Hans Zimmer Interview

Interview from PopMatters [international magazine of arts and culture] Find more PopMatters content at www.popmatters.com.

Hans Zimmer’s career as an Academy Award-winning film composer had a bit of an unusual start: He has the distinction of being in the first music video ever broadcast on MTV.

Having orbited around a New Wave band called the Buggles in the late ’70s, Zimmer — a keyboard wizard who grew up in Germany before moving to London as a teenager, soon indulging his love of pop music at any chance he could get — managed to get a small spot on the video for the song “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which not only became a huge hit for the band, but also has the distinction of being the first video ever aired on the then-fledging Music Television Network. Following that, he bounced around various projects before partnering up with noted film composer Stanley Meyers in the early ’80s to do movie work. From that point onward, Zimmer’s pioneering use of electronic instruments in film scores helped usher in a new generation of young composers, soon securing his place in cinema history with his work on films such as “Rain Man,” “The Lion King” and “Gladiator.”

Known for his willingness to collaborate with others, Zimmer found a kindred spirit with noted director

Christopher Nolan, who brought on both Zimmer and James Newton Howard to work on his Batman films. The resulting scores for both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” were powerful and dynamic, but very atypical of what a score for a superhero movie should be: There was no endlessly-repeated theme, no collaborations with pop stars. Zimmer and Howard wrote for the needs of the film, drawing viewers in to a dark, sometimes terrifying world without the usual Hollywood score tropes dogging them the whole time. Mixing electronic elements with ambient violins and thundering percussion, Zimmer has proven that at 52 years old, he is showing no signs of slowing down.

The much-hyped sci-fi action film “Inception” marks the first time since his 1998 debut “Following” that Nolan has written an original screen story entirely for himself. Despite its A-list cast and daring action sequences, the film has its roots in distant memories and painful regrets, mixing a high-end concept with real human emotion (Nolan’s forte). Speaking about his work on the score, the warm and funny Zimmer reveals why he brought along Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to provide contributions, how his relationship with Nolan works, and why the “Inception” music was inspired by both David Bowie and mathematician Roger Penrose.

Roger Penrose famously described ‘quantum consciousness’:

It is best known to the wider public for his view that there is an essentially non-algorithmic element to human thought and human consciousness. Example: It has been known for about forty years that there is no algorithmic way of deciding whether a given collection of polygonal shapes will tile the plane, that is, the tiling problem is non-recursive.

Q: Having finally seen the final cut of “Inception,” what are your thoughts on it?

A: It was a very different process. You know, usually, films are being made in bits and pieces and there’s a structure of how you work it: the composer sees the movie and discusses the themes with the director and he goes off and he writes the theme — we didn’t do any of that on this one.