Recording Studio: Singing Bowls in The Hobbit

Back in March we mentioned the Tibetan singing bowls we have used here in our recording studio, discussing their history and various traditional uses. Exotic instruments such as these have their modern uses too; take, for example, Howard Shore’s score for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, back in 2013. Shore and his team experimented with unusual instrumentation. They could have simply used oriental scales and modes, which indeed they did; but in the end, there’s nothing quite like a rich texture to immediately communicate a location or mood to a film audience.

Recording Studio Problem Solving Techniques in Film

As mentioned in the above video, “a bit of experimentation” (Briar Prastiti) was involved in finding a sound that best fulfilled Pete Jackson’s directorial vision, and Indonesian relatives to the Tibetan singing bowls were but one piece of the puzzle. We can see from the production blog that there were two main percussive elements. First, a temporary recording studio was set up in Wellington Town Hall. That’s nothing abnormal. During this scoring session the orchestral percussion elements were captured. At some other point in time another temporary recording studio was taken to a gamelan ensemble, where the more exotic percussion was captured. No doubt the problem solving involved caused plenty of headaches among the sound crew, but the result was a unique and effective one. This is perhaps most evident in Shore’s cue A Thief And A Liar. The complex frequencies and harmonics of these ancient instruments would likely have caused headaches in the mixing room back at the main recording studio, too. Ultimately, it was worth breaking convention.

So what can we learn from this ? Well, it’s quite simple. If you’re after a unique musical texture, try something new; and if you can’t bring the ‘new’ to the recording studio, bring the recording studio to the ‘new.’ Navigate your problem solving right, and the result will be worth it.