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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