By Alison Cole, University of Sydney

Industrial. Mechanical. Brutal. These are the words acclaimed electro-acoustic composer Hans Zimmer uses to describe his music for Dune: Part Two, released in Australia on Thursday.

Dune: Part One (2021) showcased Zimmer’s expertise in manipulating sound to create timbres that uniquely fit an onscreen environment. The new film is no exception.

By carefully considering the Dune universe and drawing on a range of audio production and editing techniques, Zimmer creates a rich score that breathes life into author Frank Herbert’s fantasy world.

Creating a rich, textured sound world

Zimmer looks to the film’s visual world – such as the costume colour palette, or the way the cinematographer shoots the film – to inform his sound and instrument choices.

“It starts off with creating that sonic world that I want the tunes or the motifs to live in,” Zimmer said in an interview.

He uses several tools to achieve this, drawing on plugins and audio editing tools to fragment, granulate, stretch, shorten, reverse, repeat and feature certain parts of a sound’s frequency range. He also processes distinct sounds such as metallic scrapes, or sand falling into a metal bowl.

The result is a unique soundscape in keeping with the war-footing narrative at the heart of the film. The militaristic feel of the score is created through the use of deep drums and percussion, repetitive (and at times delicate) vocals and ominous synthesisers that range from warm tones to uncomfortable screeching metallic tonalities.

All combine to draw the viewer into both a deep human narrative and the treacherous environment in which the tensions play out.

Unrelenting and otherworldly

Zimmer is very familiar with processing sound to design unique sound worlds – an approach that stems from his lifelong fascination with electronic music. For Dune: Part Two, he composes a sonic landscape that feels as unrelenting as the planet Arrakis itself.

There are several familiar components, such as synthesised real-world elements, vocals and a repeat of melodies used in the first film. Both Paul’s and the Kwisatz Haderach melodies are repeated, as is the House Atreides theme.

In the track Eclipse – which repeats elements of the Holy War cue – ominous deep brass, deep percussion, unnerving vocals and synthesisers work to create a sinister mood.

Added on is an evocative blend of bagpipes, synthesisers and processed sounds invoking an otherworldly atmosphere. Combined with soloist Loire Cotler’s ethereal vocals, these disparate musical elements intertwine to build a memorable ambience.

The lines are blurred between the soundtrack and the film’s sound design to create moments of building tension. For the viewer, the dynamic use of these musical elements creates an almost visceral experience.

A masterful soundtrack

Compared to the first film, Dune: Part Two expands the atmospheric musical world in a far more foreboding and dramatic style – brought to life by woodwinds and synths.

The soundtrack, which is worth listening to as a complete album, is both a dynamic continuation and expansion of the first film’s quieter, moodier score. There’s a significant shift in tone and a deliberate weaving of melodic themes from the first film.

The first track, Beginnings Are Such Delicate Times, expands on a theme we hear briefly in the first film – played in the bagpipes as the Atreides first arrive on the landing fields of Arrakis. In Dune: Part Two, this theme stands out as Zimmer has transformed it from a military announcement to a moment of pure emotion.

A Time of Quiet Between the Storms develops this same bagpipe melody with a new purpose: as the romantic love theme between Chani and Paul Atreides.

The track opens with a single wind instrument, synthesisers and percussion. The percussion transports the viewer back to Zimmer’s Dream of Arrakis from the first film’s opening. The weaving of this foreboding theme contrasts with a feeling of hope.

The new Emperor and the Bene Gesserit themes are threaded with a return of the first film’s Holy War theme, which has now been transformed into the theme we hear at the point of Paul’s victory in the film.

By exploring the relationship between a film’s soundtrack and sound design, Zimmer creates a sound world full of personality and new timbral possibilities.The Conversation

Alison Cole, Composer and Lecturer in Screen Composition, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.