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Hans Zimmer: He's loud and he's proud

In putting together the score for 'Inception,' he alternated between tones melancholic and nightmarish. And then he dropped in some Edith Piaf clues.

December 07, 2010|By Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times

Hans Zimmer has no research to prove his theory and no mathematical analysis to illustrate his point. He states the following as a likely matter of fact, tossing it off while he sits, cradled in a chair with his legs draped over its arm.


FOR THE RECORD:
Hans Zimmer: An article about Hans Zimmer in the Dec. 7 Envelope section said the composer collaborated with Howard Shore on "The Dark Knight" score. Zimmer collaborated with James Newton Howard on that film. —

" 'Inception'" he proclaims, "is probably the loudest score ever." One could debate whether or not such is a point worth bragging about, but it's unlikely that anyone who saw Christopher Nolan's blockbuster-for-thinkers left the theater without noticing the composer's contribution. In the dream-within-a-dream heist film, Zimmer's score alternated between tones melancholic and nightmarish, and received a pair of exclamation points in the form of bellowing, foghorn-like moans.

The sound, which comes off as something of a tortured trombone, was, like much of the rest of Zimmer's score, born in a computer. Yet, in a film in which what is and isn't authentic is always in question, the German composer didn't want the music to have a mechanical feel. The solution? Explode the score, with volume on full, across the Warner Bros. Burbank lot.

"There's a certain quality you get with real light and real air, as opposed to completely simulated," Zimmer says. "'Inception' is very much an electronic score. There had to be a stage where it was integrated into the real world. We blasted it through speakers, and we had mikes set up all over Warner Bros. We recorded so that it had a way of traveling into the real world and then traveling back into the film. It makes the unreal real."

Such grandiose experiments aren't uncommon to Zimmer. Working out of the labyrinthine offices that house his Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica, Zimmer has a team of experts, apprentices and engineers at his disposal.

His dimly lit and romantically ornate main office feels like something that belongs in Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle, the famed palace that charmed Walt Disney. In Zimmer's kingdom, however, high and low art are equally intermixed, as hardbound novels from Len Deighton sit near "Kung-Fu Panda" figurines, and the latest in high-tech gadgetry coexists with acoustic instruments from around the world.

Take, for instance, the oddly shaped guitar fashioned out of old dynamite boxes that leans next to his couch. It looks vintage and fragile, but Zimmer insists that guests pick it up to strum.

"It was a gift," says Zimmer, "from [director] Gore Verbinski."

Zimmer's complex has offices for at least 15 composers, and he thrives on competitive collaboration. He tapped former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to add the mournful guitar lead to "Inception," and his work with Howard Shore on "The Dark Knight" was initially ruled ineligible for an Oscar due to Zimmer crediting five people with its creation, raising suspicion as to how much was the work of Zimmer and Howard.

"I do not parcel," Zimmer says. "I spend weeks and weeks writing a piece that accompanies all the themes, all the orchestration and all the sounds. I give Chris a 20-minute piece that's essentially the symphony of that movie. It has the first movement, second movement and it has all the acts.

"I'm crazy pedantic about it. So, when someone takes one of those parts and starts working with it, I will go crazy if they move a drum beat by 5 milliseconds. Only once the complete thing is there do I let anyone else in."

Zimmer wrote much of "Inception's" score simultaneously with Nolan working on the film's script. Similarly, he and Nolan are already trading ideas on the score for the next one up, "The Dark Knight Rises." It's not uncommon for Zimmer to take his musical cues from Nolan's scripts, as he did in slowing down Édith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" to offer clues to those who want to solve "Inception's" mystery.

"Chris knew during the screenwriting process that there had to be a signpost," Zimmer says.

The composer has a relatively full plate before he commits "The Dark Knight Rises" to hard drive, including Verbinski's animated "Rango" and the sequel to "Kung-Fu Panda."

And he's ready to keep more and more composers working through his Remote Control Productions. "More so than ever, with the economy so bad and with the record business not existing anymore, where on Earth can orchestral players earn a living?" he asks.

"I take that very seriously. I think it is important Hollywood commissions orchestral pieces on a daily basis. They are the Archbishop of Salzburg of today," he says of the early Mozart patron.

todd.martens@latimes.com

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