interstellar

Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has written a lot of music. With over 150 films under his belt, you have heard his work—whether you can name a movie he’s done off the top of your head, or spot a tune when you hear it.

While Zimmer began his music career playing synth for new wave and punk bands (see The Buggles‘ classic “Video Killed the Radio Star“), he’s perhaps best known for his marrying of electronic and orchestral sounds. If you’ve seen Rain Man, The Lion King, The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc, etc, etc, etc, Hans Zimmer has wormed his way into your ears.

Hans Zimmer - InterstellarBeyond a doubt, Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar is singular in his career. The true magic of Interstellar is that Zimmer did not compose this music as a background to the film. Rather, he worked hand in hand with Christopher Nolan to create the score in tandem with production. While I highly recommend the film (particularly in IMAX, for which it was specifically tailored), Hans Zimmer’s score absolutely holds its ground as a stand-alone album.

If you’re at all interested in the music of Interstellar, you should definitely get your hands on a CD copy of the album. Not only does it feature essays about the scoring process by both Zimmer and Nolan, but the CD and packaging serves as a working star wheel (or planisphere) itself. If you’re an astronomy junkie like me, the functional design is an added bonus.

The packaging and liner notes included with the Interstellar soundtrack drive home the fact that Zimmer—along with Nolan, who serves as executive producer on the recording—wanted this music to exude the themes of the movie. The accompanying materials reveal that Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan met before filming began, at which point Nolan gave Zimmer one day to create some piece of music based on the main themes, with specific instructions to throw away past motifs common to Zimmer’s work. With no corresponding footage or plot points, Zimmer created “Day One,” which—even as an early track—serves as an emotional backbone of sorts.

Interstellar Star Wheel
This is how you do CD packaging right.

As the recording process continued, Zimmer and Nolan worked closely to integrate film and music, and it really shows. If you’ve seen the movie (again, it’s plainly worth your time), hearing Zimmer’s score will pull you back to the core moment these pieces represent.

Interstellar was almost an electronic score, but on a hunch, Christopher Nolan convinced Hans Zimmer to record an orchestra, and most notably, a full 2500-pipe organ. The real innovation in Zimmer’s score is a masterful implementation of the pipe organ. It is unequivocally and decidedly massive. Zimmer’s essay in the liner notes indicates that this was a stressful gamble, but it clearly paid off.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Interstellar score is that Hans Zimmer proves he is unafraid of dynamic range. Unlike many modern scores (and almost all modern albums), Interstellar takes full advantage of subtle lows and impressive intricacies at volume. Pulsing synthesizers and gentle strings provide an effortless floating sensation. Tense or exciting moments are driven through with blasts of energy. Tracks like “Stay” and “Detach” are unabashedly epic.

Alright, I think I’ve satisfied whatever gland in my body has been gushing praises for the Interstellar score by now. Unlike any other work (or almost any other album of 2014), I have listened to Interstellar many times since its release. If you’ve read this far, however, I guess I can share with you the parts of which I’m not a huge fan. In all honesty, there are only two gripes, and as minor as they may be, they will likely be turnoffs for less patient listeners.

First of all, for most listening environments, the Interstellar score’s dynamic range is a challenge. Subtle ambient moments will approach silence, with pipe organ and full strings entering quite suddenly in full force (see “Stay,” mentioned above). On an artistic level, I do appreciate these extremes. Very few modern works take advantage of the range of intensities available to proficient instrumentalists. While it is impressive that Zimmer took chances with a more classical approach to dynamics, I found this soundtrack utterly unlistenable in the car. With a good set of headphones or monitors, it is amazing, but in common listening environments, you will find yourself adjusting the volume a lot.

Nolan & Zimmer
Christopher Nolan (left) with Hans Zimmer (right).

Second, I think many listeners will find the score too lengthy. Even as a devoted ambient fan, I find the second half of the album to drag on a bit. However, as a completest, I do appreciate that the score includes so much of the film’s music. My only concern is that the excellent “S.T.A.Y” (not to be confused with the earlier piece “Stay”) will be missed by people who give up before the album’s conclusion. If you’re not interested in 6-8 minute songs, some of the more ambitious songs on the Interstellar soundtrack are perhaps not for you. This may be particularly true of the upcoming 2-disc extended edition which will be out in the coming months.

If it’s not clear, I 100% recommend Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score. It is a lot of music, but it is powerful and daring. Most of Zimmer’s work is by nature tied up in commercial Hollywood endeavors, but Interstellar stands on its own as a masterful work blending modern techniques with classical instrumentation. While the dynamic range and length of this score may prove challenging for some listeners, Interstellar is a must-listen, particularly for fans of the movie. I also 100% recommend Christopher Nolan’s film, but that’s a different review altogether.

Stay


John Kruse
@johnkruse

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


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John Kruse

John Praw Kruse is a Wisconsin-based artist and musician. His ambient works have been used as the primary soundtrack for the independent film Geister (Germany, 2011), as well as a number of short films. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival.

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