The Sound of the Ring

From: Odds & Ends - Not quite themes but interesting, nonetheless.


The Ring makes a variety of sounds that have nothing to do with the score but are part of the sound design. Alan Howard provided the male voice of the Ring heard a lot in the FOTR. For TTT & ROTK, Plan 9 collaborated with the sound designers to create 'musical sound design' which included the ringing tones and female voice of the Ring.

MALE MUTTERING - This was especially prevalent in the FOTR. This voice of the Ring is provided by English actor, Alan Howard. Those mutterings are closed captioned but it's often clearly Black Speech and at one point, you can hear it call the name, "Baggins".


RINGING (et. al) TONES - These are a range of noises that I would mostly categorize as tending towards unpleasant. They are often high pitched, sometimes a bit metallic. I think the actual sources - in terms of sound design - vary. It's possible some of these are produced by a female voice and it's possible some are electronically or mechanically produced.


FEMALE SEDUCTIVE - These vocals start to approach singing and are evocative of a siren's call. The tones (comparable to musical notes) change minimally and slowly. This voice of the Ring is provided by Janet Roddick (from Plan 9).


PULSES - This is a essentially a heartbeat that is very often heard in association with the Ring. It is present in many of the audio examples I prepared for the other sounds so I didn't prepare one just for this.


THE RING'S FINAL SEDUCTION - Many scenes involving the Ring use more than one of these sounds. But it struck me how the Ring's final attempt at Seduction - Frodo's at the Crack of Doom - seems to involve all of them. It's as if the Ring is going all out at that point.


from fotr Audio Commentary - The ring has heard its master
Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn, Supervising Sound Editors

MH: This is the first opportunity we had to make the Ring sound, the vocal sound come through for the Ring. Peter was very keen that we give the Ring character and give it emotion. It has to be subtle because that's how the Ring works. Kind of... not human but differently alive.

EVdR: When we got to the final mix we actually worked at kind of carving some space within the music to really let the voice of the Ring come through for the first time in such a way that it actually gets the attention of Frodo and Gandalf and it's really calling out to them. It's really when you first feel this sort of presence within the Ring. And there's virtually nothing else on the soundtrack but the voice of the Ring and that allowed us to play it at such a low, subtle level that it sort of sucks you in.


Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn, Supervising Sound Editors; David Farmer, Sound Designer

EVdR: The Ring in the script is very much a character. It has a force and a presence and an energy.

MH: When I first started playing with Ring sounds with Peter, we were going for an actual, more physical ring sound.

EVdR: And that turned into the Ring having an actual voice.

DF: It would have different attitudes. To one person it may be a seductress. To another person it just may be, I don't know, it may be a lover or something like this.

EVdR: And that really changed into it being an actor who would remain the consistent voice of the Ring throughout the film.

DF: Alan Howard recorded voice-overs that Philippa and Fran would write.

MH: He learned a whole bunch of phrases in Black Speech and just went for it.

from TTT Audio Commentary - Faramir's Seduction
Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn, Supervising Sound Editors

MH: (?) one of the (?) changes we made this year was the use of the voice of Sauron, which was a very prominent feature last year - in all of the Ring moments in the palantír scenes. We went for like a different style for it this year. We went for a bit of a Sauron growl in this moment...

EVdR: We do, in some of these moments we have a little bit of the Alan Howard growling. (NOTE: although Ethan refers to this as 'Alan Howard' growling, this is not Howard growling at this moment. It is Janet Roddick. See TTT Appendices transcript below) But in terms of the Ring moments, they really took off in a sweeter, more singing based direction. (on screen - Frodo feeling the pull of the Ring as Faramir's sword plays with it.)

MH: (?) affected by proximity to Sauron and what the Ring's demands are through the journey. So, as it's getting closer to Mordor, it's changing into more of a temptress role. It's not trying to intimidate people into doing things, it's trying to actually tempt them subtly.

EVdR: The idea actually, of the Ring having a character of it's own that changes over the course of the three movies is an interesting sort of area of the soundtrack because it is something that does goes through all three films and that is changing over that timeline.

MH: Hmm.. but aside from the main cast, the Ring's the only element that does go all the way through as part of the journey. And as people's characters develop and as, you know, their sort of motivation change, well.. the Ring's a character. It's on a journey too. It's trying to get home.

(note: ? denotes my difficulty understanding the words)


David Farmer, Sound Designer; Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, Supervising Sound Editors;

DF: Peter's direction from the beginning was, he wants the throb of the Ring to actually be part of the Fell Beast's wing flaps.

EVdR: And there's one moment when the Fell Beast rises up over the edge. All the other sounds go away except for the Fell Beast's flapping, throbbing wings which have merged with the heartbeat of the Ring.  You get that sense of a pull. The Ring wants to go back to its owner.

MH: My take on it was always that this Ring changes as it gets closer to home. In the second film it's much further along in its journey and it is going home. So it's a far, sweetest, more soothing, enticing sort of character. Part of how we achieved that sound was, we had a group of musicians involved with a (?) music: Dave Donaldson, Steve Roche, Dave Long and Janet Roddick (shown right) who has this amazing voice. And so we got her to do single notes which we built into the sound design of the Ring so when it calls, it's very sweet.

But the Ring is different for every person. It calls to Frodo in a certain manner.

But then when Faramir has his moment-- because Faramir is more corruptible -- it goes full on for Faramir and says, 'Take me. Take me I'm yours. Once you take me all your problems are all over.'

(NOTE: the movie's final sound mix doesn't seem to contain this harsh growl. It does have a much more subdued voice but it doesn't sound like the same 'words' as we hear in the appendices material to me)


Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, Supervising Sound Editors; Michael Semanick, re-recording mixer; Mike Hedges, sound re-recording mixer; Chris Boyes, sound re-recording mixer

EVdR: A sound designer's dream, really, is to give life and spirit to things that have no innate life or spirit. Because that's something that we can uniquely do with sound effects.

MHopkins: Peter's brief about the Ring was that it was an actual character in the film and so it had to have emotions and it had to have the power to actually influence in a discernable way.

MS: In the Sméagol/Déagol scene, we remixed several times... more music/less sound design... more sound design/less music.

MHedges: We started with a big music score there that went right through the oncoming fight. But it was covering up the darkness, the emotion that the sound design for the Ring moment had built.

CB: That the place where, if you will, the score goes away and we go into this more affected sort of musical sound design... in a way, heartbeat rhythmical sounds.

EVdR: What it does for me, and I think for the audience as well, is it really puts the focus on the power of the Ring... the power of the Ring to corrupt.

CB: I think the sound helped sell the concept that the Ring was doing this more than an individual was killing another individual. And it's a moment where sound design is as powerful as anything there because it helps tell the story.