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Hans and Dune

Congrats to Hans Zimmer for his Oscar win for Best Score for Dune.

I thought it was clearly the best score of 2021, and the obvious winner, because it’s not only objectively great—and so is the film—but the apotheosis of Hans’ art, craft and philosophy.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the score courtesy Vanity Fair:

I really enjoyed seeing this, and glimpsing the musicians who created the memorable sounds—particularly vocalist Loire Cotler (roll it ahead to 7:30).

Yesterday on Facebook I saw a composer griping about the score being (to paraphrase) just a bunch of drones in D minor. about missing the point.

Obviously, I have a thirty-year paper trail of being critical of Hans. But it’s sort of a simple story. You see in this video, he talks about watching Star Wars, Star Trek, and other sci-fi films of that ilk as a young man and asking, “Why does it always have to be a European orchestra?”

There’s an actual answer to that—the filmmakers wanted to ground the strange worlds and bizarre visuals in a relatable, familiar storytelling tradition.

Personally, I loved those big, European-orchestra scores. They were the foundation of my love for movie music.

So when Hans got huge in the late 1980s and ’90s and was at the forefront of transforming the aesthetics of the typical film score into something more pop-based and sound-designy, I bristled. It pretty much killed off a tradition I loved—and I had to watch it die.

And also, let’s be honest, a lot of the scores that came out of Hans’ transformation of film music aesthetics and production, whether by Hans himself, his protégés or inevitable copycats, were pretty lame. He’s made fun of them himself.

The worst kind of score, in my opinion, is the hybrid European orchestra/“new” Zimmer score—when done badly. (When done well, it’s Avatar.) Because you get the worst of both worlds: the “Western” writing is simplistic and lame, and the “Eastern” sound design overwrought and clichéd—it’s just used as a crutch by lazy filmmakers.

I guess you could say any kind of score, when done badly, will be bad. It’s just that people are not very imaginative—so it’s very easy for them to lean on copying things that will work, in the easiest way possible. That means smashing together a very simplistic “Western” score with stock sound-design patches.

Now the actual, hands-on, first-team Hans scores—the ones for Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan—those I almost always liked. Because they really came from a place of art, innovation and unparalleled sound design.

Hans is the best at what he does—truly.

And Dune is sooooooo good. I loved it.

It’s a totally opposite conception of what a film score can be from the John Williams approach—but it’s great, and it’s perfect for Dune, which is really a staggering work of art, epic and imaginative and personal and fascinating.

My best friend in college, by the way, Harris Wulfson, had a zurna (seen in the video). He once played it like a fire alarm and sure enough, people started to leave the dorm.

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