How Hans Zimmer Created the Otherworldly Soundtrack for Dune

Many emotional moments were made at this year’s big awards shows. The Slap, amidst so many historic wins; poignant tributes and criminal omissions; former actor-turned-wartime-hero-president Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech, the return of Louis C.K…. Everybody’s got a lot to process. Pop culture can feel like a St. Vitus dance. One half-expects celebrities to start dropping from exhaustion. But then there’s Hans Zimmer’s Oscar acceptance speech, delivered in a white terry bathrobe, a miniature Oscar statuette in his pocket, a big goofy, 2 a.m. grin on his face. The man could not have looked more relaxed, winning his second Oscar 30 years after The Lion King.

Was he still in lockdown? No. On the night in question, Zimmer was in a hotel in Amsterdam, on tour with his band. “His category was among the eight that were handed out before the televised broadcast began,” Yahoo reports, “but he made sure his fans knew just how thrilled he was.” Zimmer posted a mini-acceptance speech to social media. “Who else has pajamas like this?” he joked to the other musicians gathered in the room. “Actually, let me say this, and this is for real. Had it not been for you, most of the people in this room, this would never have happened.” He is, as he says, “for real.”

As the musicians who worked with Zimmer on his Oscar-winning Dune soundtrack (stream it here) have gone on the record to say, the process was highly collaborative. “He’ll outline the desired end result rather than prescribing a specific means of getting there,” guitarist Guthrie Govan told The New York Times. “For one cue, he just said, ‘This needs to sound like sand.'” Zimmer’s methods offer new ways out of the cul-de-sac much of the creative industry seems to find itself in, repeating the same unhealthy compulsions. “If someone has a great idea,” he says, “I’m the first one to say, yes. Let’s go on that adventure.”

Along with collaboration, there is vision, and the willingness–as Zimmer says in Vanity Fair video interview at the top–to “invent instruments that don’t exist. Invent sounds that don’t exist.” Such future-thinking has always characterized his approach, from his synth pop and new wave work in the late 70s, including a stint killing the radio star with the Buggles, to his groundbreaking film composition work on Rain Man, The Thin Red Line, and the gritty blockbusters of Christopher Nolan. Though he’s scored action and adventure films unlikely to ever be considered art, Zimmer’s own way of working is thoroughly avant-garde.

As he tells it above, the point, in composing for Dune, was to throw out the science fiction boilerplate, the “orchestral sounds, romantic period tonalities” that have dominated at least since Kubrick’s 2001. On the other hand, Zimmer says, he wanted to get rid of modern syncopation. “Maybe in the future, we will not have regular beats. Maybe we will have actually progressed as human beings that we don’t need disco beats to enjoy ourselves,” he says laughing, before going on to demonstrate how he and his collaborators created some of the most original music in film history. Of course, the disco beat is comforting because it mimics the human heart. In making his Dune score, Zimmer was composing for a kind of post-human future, one dominated not by award-show drama but by giant sandworms.

Related Content: 

Hear Hans Zimmer’s Experimental Score for the New Dune Film

Hear 9 Hours of Hans Zimmer Soundtracks: Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight & Much More

Why You Should Read Dune: An Animated Introduction to Frank Herbert’s Ecological, Psychological Sci-Fi Epic

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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