On The Music of Hans Zimmer

For a long time now, I’ve been a great admirer of Hans Zimmer’s music, and although I’m most certainly not the only one, after a bit of research and a lot of listening, I’ve came to a few interesting conclusions regarding two of Zimmer’s best known works: the score for The Dark Knight Trilogy and for Man of Steel.

Welcome to this week’s article, where I talk about the music of Hans Zimmer and about some things which are “between the notes”.

BETWEEN THE NOTES

Everybody who has ever gone to the cinema, has listened to Zimmer’s music one time or another. They might even be huge fans, and not even no who he is. Still, most people do know who Hans Zimmer is: a composer of over 150 film soundtracks, one of the 100 living geniuses on Earth and – more recently – a touring musician.

And much like every great artist, there is more to his art than meets the eye – or ear in this case :) In the lines below, we’ll explore this. We’ll find connections between some past works and his Dark Knight Trilogy soundtrack. We’ll discover some interesting things in the Man of Steel soundtrack. And finally, we’ll talk about the Sun and Moon symbolism prevalent in the Superman and Batman characters.

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY

batman-begins

Batman first appeared in DC comics #27 in May of 1939. And along these years, there have been many instances of the Batman story, with Crisopher Nolan’s trilogy probably being the most critically acclaimed one – and rightly so, I might add.

As we all know, the music for Nolan’s films was provided by Hans Zimmer, and it should be noted that by the time of the third film – The Dark Knight Rises, the score becomes such an integral part of the movie, that it would be hard to imagine the film without it. But interestingly, there are a number of similarities between some of the scores of the previous films and the one in TDK. These similarities probably exist as a tribute, if you wish, which Hans Zimmer gives to past incarnations of the story, incarnations which made Batman such an icon.
Let’s dive in.

First, in the video above, let’s listen to the theme from the 60s Adam West TV series. It’s a 12 bar blues, with a very psychedelic guitar and brass theme. Kind of a funny take on this very serious and dark character :)

Now, if we listen to the cello parts in Hans Zimmer’s score (around 0:25 in the video below), we can hear the melodic line being very close – in a way – to the guitar repetitions in the 60s theme. Almost like a variation – although that would be maybe saying too much.
And also note that this theme of staccato cellos is pretty much the main theme of the entire score, just like the guitar part is the main theme of the TV series. And it brings with it a sense of unease and urgency, while the rest of the orchestra either complements the action feel or the dark vibe of the music.

There is also a similarity between the incredibly epic Danny Elfman’s ’89 Batman theme – at least where the french horns are concerned (0:20 in the video below), and some parts of Hans Zimmer’s score – but which are played here by the strings.

Around 8:30 in the video below, where the music gets quieter, we can hear the very dramatic and dark strings playing something which sounds a bit like Elfman’s score, although we must admit, we are going a bit out on a limb here. The two themes aren’t really as close – not as the 60s theme at least. Still, it was worth adding the ’89 score here, if only for how great it is :)

MAN OF STEEL

man-of-steel

The music for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is certainly very far from John Williams’ “brassy” and fanfare-like score, that he wrote for the ’78 Superman movie. And it’s surprisingly “homey” for a super-hero film. Although, given that the first half of the movie is based on Clark Kent’s childhood and his inner struggles, it makes a lot of sense.

The first thing we notice while listening to Man of Steel is that the score is in C major and it features a lot of movement around the fourth, fifth and sixth – harmonically and melodically. This simplicity gives the music a kind of purity. This is especially obvious in the more quiet tracks, like the one below.

Another interesting feature of this score is in its use of vocal chants. If we listen carefully we’ll notice that almost every song features a choir singing “A E I O U” over an over again. This enforces the purity of the music – as the vowels are in a way the basis of every alphabet. The vowels are also basically the same in every language on Earth, and this gives them a sort of universality.
It’s also worth noting that those who practice yoga or any eastern discipline find the vowels to have a spiritual and even therapeutic power.
Listen at 1:48 in the video below.

The most interesting thing about the score for Man of Steel, though, is the use of a 12-piece drum “orchestra” – if we can call it that. That’s something you don’t hear every day. But even more interesting is the choice of the number 12, and the drum circle studio setup – as they both relate to the symbolism of the Sun. I’ll discuss this in the next section.

BROTHER SUN – SISTER MOON

batman-v-superman

There is no question that the two are by far the most popular heroes of pop culture, and even if Marvel movies are doing better now, it’s still these two DC characters who top the bill. And it’s very interesting to see how this two super-hero icons – Superman and Batman – complement each other in a lot of things. In many ways they’re symbols for the Sun and the Moon:

Superman is generally a bright character, one which inspires hope.
Superman’s stories are usually not as heavy – they’re more on the lighter side.
Superman’s powers come from the Sun.
The costume’s colors are analogies for the Sun in the sky: the logo is yellow with red outlines, and the fabric is blue.
Superman is the son (=sun) of Jor-El and later of Jonathan Kent. So he is the son of a being coming from the heavens – ie a god – and he also is the son of a man. The son of (a) god and the son of (a) man.
There are actually a lot of similarities with Jesus, and they’re very visible in Zack Snyder’s adaptation, but in the ’78 version as well. This is interesting considering that Superman was created by two jews, who very loosely based his story on the story of Moses.

Batman, on the other hand, is a dark and conflicted individual.
His stories are grittier, like for instance, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Batman’s call signal is a reflector pointed at the night sky, with the bat symbol in it. Of course we can see the Moon symbolism very easy.
Batman’s other name is The Dark Knight (=night) and he usually only operates under the cover of darkness.
Batman’s “power” is to awaken fears in the minds of criminals. That’s the reasoning behind the costume. And of course, fears reside mostly in the subconscious – the Moon’s realm.

hans-zimmer

So this is all very interesting. And now we can understand why Hans Zimmer chose 12 drummers for the score. And why he put them in a circle. Because traditionally, the number 12 is the number associated with the Sun – there are 12 months in a year. Interestingly, there are also 12 semitones in western music.

To conclude, Hans Zimmer is but one of many great artists who have incorporated esoteric and spiritual symbolism in their art, a practice which goes back to the beginnings of art itself.

For what is art, if not man’s incessant quest for the transcendent?