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Former Oklahoman composes a soundtrack for Middle-earth
In 2003, Thomas was charged with developing themes for all the major races in Tolkien's world: humans, dwarves, hobbits, elves and the beastly forces of Sauron.
He also signed on with Vivendi-Universal Games as the company's Tolkien franchise music director.
Those themes recur in subsequent games, much as elements of movie soundtracks are carried over into sequels.
Interestingly, Thomas prefers not to compose at the piano.
“The best music comes together in the workshop of my mind first,” he said. “I'll imagine myself in a situation, for example if I'm being asked to compose for a steamy, tropical, beautiful alien world. I'll go there in my imagination. What does it feel like to be there? When I imagine it vividly enough, I start to hear music coming together.”
Thomas is justifiably proud of his Tolkien scores, although he knows he isn't the most famous Tolkien composer out there. More people are familiar with the work of Howard Shore, who won three Oscars for his scores for Peter Jackson's “Lord of the Rings” films.
Their music has much in common.
When he teaches master classes at colleges and universities, Thomas said, he shows students an image from a Tolkien video game, then asks them what the music for that image should sound like. The students call out suggestions, and he writes them on a whiteboard.
“Then I'll say, ‘Something like this?'” he said. “I push a button and my music starts playing, and 99 percent of the time it sounds like the things they said on the whiteboard.
“The conclusion we inevitably come to is that music is a language and that dramatic music for ... digital entertainment is a pretty well-developed language. It's not surprising when you listen to how I scored The Shire before the ‘Lord of the Rings' films ever came out, and you listen to Shore's version, they're different flavors of The Shire, but they're both recognizable. ... We're both experienced communicators in the field of dramatic music.
“As you listen to them (the scores), you can easily envision the ‘Lord of the Rings' universe because of the way it makes you feel and fires up your imagination.”
Thomas' work is far from over. The latest “Lord of the Rings Online” game takes Tolkien's saga as far as Rohan, but there are many miles to go — and many more games to produce — before Tolkien's heroes make their way to Mordor for the final battle.
Thomas is in no hurry.
“I'm a casual gamer,” he said. “The most fun I have is when I'm working on a game.”