“You have no idea how hard it is to find an out-of-tune piano!” exclaims film composer Hans Zimmer, who was in desperate need of such a dilapidated instrument while scoring Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.” “I bought one on Craigslist for $100, but I needed one that was uglier, so I bought one for $200.”
Like a Method actor prepping for a part, Zimmer will stop at nothing to secure the right instrument that will make his score unique. Looking to craft a colorful sound to rep both the quirkiness of Holmes and the Industrial Age his stories were set in, Zimmer largely exchanged his orchestra for a few strings and a raw selection of eclectic solos, specifically a banjo, accordion, a pungent Hungarian cimbalom and that broken piano. The payback: a gritty, bouncy, melodic stream reminiscent of Kurt Weill. (Never one to intentionally emulate another composer’s style, Zimmer relishes the comparison to his German brethren).
“I wanted the brass to sound like a mining pit, and I didn’t want to hear violins; rather, fiddles — Irish or gypsy music,” says Zimmer about his instructions to the musicians.
In his third romantic comedy score for director Nancy Meyers, Zimmer didn’t look to eBay for a Brazilian guitarist on “It’s Complicated.” Instead he phoned his friend Heitor Pereira, whom he worked with on “Black Hawk Down” and “As Good as It Gets.” Together, the duo fueled what Zimmer calls “a Latin naughtiness” to mark the love triangle consumed by Meryl Streep’s protagonist in “Complicated.”
“My credo (on comedies) is: Don’t let the energy get you down,” says Zimmer. “I tend to play fast and loose.”
While he tends to compose from what’s onscreen, at times there’s a more efficient means of inspiration. “I try not to touch the keyboard until I hear it in my head,” says Zimmer, who is known for churning tunes out on the spot, straight off a director’s pitch. “There’s a weird intellectual process, but I can tell you why everything is there and why it has its place.”