Hans Zimmer, composer on the Warner Bros. film Inception, is truly a below-the-line type of guy. Going beyond just consulting with director Christopher Nolan before shooting, he also consulted with cinematographer Wally Pfister about color schemes, which can influence the score and vice versa, and sound designer and supervising sound editor, Richard King, because on a picture like this the line between sound design and score is extremely thin. His own sound designer, Mel Wesson – or ambient music designer as he’s listed in the credits – continuously coordinated with King because the music is often more sound design than traditional score.
Once shooting began, Zimmer also went to the set to check out set and costume design, because it all influences what he writes. “I really just immersed myself in the thing and then asked Chris where we could help him to realize his dream,” Zimmer confided. By gaining a feeling for the film, the composer is then able to write 10-minute “chunks” exploring motifs to see how far he can take an idea without repeating himself. Later those pieces can be tailored to the actual film when it is finally shot and edited.
“The whole first 10-minute sequence, I am subliminally feeding you the little motifs that are going to come up through- out the movie, but sometimes they are very hidden,” reveals Zimmer. “For instance, the first thing we recorded for the movie was just an experiment where I went into Air Studios and put a brick on the sustain pedal of the piano and assembled a brass section around it. We recorded just the resonance of the piano strings to the racket we projected at it. That was the first thing you hear in the movie. We can now do interesting things that are outside the usual vocabulary of the orchestra.”
One of the obstacles Zimmer had to overcome was the volcanic eruption in Iceland. That event kept him from several of the scoring sessions in London, which he ended up attending remotely. Several cameras going in both directions were used to connect him to the sessions, and his talkback mic was wired directly into the consol at Air Studios.
When asked about voting for the Oscars Zimmer shares, “I find it really difficult to go and separate out the music from a movie. I see it as a whole. If it works, it all works, or not.”