A conversation originally found on the soundtrack forum:
SMME: Shore's Musical Middle-earth*

Franz_Conrad (Michael McLennan)12/7/2003

regarding: ROTK OST; Track 12; Ash & Smoke

1:09 - Boy choir reprises the Ring Seduction theme. Pounding timpanis, nervous strings and stabs of brass underscore the Ring's growing strength. We see the mutation of this theme as the Ring approaches its source - its voice is getting stronger, but also more pitiable as it pleads for its life.

Magpie 12/16/2003

I think this is a brilliant statement.  I had noticed the 'mutation' but hadn't really processed it in any way.  This is the joy of having people who look at the soundtracks differently than I to share with. 

Nemesis_Benton (Jelle Vanooteghem) 12/18/2003

Hmmm... I didn't see the movie yet (although I got my tickets for 21.00pm tonight!), but... I don't see it as the Seduction Theme or even a mutation... To me, it's more like something new, it's like the second theme from the first part of a symphony. Symphonies work with like dialectics. You have a thesis, an anti-thesis and than a syn-thesis (synthesis). To me the Seduction Theme from FotR and TTT work as a thesis, this one works as an anti-thesis... So where's the synthesis. If Shore would've done that... and it might've been cut... This work be even more brilliant than it already is!

Nemesis_Benton 12/19/2003

Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis... I changed my opinion... This isn't anything like that. I think I heard this theme when we got a pan shot of Minas Tirith under attack... And I thought at that moment... No, this theme isn't anything related to the Seduction Theme. It's something totally different, melodically (I'm not saying harmonically) and iconographically..

Kianga_Jaguar (René Puls) 12/9/2004

(I'm replying to a post from almost exactly one year ago here. I'm a bit slow sometimes... ;-)

While listening to the ROTK album a few days ago, this part (1:09, Ash and Smoke) stuck out, because that was the first time it reminded me of the History of the Ring theme, and I had never considered this before.

Ridan_Kurt (Kurt Milano) 12/28/2004

I listened to it, and it does sound like an incredibly slowed down variation on the theme. Interesting...

theharmonyguy 2/5/2005

Isn't the boy choir at 1:09 singing a variation of the Mordor theme (or as most call it, the Sauron theme)? I'm not sure it's the Seduction theme.

I went back today to figure out what parts of the track came from where, and the track seems to essentially have three sections, with the middle being the boy choir. The first and last sections come from scenes as the attack on Minas Tirith begins. In the last section, the urgent White Rider theme comes in as Gandalf orders the troops back to their posts after knocking out Denethor. I think these parts are in the last chapter of the first disc of the EE. (I only have the EE DVDs.)

The middle section of the boy choir played during scenes of fighting in Minas Tirith, after the gate was breached. I believe it comes right before Pippin find Gandalf to tell him about Faramir being burned, which in the EE precedes the Witch King's Hour. (Sorry I don't have cues - I'm going off memory at the moment. :) )

Anyway, the scene where the boy choir is heard seems to me to have little to do with the ring, but since it involves Mordor troops fighting, the Mordor interpretation make more sense. Either way, the music is definitely in a different mode than before, and the effect is quite interesting.

theharmonyguy 2/5/2005

OK, now that I've read more and played on the piano a bit, I think it may be a mutation of the History of the Ring theme . . . having some sheet music to look at really helped. Though it is kind of odd to see the title "pyre of Denethor," since it sound like the passage in question . . .

I had actually thought in watching parts of the movie again that the the Ring theme (what I call the History of the Ring theme usually) and the Mordor/Sauron theme seemed to merge a bit . . . there was another part that I can't recall at the moment where the music seemed to be a combination of the two.

Or maybe I'm just way off. :) Playing what was in the sheet music didn't seem like Mordor as much, but I'm still a bit unclear as to why Shore would place the Ring theme for that fighting scene.

THE_franz_conrad 2/6/2005

In this case - 'Ash and Smoke'. I feel what we're hearing is a case of Shore's musical cultures coming to life. I doubt we're hearing a specific theme. But we're hearing something which reminded me initially of the Seduction theme (I was roundly shouted down over that one I think), some of the History of the Ring, and some of the Sauron-Mordor theme. But surely if it were any of these, we would know, wouldn't we? We've all heard those themes and this choral piece hundreds of times (potentially), and if it were absolutely a theme that we've recognised, we would know.

What it is is music that comes out of the Mordor culture of music. As we all know - Shore divided his musical cells into the various cultures of Middle Earth. And certain motifs unify each culture, what Doug Adams has described as a manipulation of 'do-re-mi'.  In the case of the Mordor culture, we have a similarity in the opening of the themes of all things associated with Mordor, whether they be Isengard, Sauron himself, the Ring, the Ring's seductive voice... In this battle scene in Minas Tirith, we are witnessing the power of Mordor made manifest - orcs cajoling the citizens and brutalising them. The sequence is edited as a montage of destruction, but we're exhausted from all the battle scenes so far, so Jackson and his editor wisely chose to play up the elegaic quality of this scene - remind us of the human cost of Mordor. So the mixed choir comes in with a martial drum rhythm buried deep beneath it, intoning a theme which comes out of the Mordor culture, but is not specifically identified with anything within it.

Interpreting the piece this way solves problems:

  1. We don't have to justify in our own minds - why is the Ring theme / Seduction theme / etc used here? I see no Ring! Well... we are seeing an enactment of the spirit which created the Ring - a spirit which desired to dominate all life and order it thereto. It is the culture of Mordor we are seeing, so all Shore need do is suggest that culture, not restate note-for-note a theme which might do the same job but not be nearly so tailored to the scene.

  2. As well I think Shore probably by suggesting the culture of Mordor rather than aligning the scene with a particular aspect of it serves the audience's shallow memory for themes well. People tend to grasp very few themes when watching a film, part. not themes as subtly distinguished from each other as Shore's. But by having certain sub-motifs link his groups of themes, Shore has made sure an audience member is more likely to notice at least which part of Middle Earth is being referenced by the music (and therefore whether the music is playing to the heroes or the villains), even if they don't know the White Rider theme (urgent) from the White River (defiant).

*SMME was an MSN forum founded by a group of LOTR score enthusiasts to talk about the soundtrack. It was active from 2003 - 2006. With the release of ROTK, interest faded and the forum was shut down in the Spring of 2007 and then lost completely when MSN quit business.