I came across this interview the other day (while reading Ableton 3 info.) and thought, some might find his take on samples/synth\'s to build up his tracks interesting.
Interview - Hans Zimmer
by Thaddeus Herrmann (August 2003)
Hans Zimmer is both one of the most successful film music composers in Hollywood, and a pioneer in integrating synthesizers and computers with traditional orchestral music for film and television. His work includes music for Thin Red Line, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy and Disney\'s The Lion King, for which he received an Oscar in 1995. For his work in Gladiator, he was nominated for eight awards, including the Academy and Golden Globe Awards. Ableton LIVE is one of Zimmer’s most powerful tools when it comes to both finishing a film score and adding special effects.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I\'ve just started working on a film called The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, taking place in the 1840s in Japan. At the moment, I have no idea what the score will be like, but I will come up with something for sure [laughs]. I also worked on Pirates Of The Caribbean and did some work on the new Ridley Scott film... this was my last month.
You have a reputation for the use of electronics in film scores. Where does your love for electronic music come from?
My father was an engineer. We had lots of electronic devices at home to mess around with. As far as the music is concerned, I always wanted to have a Minimoog, lots of knobs, flashing lights... I\'ve always tried to supplement the sound of the orchestra. It is something completely different if you experience a performance of an orchestra in a concert hall, or if you listen to it at home on a CD. Electronic equipment helps me to make the sound of the orchestra bigger, even more real. When I listen to an orchestra on a CD, I always think that it does not sound real. There is a big difference between a recording and an actual performance. Apart from that, I think that there is no difference between acoustic and electronic instruments; they are all equal. For a film score, I use all the instruments available to me, and work a lot on sound design.
Do electronic instruments have advantages when it comes to a film score?
I\'m not sure. However, I use electronic instruments a lot. For example, when we record the orchestra, I always double the bass with a synth. Working on a score means that you have to compete with big sound effects, so I need a solid bottom end. So I go back to my Rock \'n\' Roll roots. Orchestral basses just don\'t sound as big as they look. Take this new movie The Last Samurai, for example. There are a lot of traditional Japanese drums in there. They look fantastic and they sound fantastic as well, as long as you stand right next to the guy and watch him hit them. But once you record them and they come through little speakers, it all goes to nothing! So I use electronics to enhance the original sound, to cheat the medium. That\'s something that interests me anyway. I listen to a lot of techno and trance and found this great CD the other day from a band playing Kraftwerk songs ...
That\'s Senor Coconut!
Alright! I didn\'t even know the name of the group. It is done so professionally. What they do corresponds with my way of working: Transcribing electronic music back onto acoustic instruments…
How difficult is that, generally speaking?
It depends on the players, of course. I work with great guys who are willing to plug their cellos into fuzz-boxes and don\'t care. I don\'t work with purists.
That\'s interesting, because I imagine that there are two ways of recording a film score. On one side, you have the long tradition of writing and recording music and effects with all kinds of specially designed and built devices, especially for the effects, which is a very purist approach...
For sure, but I was never interested in recording a proper film score. The great thing about film music is that it is the last place on earth where nobody tells you what to do. You\'re supposed to invent something that fits the movie. Driving Miss Daisy, for instance, sounds very acoustic, but is a completely electronic score. On the other side, Black Hawk Down sounds very electronic, but is basically far more acoustic! Misusing instruments, making them do things they are not supposed to do- where is the line today anyway!?
What kind of problems do you have to deal with when it comes to writing film music?
I especially think of coming up with good, catchy ideas in a very short period of time.
To have a good idea or a bad idea takes about the same time, it all happens in a split second. I\'m a sprinter; I\'m not good for marathon runs. I like having the pressure on and coming up with things fast and quickly. That changes, though. On Gladiator I worked for six months. However, I get bored very quickly as well. Things need to start happening.
Working on a score for six months sounds like a big luxury that maybe you can afford.
Well, nobody tells the composer not to start on the score when the crew starts shooting the movie. They don\'t have to wait for the first cut. With Pirates Of The Caribbean, for example, the premier took place on a Saturday and the crew was still making changes on Friday. This is the way it works. Start whenever you feel like it. I spend a lot of time before starting to work on the actual score getting sounds together. This is my way in. Making up noises. I go to the set and see what they are doing, get inspiration from being there. You can have as much time as you need. It runs out in the end anyway!
Let\'s talk about the actual technical process of writing a film score. In what kind of environment do you write and produce a score?
Writing and producing is the same place. It\'s all virtual, up to a certain point. My room consists of many screens, and many synthesizers and samplers. The basic set-up, however, is just a decent sequencer and a keyboard with the lights turned down.
Although Live is a very unique and very open tool, it is quite hard to imagine how you use it for film scores…
The current industry standard is Pro Tools. Everything is delivered on Pro Tools. In the future, I want to use LIVE to deliver all my cues. So whenever the director makes picture changes, I will not have to make cuts anymore, but simply stretch time. We change a lot of things in the final dub. This is when the sound effects come in, sometimes the whole feel of the movie changes. This always is a great moment. It is fantastic to be able to manipulate things, to make changes the very last moment. There is this fine line between writing and manipulating. This is an ongoing process. So, rather than delivering things in Pro Tools and doing cuts all the time, LIVE makes things much easier. I really like the fluidity of it. In January, I did a film about Africa. Of course it had all those African chants in it. At one point, I wanted them to go into complete panic. So we put the chants into LIVE and sped them up from 76 bpm to 250 bpm over about a minute. You just started to feel the panic and of course at one point it became totally un-human, but it still sounded really good. It was like \"humans on speed\". Just do things that humans cannot really do, just get to the edge of the impossible- this is what I like doing.
Thanks a lot