And what were you trying to capture musically with the Superman character?
HZ: I can tell you exactly. On the first movie, Man of Steel, I think the one thing that Superman wanted; his greatest ambition was to become as human as he possibly could. With his background with these great parents in Kansas, I thought it needed to be the most honest simple set of notes played on a humble upright piano. And weirdly when I play those notes it sounds different than when other people play it.
JXL: That’s true, it doesn’t work when other people play it…
HZ: [Laughs] So this right hand is attached to these movies in a funny sort of way. I have a different touch so I knew exactly what I wanted that to be. And while everything was getting bigger and glossier and we were doing these monumental soundscapes—having twelve drummers in a room and stuff like that—at the heart of it was that little piano, which really served us on this film. When we were looking at the rough cut of the current movie, they put some of that piano stuff from the first movie in it [as a temp score] and it actually sounded better than it did in the first one. But I don’t think it’s completely an accident that it does sound better because we’re all heading towards the same storytelling. This is the second movie we have done together on that subject so our language is starting to become clearer to us. We’re getting it under the fingers a bit better.

henry cavill stars as superman in batman v superman dawn of justice

So the motif from Man of Steel is going to be carried through in BvS?
HZ: Yes. It’s so simple, I mean you can play it with one finger. For me, every time it comes in, it means something. Because there’s all this other stuff going on and then suddenly you get this humble little piano and it just focuses your emotions and focuses you back to Kansas.
JXL: It really does fit the character so incredibly well.

You also have other characters in the new movie, like Wonder Woman being introduced. How did you two approach that character musically?
JXL: That was the daunting thing, not only coming up with something for Superman and Batman, but also for the other characters that get introduced in this film. We were stuck for the longest time with Wonder Woman in doing stuff that you would expect; with a vocal. We tried a couple of different things and then Hans came up with the great idea of using this female cellist, Tina Guo.
HZ: I was type-casting her [laughs].

JXL: [Tina] is a very talented cello player. When you meet her, she’s very polite, very proper. But when she starts playing; it’s a monster, it’s a banshee. You see a woman with a sword. It’s the way that she plays.
HZ: It’s all in her attitude. She plays the cello standing up and as she grabs the cello, she’s really wielding a sword and her whole personality changes. She’s got technique for miles; she’s an amazing cellist, but it’s the transformation that happens that interested me because that’s exactly what happens with Wonder Woman. It wasn’t about the notes at the end of the day. It was about finding the musician who could become that character musically but even after I had that piece, I couldn’t figure out how to marry the image to the music and then Tom said, “No, go back to this one shot, this one image, and put it under that.” And it was a real shock to me how suddenly the character spoke from the screen once we did that. I remember looking over at Tom and thinking, “He’s a pretty good filmmaker” [laughs]. I remember when we first played it for Zack and Debbie [Snyder’s wife and production partner] that they had a visceral reaction. It’s not what they expected and that was the important thing.

In working so closely together on this project, what would you say about each other that you really respect musically or creatively about the other?
JXL: I think in the work process, I have a tendency to work, not military style, but my work process is more like, “Okay, I have to be done Monday morning and this is how I plan my time around that.” Whereas Hans would be like, “I don’t care if it needs to be done Monday morning. I’m going to start writing and it’ll be ready when I’m ready because it needs to be good.”

What I really like about Hans is that you can’t really corner him with ideas. Hans can spit out eight ideas in a row of which six definitely will not work, but the other two are so incredibly good. That’s why Hans is Hans Zimmer. 

HZ: You have to remember that what we do is not a regular job. We work around the clock and every weekend. I did this experiment once here at the studio because this studio is truly a loony bin of people passionate about music. I told everyone, “Okay, this Christmas I’m closing the place down. Everybody go home.” Then, on Christmas Day, I hit speed dial, just to see what would happen, and everyone was here working because they love music more than they love anything else. In answer to your question, it’s the joint passion that truly makes us good at what we do. We keep learning from each other in a geeky way and we’re proud of our geekiness. I get texts from him at 2:00 in the morning, “Hey, have you seen this new synthesizer?” And he will get an answer from me at 2:05, saying, “Whoa, where can we get one?” There’s that element involved, but then there’s that thing that I’m always looking for in musicians and since I’m the older one I can say this: It’s not just about being a great musician, you also have to have "picture-sense" because I don’t know that you can learn picture-sense. Some people have it and they know how to be great storytellers.

You two seem to go against the grain of what many people’s perception is of a film composer. That they’re locked away in solitude, writing the music…
JXL: There’s still a lot of composers who work like that. Honestly, I don’t see myself foremost as a composer at all, I see myself as a musician. But if you end up doing music for a movie, you can call yourself a composer. I call myself a “full contact composer” because I need to have something in my hands, whether it’s a guitar or a bass or the need to pound on a drum kit or turning a knob. It’s a physical experience for me. I find it extremely impressive when someone can sit down with a piece of paper and write out what the film score needs to be and it’s conducted and that’s it. But that’s not for me, and that’s not how Hans works. We like get our hands dirty and create stuff. That for me is the joy, and then later in the process you work with all these wonderful musicians. Neither one of us are star musicians. We know our way around keyboards, guitars and drums, but we’re not like people who can play amazingly and it’s done. The computer is the ultimate tool for us to realize our fantasy and that in combination of working with brilliant musicians is a great thing.


HZ: I think people misunderstand  that a great musician is an interpreter of what a composer writes and that a composer doesn’t necessarily have to be a great player. It helps if you know your way around, like Tom said, but we both come from a world of electronics. We both sort of started off in the ‘70s with the same sort of gear—the Ataris and stuff like that. We realize that all musical instruments are technology of their time. The violin is a piece of wood and a bit of dead cat. The bassoon, I’m not entirely sure of who thought of that one, turning a table leg into an instrument [laughs]. And then came this moment in time when the new technology came in—synthesizers and computers, which were nearly banned by the symphonic musicians—and the world really divided the traditional symphonic composer from the stuff that we do which is film music. But, honestly, for me, if something makes a sound I want to have access to it and make music with it. 

We search out new songs, we search out new musicians, we search out new bits of electronics. We drive people crazy with the ambition of what the sonic landscape is going to be on each particular movie, which I think is partly why Zack is attracted to the way we work because he does the exact same thing from the visual side. So we all come prepared knowing that we’re going to throw in the kitchen sink. In fact, we throw in a whole kitchen.

JXL: There’s so much misconception about computers and music, and we both dealt with it when they first came out because it was not considered real music. But the computer is not any different than the great Pete Townshend buying an electric guitar. How does this guitar become your voice? Same thing goes for how do you become very distinct and very recognizable as a person using a computer. We both have very distinct sounds and it’s unmistakably recognizable for what it is and that’s the great thing you can get out of a computer. Listen, there are a lot of people who make terrible music with their computer and there are a lot of terrible guitarists in the world too.

One example of how you work with musicians would have to be the “drum circle” that you used in Man of Steel and again on BvS. Talk a little bit about that.
HZ: When we first used the drum circle on Man of Steel, we had twelve drummers in the studio. For this movie, we cut it down to eight drummers for some reason.
JXL: Well, this movie is less about the drums than the first movie.
HZ: Absolutely, and we put into that room people who are always autonomous and the leader of their own particular band, because they dictate the rhythm of everything. They had never played together, so it was a bit like lion taming where you have this circle of very nice people, but at the same time the most aggressive human beings in the world when it comes to their instruments. And Tom said, “I’m going to go in and conduct them.” And I realized he was absolutely right, because him coming from the electronic music scene I said, “What’s the largest show you ever did, one-and-a-half million people in Rome? Well, if you can conduct, inspire, motivate and control that many people you can probably handle a roomful of drummers." To me, it was the most disciplined session I’ve ever been to. Everybody was focused on Tom and paying attention to him.


JXL: It was funny, because we talked about it in the control room and Hans tapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s a good idea, go in there and do it.” I’m a drummer as well, so when I got in there I was like, “Hi, I’m Tom, let’s try something.” But because I was able to articulate it by saying, “We’re gonna try this rhythm and It’s gonna be, ‘bum, bada bum, bada bum bum,’ and you do the eights, you do the sixteenths, and you do this.” And it was like, “Hey, this guy knows what he’s talking about,” and within an hour or two everybody was slapping each other on the back and saying how fun it is. We did two days of that and my ears were ringing. It was so incredibly loud. It was a lot of fun and it was very special for them too. I mean, you had these drummers of that level in that one room. People like Jim Keltner who is a legend and then JR [John Robinson] walks in, who played Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” beat, and then Sheila E. walks in and then Pharrell [Williams]
HZ: I loved seeing Pharrell next to Jason Bonham. It was amazing. At the end of the day, the joy we have with playing with other musicians is really what it’s all about. I think that’s what comes across in the music as well. There’s an energy to this. The more that movies are relying on CG, the more we are the sparkly human element that makes the CG come alive.
 

The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Soundtrack is available digitally, on CD, two-disc deluxe CD, and on Limited Edition three-disc deluxe vinyl. The two-CD deluxe package, the digital deluxe version, and the three-disc deluxe vinyl set feature over 90 minutes of music, five bonus tracks, and exclusive fold-out poster and liner notes from the composers. Additionally, the vinyl set features etched vinyl art and an album download card.

Get it on iTunes
CD on Amazon
Vinyl on Amazon

Related Articles:
WB Q&A - Jason Linn, WaterTower Music
WB Q&A - Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL)
 

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