Guitar sounds have been big in film composer Hans Zimmer's life lately. If he picks up his second Academy Award Sunday the nod will owe a debt to the performance from ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr on "Inception." "Rango," the animated film he scored that opens March 4, was directed by former punk rock guitarist Gore Verbinski, "which is much leaner than 'Inception' but this is a director who knows his guitars and microphones," Zimmer said. And a thoroughly different guitar sound is being crafted for the fourth installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean" with the Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The guitarists, based in Dublin, Ireland, are recording with Zimmer in Santa Monica, Calif., on a small stage he had specially built in his studio where Zimmer is playing keyboards as they work out ideas for the score. To make their sound a bit grittier, he is recording them through a PA system. The grit in the music connects with Johnny Depp's character of Jack Sparrow, based on Keith Richards.
"The image of Keith has never left me," Zimmer said during a break from work on a trio of sequels. "That was the concept from word one -- rock 'n' rollers are modern day pirates. ['Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'] has new characters so we need new themes."
A score where the guitar is unlikely to show up is the next Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises," which Zimmer has begun to score along with the follow-ups to "Kung Fu Panda" and "Sherlock Holmes." Zimmer composed the music for the first "Dark Knight" with James Newton Howard, creating specific electronic sounds that that represented the individual characters.
"We want to find the aesthetic legacy," Zimmer said of his conversations with director Christopher Nolan. "Chris leaves me a free hand in 'Dark Knight' and I am not about to betray the groundwork, the tone we've already set up. We're gonna expand on it. I want the music to feel like we're driving to a conclusion. This is our grand finale so it will be epic."
Zimmer created a sonic palette for "The Dark Knight Rises" after reading the script, essentially to create restrictions for his work. He expects it will share the mix of electronics and orchestra that shaped the sonic character of its predecessor.Ã¢Â€Â¨
"Inception," however, was the inverse of "Dark Knight." He created the score using electronics and then discarded that element, asking string players, a dozen trombonists and few other horn players to "create an electronic score without electronic instruments. Musicians are fed up with samples so they loved it."Ã¢Â€Â¨
Of course, before any of the above happens, are this weekend's awards, where Zimmer is up for Best Score for "Inception" (having won his first Oscar for "The Lion King" in 1994).
"For the first time I'm the old guy [among the nominees]," the German-born composer said. "What I love is that it is such an international collection" of composers, also including France's Alexandre Desplat ("The King's Speech"), India's A.R. Rahman ("127 Hours"), America's Trent Reznor ("The Social Network") and Brits John Powell ("How to Train Your Dragon") and Atticus Ross ("The Social Network" with Reznor). "It's a United Nations of music."