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Dune (2021 film): Music by Hans Zimmer
The music for the 2021 American film Dune was composed, conducted, and produced by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer wrote several soundtracks of music for the film, including for its as-yet-unreleased sequel, and heavily utilized choir—specifically female voices—percussion, and strings in the score’s instrumentation, as well as acoustic and wind instruments.
New, hybrid instruments were fabricated to conceive the “otherworldly” tonal desert sounds heard in the film. The music has been described as the composer’s most “unorthodox” and experimental yet.
When Dune: Part Two was announced for a 2023 theatrical release, it was revealed that Zimmer had begun work on the film’s music and had over an hour of music to assist the filmmakers in planning the film.
Paul’s Dream (piano solo) with sheet music
From the very beginning, film director Denis Villeneuve hoped to reunite with Zimmer for the project, based on their shared passion for the novel.
Though initially approached by longtime collaborator Christopher Nolan to compose for his then-upcoming film Tenet, Zimmer ultimately chose to work on Dune, as the book was a “favorite” of his during his childhood and teen years. He last collaborated with Villeneuve, and editor Joe Walker, on Blade Runner 2049. In March 2019, Warner Bros. announced that the composer would be scoring the film.
Zimmer and Villeneuve both “agreed that the music would need to have a spirituality to it…a sanctified quality…that would elevate the soul and have the effect that only sacred music can”. Zimmer approached the score’s composition with a “fresh” perspective, “just from the book”, having never seen the 1984 film adaptation by David Lynch.
He built around the concept of Dune being a different civilization, and spent “months and months creating new instruments” to accompany that feeling, “defining, creating, and seeking new sounds, pushing the envelope”. The composer augmented human voices “to sound eerie and other-worldly” for the score, and based it on mainly female voices due to the shared sentiment between himself and Villeneuve that the “power of the human voice” remains constant in any civilization, and that “the female characters in the film drive the story”.
Three soundtrack albums for the film were released through WaterTower Music: The Dune Sketchbook (Music from the Soundtrack), Dune (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), and The Art and Soul of Dune, on September 3, September 17, and October 22 respectively.
Villeneuve chose British rock band Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse”, from their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, as the “key musical element” in the first theatrical trailer released on September 9, 2020. Zimmer subsequently rearranged the track and recorded a cover version performed by a 32-piece ensemble of session singers from Los Angeles. Variety called the choice a “surprising” one, given that “trailers are not usually scored by the film’s actual composer, much less a specially tailored cover of a classic rock song”.
Following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Zimmer told the publication in a June 2020 interview that “Working remotely is horrible, but I’ve done it. And if we have to do it like this, we’ll do it like this.” Recording sessions for the track were conducted in full compliance with Covid-19 protocols at the composer’s Remote Control Productions studio in Santa Monica.
Hans Zimmer joined in remotely via FaceTime. Under the direction of Edie Lehmann Boddicker, the singers gathered four at a time, in “separate cubicles, divided by glass”, over the course of eight sessions held earlier in the summer. Twelve performed the lyric lines, while the full group performed the choral parts. The entire song was recorded, but only thirteen lines were used in the three-minute-long trailer.
Boddicker commented that “[Zimmer] wanted to pay homage to the original, very back-phrased sound, a little spaced-out, so the vocals would not sound urgent. There’s a kind of joy happening in the track, a lot of hopefulness. It’s not despondent, just very peaceful and sounding not of this planet.”
Zimmer’s version—spanning a runtime of one minute and 36 seconds—was released as a digital single on October 9. It has not been included on any soundtrack album released so far, and is not featured in the final film.
The Dune Sketchbook (Music from the Soundtrack) is the first soundtrack album released for the film, on September 3, 2021, in physical and digital formats. It contains “extended, immersive musical explorations” of works from the film’s score, and was released in Dolby Atmos and Standard configurations, like its parent.
The fifth track, “Paul’s Dream”, was one of two digital singles released on streaming platforms on July 22 prior to the album’s drop. Zimmer announced their release via his Instagram account that same day. Originally heard in the film’s theatrical trailer, the track, which features “a striking female voice singing”, accompanies an “intense dream [sequence]” in the movie that Paul Atreides has “about his future and the future of Arrakis”.
According to The Nerdist, the track shares the “layers and intensity” of the scene and “culminat[es] in that beautiful roar from the singer”. Classic FM described the seven-minute long piece as “begin[ning] with whisperings and soft vocals, before building to a spine-tingling, imposing climax”.
A limited pressing of 3,000 copies of a special triple-vinyl edition of the sketchbook soundtrack, featuring artwork by Greg Ruth, was released on October 13. The colors of each vinyl—green, orange, and brown—are representative of the three key planets of Dune: Arrakis, Caladan, and Giedi Prime.
Dune (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Dune (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is the second soundtrack album for the film. Zimmer was inspired to look at the film’s music “in a different way”, “to take the audience on [a] journey beyond the movie”, and felt it “must be available via an immersive technology that utilizes spatial audio” in order “to fully showcase” the “unique sounds” of the soundtrack. The album was his first to “wholeheartedly embrace” Dolby Atmos Music listening technology.
According to the composer, the sound “wraps itself around you in a way that I haven’t ever experienced before”. The eighth track, “Ripples in the Sand”, was the second of two digital singles—released to streaming platforms on July 22—that preceded the album’s drop. ClassicFM described the track as having “a pacy, foreboding start” before reintroducing the “distinct vocals” heard previously on “Paul’s Dream”.
The complete score was digitally released on September 17, 2021. Vocals were produced by Loire Cotler. The score has been nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 2022 Grammy Awards.
After a special IMAX previewing of the first ten minutes of Dune, Slashfilm’s Vanessa Armstrong wrote that the score “brought home” the “alienness” of Arrakis as much as “the landscape and the costuming”. Rafael Motamayor, in his film review for Inverse, commented that “Zimmer delivers yet another rousing score that mixes grandiose and operatic sounds with a surprising rock style, lending Dune a unique sonic palette to match its visuals”. ClassicFM called the score an “otherworldly, Saharan-esque soundtrack, with stirring vocals and electrifying strings”.
The Art and Soul of Dune
The Art and Soul of Dune is the third soundtrack album attached to the film. It contains “uniquely crafted versions of the film’s main themes curated by Zimmer”
(From Wikipedia) to accompany a behind-the-scenes companion book written by executive producer Tanya Lapointe, titled Insight Editions’ The Art and Soul of Dune. Zimmer was inspired to compose a second score after viewing the book’s material—it was the first time he had ever written original music for a book. The album was made available for free streaming and digital download on October 22, 2021, in conjunction with the film’s theatrical US release date.
“Dune” Music by Hans Zimmer
“Dune” represents Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece: a retro-future invention of music conveying the beauty and danger of Arrakis.
Director Denis Villeneuve wasn’t alone in fulfilling a teenage dream to make “Dune.” Composer Hans Zimmer satisfied his own fantasy by composing an otherworldly score inspired by Frank Herbert’s hallucinatory 1965 sci-fi adventure novel. In fact, the Oscar-winning Zimmer (“The Lion King”), who has also amassed 11 nominations, could very well win his second award for this musical masterpiece: an experimental retro-future invention of instruments and sounds to convey the beauty and danger of the Arrakis desert planet — from the rhythm of the wind pushing the sand between the rocks to the pounding percussion of the monstrous sandworms.
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“We both read it as teenagers, but we didn’t make the movie with hindsight of age and wisdom,” Zimmer said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “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.”
Zimmer defined the score as spiritual without being religious, and very much driven by a choir of female voices, given the dominance of women in “Dune,” despite would-be messiah, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), serving as the protagonist. The choir represented Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and her mystical powers tied to the influential female order of the Bene Gesserit, and Chani (Zendaya), the mysterious and alluring young Fremen woman who inhabits Paul’s dreams and visions.
“Both Denis and I decided this early on, that it’s the women who drive the story and have the strength,” added Zimmer. “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.”
As part of the hallucinatory nature, Zimmer didn’t want any of the culturally diverse instruments identifiable, so he disguised everything with the help of his virtual synthesizer, the Cubase, which got an upgrade to handle the challenge. “I just tried to do things that are humanly impossible,” he added, “by pushing the envelope of technology. One of the first experiments was working with musician and sculptor and welder Chas Smith, whose studio is a resonating chamber, so a lot of the sounds came from there.
“I asked for more things to superimpose the sonic quality of one instrument onto another, so you would [create] these impossible sounds,” he continued. “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.”
It started off with “Paul’s Dream,” a suite that exhibits the mesmerizing energy of the desert power of Arrakis: a mélange of strings, choir, strange buzzing, and the whirring of the ornithopter blades. “It was vital to me to figure out how to wrap the music around the audience, and, at the same time, not to manipulate you,” Zimmer said. And let it be strange and surprising.
The piece contains the DNA of everything that happens musically. There are three themes that serve as counterpoint, beginning gently but then circling back later, like a warrior unleashed. “And the first notes scared the living daylights out of me,” said Zimmer. “There was an amazing commitment from vocalist Lisa Gerrard, who was in Australia, and I kept torturing her and she came up with this language that is all her own. It could be from the future, it could be from a different world. And there was this linguist [David Peterson from ‘Game of Thrones’] on the movie, who invented a language, and I picked things that would sing well.”
With “Song of the Sisters,” representing the witches of the Bene Gesserit, Zimmer achieved a full-on medieval incantation with drums, strings, synths, and staccato-sounding choir. “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,” he said. “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.”
By contrast, “House of Atreides,” a noble piece about Paul’s family, was highlighted by bagpipes. That was Villeneuve’s idea. As the Atreides family arrives for the first time on Arrakis, there’s a bagpipe player in the background. “I asked Denis about it and he said he wanted something ancient and organic for such an occasion, so I embraced it. The pandemic had just started, but lo and behold, within seconds, in Edinburgh, I managed to find 30 bagpipe players, who were more than happy to go into a big church and stand at the right distance from each other and make a fabulous noise.”
For Zimmer (who also scored Daniel Craig’s swan song as James Bond, “No Time to Die,” with evocative references to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”), working on “Dune” was like rushing to the edge of the abyss, yet knowing that Villeneuve would catch him. The score is so ambitious, in fact, that there are three soundtrack releases from WaterTower Music: the original soundtrack, the “Dune Sketchbook,” and a companion soundtrack to “The Art and Soul of Dune” (Insight Editions), by the film’s executive producer Tanya Lapointe.
And Zimmer isn’t finished. He’s already composed an hour-and-a-half of music for the second film in the director’s proposed trilogy. “I keep sending Denis music to help inspire him during his writing,” he said. “If they ever say yes to us, if they ever unleash us [we’re ready].”
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