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Comments about the soundtrack for King Arthur (Hans Zimmer)

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The Zimmer Effect
• Posted by: Fraley
• Date: Wednesday, July 28, 2004, at 4:44 p.m.
• IP Address:

The Zimmer Effect: the ability to polarize the film score community like no one else.

If nothing else, you have to admit no other composer approaches Zimmer's level of controversy. I've written on this before, but it seems people either love his music or hate it, and the passion with which they do so is amazing. Fans proclaim him the greatest composer ever, and detractors don't stop at simply saying they dislike the music, they frequently feel the need to insult the music, the man, and the fans.

I really think there is a misunderstanding between the two camps. Zimmer is by nature a collaborator, and frequently gets the credit (or blame) for something he didn't actually write ("The Rock", for example, on which Nick Glennie-Smith was the primary composer). Most of Zimmer's detractors fail to make the distinction (which, admittedly, can be difficult to do at times). I'm not actually referring to works on which his name actually appears, but scores like "Armageddon", "Pirates of the Carribean", etc, in which Zimmer had either no or very little direct input on. Not everything that comes out of Media Ventures was composed by Hans Zimmer (in fact, lately, nothing has since Zimmer parted ways with MV on bad terms a while back).

Another common point of disagreement is the composition and style of the music. Some claim his music is powerful, others say its simplistic and overly synth-dependent. Zimmer simply seems to approach music from a different perspective than other composers. Williams thoughtfully composes his scores, where there is subtleties hidden in the music. A single instrument playing differently from the rest of the orchestra, or a theme played slightly off kilter may hold significance, a musical forshadowing. You can actually listen to and "study" the better scores by maestros like Williams and Goldsmith. Zimmer typically doesn't have this kind of depth, and his orchestrations (taking that literally to mean arrangement of the orchestra) are not that complex -- you won't usually find the orchestra playing six different parts.

However, that doesn't make Zimmer's music any less valid or interesting. He seems to begin with the idea of "what sounds pleasing to the ear", and then works outward from there, adding sounds, other parts, etc. To Zimmer, the orchestra is simply another instrument in the palet, rather than being the palet itself. This leads to complaints about Zimmer's music being too dependent on synths, but that statement is predicated on the assumption that everything is SUPPOSED to sound like a live orchestra, for example that using synth strings is inherently inferior to live strings. Zimmer takes the position that synths don't sound inferior, simply different, just like a french horn sounds different from a trombone. Why limit yourself only to sounds that can be reproduced by a live instrument? Ultimately, Zimmer's objective is to produce something that simply sounds pleasing and interesting. The complexity in his music isn't in the arrangement of the notes, the actual composition (like Williams or Goldsmith), but in the careful selection of the sounds, the musical palet, and the inclusion of new (to film music, anyway) musical elements frequently pulled from modern influences like rock or techno. And before anyone says "but composers have been using electronic beats or electric guitars for year", remember Zimmer was doing this long before it was popular or even considered acceptable in film music. His big-break score, "Black Rain", was reportedly hated by the producers and music critics of the time.

What all this means, is that many old school or traditional film score fans find Zimmer's music to be offensive, simplistic, and just so much noise. However, many younger film score fans find his music to be cutting edge, exciting stuff. Its also worth mentioning how so many people focus on his action scoring, and forget he has composed for a variety of projects in all genres.

I have noticed that Zimmer's popularity is very high among people with no formal music education, people who lack the knowledge of composition to notice the details present in a well-composed orchestral work. However, that doesn't mean that Zimmer's music only appeals to people who "don't know any better", it simply means it succeeds in reaching beyond the borders of traditional film score or classical music fans. For many film music fans, they dislike Zimmer because his music doesn't fit the traditional criteria of a complex score, it doesn't sound like what they are used to hearing.

Everyone has personal preferences. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either liking or disliking Zimmer's music. However, I think a little more tolerance and open-mindedness is necessary on both sides. Before claiming Williams is boring next to Zimmer, consider that there may be complexities in the composition of Williams that you may not be noticing. Likewise, before proclaiming Zimmer's music as "noise", consider that the very same reasons you dislike it may be the reasons others love it.

In conclusion, my $0.02. As a collector of film music for 15 years, I appreciate both sides. Personally, I believe Zimmer is a brilliant and highly under-rated composer who has done much to evolve the state of film music. Just like our parents who thought the music we listened to growing up was garbage because they didn't understand it or it was so different from what they grew up with (and no matter what generation you are, your parents never approve of your music ), Zimmer gets the same treatment quite often. Just remember, Zimmer's music isn't ABOUT the same thing traditional orchestral scores are.

Comments in this Thread:     Expand >>
  •   The Zimmer Effect  (3126 views)    We're Here
       Fraley - Wednesday, July 28, 2004, at 4:44 p.m.

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