Brief Analysis: Hans Zimmer – Dark Knight Soundtrack

Unfolding shades of black, subtle contrasts between rhythmic assaults, dark ambiance and harmonic consonance are some of the factors that provide inspiration in this imposing soundtrack, which was designed to be programmatic and visually arousing by necessity.

To begin with, none can easily imitate Hans Zimmer, even if it seems easy. His aggressive wall of sound style has defined our modern era, much like John Williams has defined his. This massive symphonic sound forms the backbone of all his soundtracks. At the heart of this approach, and hence of this work, is to ‘make orchestral music relevant in our times’. This is his artistic vision.

Thus, the execution of his music is based on a “punk rock” attitude; he wants the musicians to let loose. Composing for him is not a solitary pursuit, but an act of playing with other people. That’s why he never writes by himself but prefers to jam.

The first element that comes into play here, is the main emotion aroused by the music. Perhaps it is the writer’s unconscious projection of colors into music, which is quite interpretivist, yet the discography of Conrad Schnitzler of Tangerine Dream fame features some color themed records which quite aptly correspond to the visuals aroused by the music. Theoretically, if such synesthesiac symptoms are prevalent among listeners, we have every reason to believe that this record’s color would be black. While bright colors feature differences in frequencies (listen to Gelb for instance, high frequency sounds corresponding to the frequency of yellow on the light spectrum), you can see through the introduction A Storm is Coming, a prelude where all the motifs of the record parade, a smoothness and velvet monotony of sound; similar to a black body in physics, a theoretical mass absorbing all light that is projected into it, all high frequencies are absorbed into the main soundwave and small sound effects pulse color into the black again.

Then the struggle comes to build a theme for the hero: define his character. This is an origin story. Hans Zimmer identifies the stages of the hero’s arrested development in the tragic murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents at the hands of criminals. The feelings of guild experienced by this event, mean that he cannot be a complete hero, since he always has this trauma holding him back. Thus, his main theme is only two notes, that are never resolved.

Bearing in mind the director’s needs in the project, in order to align all the necessary compositional operations, invocation of emotions has to be the main objective of the artist, and the music, because of its special role in the film, becomes necessarily programmatic and image evoking. A soundtrack must complement its film.
For example, powerful dark emotions are visualized in Rise where the drum sounds resemble the beating of a giant heart, a hero’s heart. And then the main theme ‘rises’ again and we have a visual as well as an emotional idea of what’s going on in the movie, just by listening to its soundtrack.

In “Fear will find you” we witness an exemplary use of choirs and percussion, crawling bass strings, all elements wrestling for a spotlight to resemble the sound of battle succeeded by a glimpse of light in the fifths of the main motif for a little bit, then the darkness comes through the bass strings that dominate movie theaters, everything fades into a calm silence and the main motif returns, mixed with moments of epic passion on Why Do We Fall? Those songs are easily the centerpieces of the record.

On “Imagine the Fire”, the synth chugging behind the main soundscape helps to paint a vivid picture that adds interest and character as well as underscore the word Imagine. Cymbals over evil bass smirking over some half step intervals towards the end mimic the sounds of industry, working to bring down havoc upon Gotham followed by a post buildup, wherein string arpeggios appear to elevate the mood and then the contrabasso kicks in a villainous paroxysm of megalomania.

The only thing out of place in this record is “Bombers over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix)” which sets off like a tribute to Phaedra and smiles back to us with an epic dubstep twist. Nonetheless, it is still enjoyable thanks to its instrumental variety.

The problem with the music of our era whose flammifer has been Zimmer, is that melodic lines give way to percussion, an issue that also has parallels within metal, and has given rise to plenty of mediocre soundtracks that have no memorability. We see that in some places in the record that fail to catch our attention, but maybe that’s the point.

In the end, Zimmer is a master in the use of textures and knows that he must not detract attention from the film but complement it. Here lies his main strength: how do you make classic and instantly recognizable movie music without detracting the viewer’s attention from the film? Or perhaps more aptly in the case of this composer, how do you make a movie good enough that the music doesn’t detract the viewer’s attention from it?
This approach is good to have within any band also. Bill Ward tried to play catchy drums that would complement the guitars, making them discreet yet indispensable.

This is great music for a great movie, where the hero is purging his weakness, embraces the darkness in his own soul and takes responsibility against the forces of decadence. And as a soundtrack, the legacy of classical music that is still reaching through to us, via the roaring speakers of cinema.

‘Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up!’

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10 thoughts on “Brief Analysis: Hans Zimmer – Dark Knight Soundtrack”

  1. ComPoser says:

    Zimmer makes melodramatic brass farts and orchestral dubstep to signify that “shits ’bout to git reulz, yo!”.

    1. no frot no forums no journalism no anime says:

      perhaps you forgot MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND which has a great soundtrack

  2. Bill Wilson says:

    If I pulled that off, would you die?

    1. LostInTheANUS says:

      It would be extremely painful.

      1. Bill Wilson says:

        You’re a big guy.

      2. Tyrell Dahlstrom says:

        Wrong movie friends!

        1. Capeman says:

          They all look the same to me, which is ok because they are still way better than those other capeshit movies.

        2. Where is the editor? says:

          Is it? Check the article title it’s Dark Knight. Check the description he says he’s talking about an origin story a la Batman begins. But the tracks are all from Dark Knight Rises. Lionel done fucked up.

  3. Steve says:

    The role this morbid film played in terms of worshiping what Freud called ‘The Death Drive’ must be considered in terms of it’s integral role in fomenting an American tragedy when after the next Batman film that guy shot up the movie theater.

    Consider that everyone started praising Ledger for his schlocky performance , mostly due to the fact he kicked the bucket right afterwards. Then combine that with the disturbing music regarding Bane in the Pit, which was disturbing in character, and likely contained hidden sub-harmonic frequencies.

    As if that were not enough, note the trailer from gangster squad (which was out around the same time) actually contained gangsters spraying the crowd at a movie theater with machine guns. That scene was later pulled.

    The role of the power of suggestion of the gangster squad trailer, the role of repettetive sub-harmonic frequencies under a disturbing film score in the next film (in the series), and the role of worshiping Heath Ledger’s nihilistic persona likely are partly to blame for the tragedy which ended up taking so many lives.

    Our society is SICK.

    Good music, including 90s death metal, does harken death. But it does so in a way that reminds us that we are ALIVE. It does so in a way that reminds us that chaos rules, and life is a blessing which can be cut short at any time unexpectedly. Therefor we are to seize the day, and live each day of our lives as though it could be our last. Rather than looking forward to the end…

    1. Misanthrope says:

      Exactly. It’s as though this society is collectively realizing on some deep, subconscious level that it is completely lost and without aim, and is now seeking death since it cannot find any meaning in being alive. Fuck the Batman movies.

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