Ar­chives keep Ok­la­homa his­tory alive

The Oklahoman - - LIFE - BY KEN RAY­MOND

One of Corey Ay­ers’ coolest finds so far is some 1931 silent cam­era footage of Amelia Earhart.

Ay­ers came across it in the Col­cord Fam­ily col­lec­tion in the Ok­la­homa His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s film ar­chives. As the so­ci­ety’s mov­ing im­age ar­chiv­ist, Ay­ers has been re­pair­ing, doc­u­ment­ing and cat­a­loging ev­ery­thing from old lo­cal tele­vi­sion pro­grams to home movies.

In the midst of one home video, Amelia Earhart sud­denly popped into view, Ay­ers said.

“She comes up and gives a speech, but there’s no au­dio,” he said. “Ap­par­ently she was do­ing a pub­lic­ity tour and had landed there. … Some­one from the Col­cord fam­ily just hap­pened to be there with a cam­era. That was an ex­cit­ing find.”

Earhart, the famed avi­a­tor, was do­ing cross­coun­try pro­mo­tional flights in 1931 on be­half of Beech-Nut gum. At the time, she was fly­ing a Pit­cairn PCA-2, a rather strange con­trap­tion that com­bined an air­plane fuse­lage and wings with a heli­copter’s ro­tors.

The Col­cord footage shows fairly close-up im­ages of Earhart walking from her air­craft wear­ing

in Utah; he and his wife be­came paid en­ter­tain­ers on cruise ships sail­ing through the Caribbean.

By the early 1990s, though, Thomas was back on dry land. He opened a mu­sic pro­duc­tion com­pany in Salt Lake City. Then a friend told him that Sierra On­line, then a big player in the com­puter gam­ing in­dus­try, had an open­ing for a com­poser.

At first he wasn’t in­ter­ested. He hadn’t paid at­ten­tion to the in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion of video games, which had come a long way since Pac-Man. When he played some re­cent games with his friend, though, he was im­pressed.

He ap­plied for the Sierra job, au­di­tioned and was hired to com­pose mu­sic for “Quest for Glory 5,” the lat­est in a se­ries of pop­u­lar games com­bin­ing the ac­tion and role play­ing gen­res. Things went well, and in 1998, he was given the task of com­pos­ing mu­sic for a pro­posed mas­sive mul­ti­player game called “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mid­dleearth.”

That’s when Thomas be­gan com­pil­ing his Tolkien sound guide.

Although that game was ill-fated (within a year Sierra un­der­went a mas­sive re­or­ga­ni­za­tion), it brought Thomas into the Tolkien fold. As years passed, more ti­tles went into devel­op­ment, and some made their way into pro­duc­tion.

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.”


Diane Wasser, film and video ar­chiv­ist, and Cory Ay­ers, mov­ing im­age ar­chiv­ist at the Ok­la­homa His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, at the con­trols of a high-def­i­ni­tion film con­ver­sion unit.


Com­poser Chance Thomas gets in the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fan­tasy world in this pro­vided photo. Thomas, seen wear­ing robes and play­ing a key­board, has writ­ten scores for 10 com­puter and video games based on Tolkien’s work.

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