbChubbs! you served as both composer and a voice-actor. The short film was featured before the major motion picture Men In Black II and was so well received that it was included on the DVD release of the film, was used to introduce Stuart Little 2 and even received its own individual DVD release. For a piece that clocks in at just over five and a half minutes, that’s quite a resume. Can tell me a bit about that project and how you came into it?

CT: And it came back again in 2007, making another appearance on the Surf’s Up DVD. Super fun project. Ironically, it was a video game soundtrack that opened the door. Ken Ralston was the President of Sony Picture Imageworks at the time. A copy of my Quest for Glory V soundtrack found its way to his desk, and when The ChubbChubbs came up, he decided to give me a shot at scoring it. And here’s what that shot looked like: the animators sent me an animated story board and asked me what I could come up with overnight. That’s right – overnight.

So I did. I wrote some music overnight and sent it back. They liked it. Suddenly I’m scoring a film for Columbia Pictures. Who knew???

The score was symphonic, and we had a decent sized orchestra record it. My company HUGEsound also handled the sound effects and Foley work, bringing in sound designer Tim Larkin (a real stroke of good fortune) and Foley artist Janna Vance.

One thing that was interesting about the gig was doing two R&B remakes – Aretha Franklin’s Respect and Why Can’t We Be Friends from War. The Imageworks team created their animations to match the original recordings, but Columbia was unable to license those recordings for the film. So I had to create exact duplicates of the song segments they were animating to. The hardest part about it was matching the drummer from Aretha Franklin’s band. He was wild, all over the map with his timing. I mean, it ends up sounding great on the record. But I’m having to generate click and virtual drum tracks which match his imperfection perfectly, so my rhythm section and horn section can record the remake. It was crazy.

JS: Beyond theatrical work, you’ve also done considerate work in television. The History Channel, McDonalds, and the Emmy Award-Winning Rise Above the Blues, you seem to have a finger in every pie Mr. Thomas! With so much diversity in your portfolio, what are the differences in approaching these projects?

CT: I think a composer has to view every game, film, commercial or TV show they work on as a unique entity. The artistic mindset wants to understand the essence and nuance of each story on its own merits. After that you consider the delivery format. Fundamentally, all media is communication. And music is a language. I just learn the language and adapt it to whatever medium I’m using.

JS: With so many fans in so many venues, what’s the future look like for you and your music? Will we continue to see you composing for Lord of the Rings Online and other digital excursions into Middle-earth? Are there any new projects you can tell us about? What’s tomorrow hold, Mr. Thomas?

CT: Ah, but you forget – not even Gandalf can see clearly into the future. I often don’t even know what’s around the corner, let alone what may be coming in the years ahead. But I hope it’s good…!

Obviously, I would love to write more music for Lord of the Rings Online. Middle-earth is in my very soul, and it feels like I have many hours of music left to write in that world. But there are no guarantees. Of the many expansions Turbine has done, I’ve only been invited to participate in 3 of them (Shadows of Angmar, Mines of Moria and Riders of Rohan). So we’ll have to see what the players ask for and what the developer decides.

Apart from that, today I’m writing some slightly spooky adventure music for an unannounced project. And tomorrow? I’ve been contacted by the producer of a stage musical who wants me to score his production, possibly starting the first of December. After that, who knows? As my good friend and fellow composer Sam Cardon (World of Warcraft, Good Morning America) once said, “Every time I finish a project it feels like I’m going to be unemployed for the rest of my life.” Such is the fate of the freelance composer!

Having said all that, I have to admit that the past years have been full of pleasant surprises. The ChubbChubbs came completely out of the blue, and turned into an unexpectedly delightful experience. Creating the video game score for James Cameron’s Avatar was another unforeseen opportunity, which I absolutely loved. Lego Star Wars III, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Disney’s Ghosts of Mistwood, Peter Jackson’s King Kong… the list goes on and on. Nearly every one has been a surprise. So it seems the landscape of my career is destined to be dotted with pleasant surprises. Discovering the details should prove to be quite the ongoing adventure.

The Road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can…

JS:  As I watch Mr. Thomas get swept off by the road, I’d like to thank him for his time and for what was more than an interview. This magnificent conversation as been an absolute joy for me as an interviewer and I am in his debt. I can only hope that we’ll continue to hear more and more of Mr. Thomas’s shining symphonies as we ride to the edge of Middle-earth, and beyond! Just try to keep up to keep up with Chance Thomas over at HUGEsound and, where where this masterful maestro will undoubtedly continue to amaze us all!


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Announcing LOTRO Quest – Episode #2: Tolkien and Tinnudir

Posted on Jun 14, 2012 in Gaming News, Misc Articles, Network News | 3 comments


Announcing LOTRO Quest – Episode #02 

From Tolkien to Tinnudir

LOTRO Quest is back for another epic adventure! We’ve been to Rivendell and followed Frodo to the Prancing Pony, and now we’re off on another majestic journey! This time, we’ll be setting off from the the Rabbit Room inside the Bird and Baby in Michel Delving along side the Inklings themselves! We’ll be travelling down long-trodden roads, into the pages of the past and even into the presence of the of the Sub-Creator himself!

After a quick drink at the bar, we’ll set out to the reminant of the Kingdom of the North, to the very borders of its capital. The ruins of Tinnudir that look upon the Shores of Annuminas and the Tomb of Elendil will be our final destination, but not before a stop in Dwaling to see the Professor himself, known as Ronald Dwale in-game!

Be sure to come along on Thursday, June 21st at 8pm, Eastern Standard Time in Lord of the Rings Online on the Landroval Server! We’ll be meeting inside the Bird & Baby, in the Rabbit Room! Epic adventure and fine fellowship abounds! It’ll be a night to remember!

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LOTRO Quest, Episode 00 – Taking the Arwen to Rivendell

Posted on Apr 27, 2012 in Gaming News, Misc Articles | 10 comments

So, those of you who are regular listeners to our wonderful The Founder’s Inkling podcast know that the beloved news leader Arwen Kester has a less than spectacular computer upon which she attempts to play LOTRO. Her frame rate skips and she has difficulty accomplishing even the most basic of quests. This has lead to endless frustration on her part, and endless teasing on the part of the other Network staff who play LOTRO. The one thing in all her time gaming that Arwen has desired is to see the fair valley of Imladris – Rivendell.

So, how do we solve this problem? With a quest!

I, Bandoras, opened my big mouth and brought up the idea of an in-game LOTRO meet and greet for Founders and Network members. This tiny, simple, idea turned into an epic adventure! First, we all gathered at the Bird and Baby where we spent quite a bit of time admiring each other’s steeds and simply enjoy the fellowship of our fellow gamers, all while shooting the breeze on our Teamspeak server. But such a simple fair was not to be limited to those who were present only in game and in Teamspeak. Middle-earth Radio Station Director Michael Kaiser had a moment of sheer brilliance and decided to broadcast the Teamspeak discussions live over the airwaves of Middle-earth Radio! That’s when the adventure truly began!

At the Bird and Baby

After a bit of persuasion, we convinced Arwen that we could, in fact, provide her with ample protection for a trek from the Bird and Baby in the Shire all the way to Rivendell itself! She protested, but John DiBartolo (sword in hand), charged eastward and we all were swept in his wake. Merriment and fun was had by all along the road, and we even stopped to see one of the famous Shire rainbows!

Shire Rainbow!

But, as we traveled, so too did our fellowship grow! You, dear Network members and listeners, heard our epic quest broadcast across the airwaves and flocked to our aid! Person after person joined our fellowship on all fronts! Whether in game, in Teamspeak, or even in the Radio chatroom, you showed your mettle and walked with us down East-West Road!

Sixteen Amongst the Company

Along the way, we stood guard over the fragile Ms. Kester, pausing to slay orcs, crebain and even trolls that blocked our path! As we crossed the Last Bridge seperating the Lone Lands from the Trollshaws, a brilliant (if reckless) idea fell upon the company! Taking a large, wolf-laden detour, we paid a visit to Bilbo’s Trolls – still cast in stone to this day!

Trolls surround us!

But our celebration of history did not dissuade our quest. Soon, we were off again and after a few encounters with some of the darker denizens of the Trollshaws, we came to the Ford of Bruinen.  Pausing to admire the calm shores, we turned and made our way up the cresting hills and as the sun crept towards the horizon, we arrived at the Gates of Imladris and celebrated the company’s arrival in Rivendell with Arwen Kester’s character safely in tow.

Fireworks to Celebrate!

But, this night was about more than simply helping out a Founder. It was about fellowship. Fellowship of gamers. Fellowship of fantasy fans. Fellowship of friends. Without all the wonderful support of the listeners who came charging to our aid, this never would have been possible. Everyone here at the Network staff would like to take a chance to thank you, our beloved listeners and Network members, for showing such an amazing level of support for an event that was developed in a very brief time and presented with very short notice. You have truly showed the strength of the Free-People today.

Celebration at the Stables!

Given the extraordinary success and support of this event (dubbed by Mr. Kaiser “LOTRO Quest”), make sure you keep an eye out in the future for even more in-game Middle-earth Network events! Whether it’s music and dancing in the Shire, or exploring the hidden places of Eriador – there’s more adventure ahead for everyone!

Besides, we’ve still got to take the Arwen to Isengard, right? If you’d like Arwen’s account of this grand adventure, you can find great screen shots and a video of her expedition on her blog.

Arwen eating pie

If you’d like to listen to our wonderful adventure, you can download it here, or steam it using the player listed below!

Thanks again, and be on the look out for more adventures in the future with LOTRO Quest!

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A Casual Stroll to Mordor Episode 131

Posted on Mar 12, 2012 in Gaming News | Comments Off

Monster PlayThis week we discuss the five new developer diaries released this week, update 6’s imminent launch, information on the music for Riders of Rohan, playing LOTRO with a browser and more!

This episode was recorded on Goldenstar’s birthday! Goldenstar developed tonsillitis and missed playing with her Dums this week.

Merric has been dealing with a sinus infection. He did run several dungeons, skirmish raids and Orthanc.

Both made some creeps on Imladris and Andang was nice enough to run them around and show their noob monsters the sites. On Friday they attended a kinship raid to Orthanc Steamworks where they were very close to beating the big ugly shocky troll!

See the full show notes on our blog!

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Recorded March 10, 2012

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A Casual Stroll to Mordor Episode 130

Posted on Mar 7, 2012 in Gaming News | Comments Off

Orthanc SteamworksThis week we talk about Update 6, Bullroarer, Premium Wallet, dev diaries, new store payment options and more!

Goldenstar this week now has both a master westfold jeweler and scholar. The Dums have finished volume 1 and attempted the Forgotten Treasury. Goldenstar has done some level 75 dungeons this week!! The 3-man Dargnakh Unleashed with Merric and Bryandt’s burglar. The Council of the Secret Fire was nice enough to allow Goldenstar to attempt to heal them while they entered Orthanc Steamworks.

In addition to the Dargnakh Unleashed and Orthanc, Merric ran the Foundry.

See the complete show notes for this episode over at our blog.

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Recorded March 3, 2012

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