Here's How Hans Zimmer Created the Futuristic Soundtrack of 'Dune'

Credit: The Hollywood Reporter
What does music sound like in the future? 

Famed composer Hans Zimmer was tasked with bringing music to the sand desert of Dune, and it's inspired audiences both in theaters and at home. So how did he settle on what kinds of music best fit into this epic future? And how did he approach working with Denis Villeneuve on his science fiction film

It started with just reading Frank Herbert's book and bonding over the story and themes. Zimmer told IndieWire, “We both read it as teenagers, but we didn’t make the movie with hindsight of age and wisdom. As soon as we started, we were transported back in time […] and I did music with the recklessness and craziness that only a teenager has. Just whatever came to me. And one of the other things was that it’s hard to explain musical concepts, but we’d finish each other’s sentences, because we have both been making this movie in our heads for 40 years.”

That kind of collaboration can be seen and sensed on screen. And the music helps deepen the emotional ties to the visuals.

It turns out, they became the perfect pair. But these men understood one of the central themes of the story of Dune was the strength of female characters. So when it came time to score the movie, Zimmer wanted to accentuate that idea to bring out those thematic threads. 

“Both Denis and I decided this early on, that it’s the women who drive the story and have the strength. And so I thought of some extraordinarily talented singers, and I kept thinking, wherever you are in the future, the instruments will change due to technology, and we could be far more experimental, but the one thing that remains is the human voice, which there is a lot of.”

This really was a powerful part of the movie. The score carries us and supports the characters we see on screen. It shines through but also has a subtle nature. In terms of creating futuristic sounds, that took a little more effort and invention. 

“I asked for more things to superimpose the sonic quality of one instrument onto another so you would [create] these impossible sounds,” said Zimmer.

Aside from adding elements to make things sound different, Zimmer had to decide which modern instruments would help make up the orchestra scoring the movie. 

“The characteristics of a Tibetan long horn on a cello and let a cellist play it so that you’ve invented a new instrument. I wanted it to be things which would float across the desert dunes and penetrate between the rocks, and I wanted things to sound dangerous.”

Zimmer got into specifics. When he was creating “Song of the Sisters,” he had to find a way for the music to represent the witches of the Bene Gesserit. Zimmer brought in a whole choir of voices to help.

“I tried to let them all be part of one DNA so their rhythm could be absolutely perfect, which meant getting out the digital razor blades and lining everything up like crazy. Part of what makes all of this so much fun is the misuse of acoustic instruments. Curiously, the rhythm of the drums and the percussion keeps appearing as organized chaos [throughout the score]. I tried to think of something that maybe in 10,000 years you would think of it as a good groove, but right now you’d just hear it as a little iconic motif played by percussion, like weird code.”

This level of attention to detail is what makes movies like this so special.

Did you head to see it on the big screen or just watch it at home? Were you as impressed with the score as I was? Let us know in the comments.     

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2 Comments

I love the way Zimmer is constantly evolving as a composer while still maintaining his signature

November 4, 2021 at 12:35PM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
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The director limited the composer in Dune. The movie abandoned plot and character development to insist on using scale as the primary mover for the audience. The composer had to follow. The music for the most part represented the scale rather than plot progress. The sound track is largely spartan and percussive, which tracks for an idea of vastness, but does little to pull the audience into the plot of the movie, because that was not the directors focus. The soundtrack did give me my only laugh out loud moment though. When House Atreidies lands on Arrakas for the first time you watch bagpipe players coming from the ship while the music has a synthesized bagpipe tone blaring arabic scales. Little bit of stereotyping there. I cracked up in a quiet theater.

After reflection I began comparing Dune 2021 to the 1976 Star Wars. Lucas based the plot from Dune so the story is very similar. But at every turn Star Wars used dynamic and objective plot devices to complement that new universe to that audience. It had scale but didn't sacrifice the plot or characters. The music informed the audience of the plot, characters, and themes. Dune 2021 failed in all those areas despite 45 years of film knowledge and advanced capabilities. Every part if this movie failed my expectations, which is sad, because I absolutely wanted to be amazed and enchanted.

November 4, 2021 at 12:41PM, Edited November 4, 12:41PM

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