Hans Zimmer Uses 'Sherlock Holmes' Soundtrack to Expose Slovakian Villager Musicians
Hans Zimmer Uses 'Sherlock Holmes' Soundtrack to Expose Slovakian Villager Musicians

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Hans Zimmer, far right, with Slovakia-based musicians whose talents appear on the soundtrack for "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shows."

A musical mystery may get an answer after "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shows" opens on Dec. 16 and Watertower Music releases the soundtrack three days earlier. Having tapped gypsy music from Slovakia-based musicians for part of the "Holmes" score, composer Hans Zimmer hopes the film's the soundtrack can serve as a portal for more music from these undiscovered village musicians.

"What I am going to try to do is, via iTunes, just add bonus tracks so the album will get longer," Zimmer says, seated in his Santa Monica, Calif., studio complex. "Let's see where this goes. I'm still insecure about the whole thing. I want to see what people in the world think and if they like (the music) we can release a bit more."

A video chronicling Zimmer's journey to Slovakia to record the music of the Roma people will be available when the album is released, along with three bonus tracks.

The short film has Zimmer particularly excited. "There was so much great playing in every village we went into," he says. "I'm a sucker for this stuff."

Two Roma bands - a term used interchangeably with "gypsy" - are in the film's score, the eight-member Kokavakere Lavutara and the quintet Ciganski Baroni. The Mnozil Brass band provides a German element to the orchestral work from Zimmer and his collaborator Lorne Balfe.

"From India to the south of Spain and then to Ireland there's this stream of musical consciousness that you can follow," Zimmer says. "I love all those gypsy guitarists."

Zimmer, who will be supervise the music for the Academy Awards with Pharrell Williams, discussed "Sherlock Holmes" and creating a 100,000-plus voice chant for the next "Dark Knight" in an interview with Billboard.biz.

It seems that your imagination ran wild with this score - it's much more about European and Russian styles than Victorian England. Most prominent, though, is the Roma music. Where did that idea come from?

I hinted at gypsy themes in the first one and I read the script and on page four it says 'the gypsy fortune teller.' Right there I phoned up (director) Guy (Ritchie) and said 'road trip.' I sort of know the music, but I don't anything beyond the stereotypes and prejudices. I wanted to find musicians, see the environment. Madeleine Albright and the National Democratic Institute helped us to make contact. My priority was to find great musicians and on the other hand we felt it would be nice to document in a certain way. My daughter (Zoe) is a fashion photographer and she agreed it would be good to see this. Going into the Roma communities, I left a world I knew. I knew I could not imagine it before hand -- you're in the middle of Europe, but you would never know it. There is this poverty and injustice tempered with incredible dignity and great musicianship.

It has a very different feel, not just from the first "Sherlock Holmes," but so much of your other work. I was humming a tune when I left the theater.

We have reduced film music to motifs -- it seems to work with the modern Zeitgeist. It's only the animated movies where you still get big sweeping tunes. Plus the idea of virtuoso playing has gone by the wayside completely. I like virtuoso playing. If I could, I would spend the rest of my life recording Jeff Beck. (Virtuoso playing) doesn't fit into (film scores) anymore, but the Roma musicians do. At the same time, I can go back to my minimalist world. It was fun to get all these Roma musicians in a room and say 'OK we're going to try to do a minimalist type thing with a clock ticking. Taking them out of their comfort zone.

In doing that, how conscious were you of making their music mesh with the orchestral music vs. letting them play their traditional music?

I couldn't do the Django (Reinhardt) thing. It's too far outside their world. Sherlock (music cues) were not so much (based on) Ennio Morricone, which many other seem to hear, it's more Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. I figured that by throwing Weimar Republic into Victorian England we'll get something interesting -- little grimy fingernails and that oomph oompah thing.

It really has been a year of sequels for you - "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Holmes" -- and that continues with "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Madagascar 3." How do you prevent yourself from repeating things?

I drive myself crazy. I try to come up with ideas which are appropriate and then see if there is another person out there I can bring in to shake it up a bit. I like the collaborative process -- we don't just have to go with the normal Hollywood lineup. I like when my directors are part of the band. When you listen to the (soundtrack) album there's this 'Shadows Suite' that's me at my most dictatorial. Once that felt solid and the ideas were defensible, we took it to the Roma musicians. My partner Lorne is great at saying 'what about if' once I get a tune going. Lots of the time he comes up with a harmonic idea I wouldn't have come up with because I'm so vested in mine. If the architecture is solid to begin with it's easy to open doors and add individuality to it.

Yet the film series you are most famous for doing as a collaboration, Batman with James Newton Howard, you're doing alone. Where are you in that process?

I've given (director) Chris (Nolan) quite a bit of music for 'Dark Knight Rises.' What raised the visibility (of the score) is this chant we did. I had the idea for a chant that would involve hundreds of thousands of people. And we used a fraction of the idea to reveal a character on the Internet. People are very intrigued by this chant and what it does. We just (posted) on Facebook and Twitter that anybody can join in on ujam.com. I love the idea that over the last two (Batman) movies we have created this world, the world of the Dark Knight. I know the fans have a real understanding of it and respect for this world. So why can't I have them inhabit this world, make them a part of it? It will run till the end of December. All I am saying (to potential chanters) - if you want to get heard, be a little more aggressive please. Stop being so nice. Give it a little attitude. The idea evolved from Eric Whitacre's YouTube choir. One of the things that's interesting for a musician who is recording engineer is that each voice is recorded in its own autonomous environment. When you put all of these environments together that's not something we usually get. It becomes a really interesting sound.

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Zimmer and Slovakian gypsy musicians in the composer's Santa Monica, Calif. studio. Photo: Phil Gallo