How the Composers of ‘Dune’ and ‘Power of the Dog’ Experimented with Soundtracks
Film composers are always looking for new ways to express ideas and convey the character of music. Two of this year’s Original Score nominees have been particularly innovative in finding musical solutions to storytelling challenges.
‘Dune’ demanded a soundscape unlike anything composer Hans Zimmer had ever tackled (including sci-fi projects such as ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar,’ which earned him two of his previous 11 Oscar nominations ). But he was one step ahead: he loved Frank Herbert’s novel and had often imagined the sounds of the desert planet Arrakis.
He didn’t want a conventional orchestra, but he didn’t think a purely electronic score would work either. He then experimented with vocal sounds: songs, whispers, cries of singers from Los Angeles, New York and Australia, all representing the Bene Gesserit, the mysterious fraternity whose power governs the universe in Denis Villeneuve’s film.
“I worked pretty hard to try, in an abstract way, to give you a sense of the subtext, the inner dialogue that the characters were having,” Zimmer says. And as he recorded instruments ranging from electric cellos to Armenian duduks, Scottish bagpipes and newly invented musical noisemakers, he manipulated them all electronically for the final score.
For “The Power of the Dog”, English composer Jonny Greenwood wanted to reflect “the film’s tone, look and color”, and turned to the detuned player piano of the time (1920s Montana) , then learned to play a cello like the banjo that Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) pinches so often throughout the film.
Greenwood wanted to avoid the traditional American high-pitched score that so often accompanies westerns, so he hired two French horns and 10 string players (violas and cellos) to give a more intimate chamber music feel to much of the show. partition. Surprisingly, the one instrument typically associated with Westerns — a guitar — is missing entirely from “Power of the Dog.”
Greenwood says, “There’s a lot of culture in Phil’s character. He is cultivated and it is not difficult to imagine that his musical tastes are very sophisticated. The fun of such a complex and emotionally repressed character is that he allows for complexity in certain music, as well as simpler, softer things for his contrasting sibling.