Hans Zimmer: The Computer Is My Instrument
Imagine how great your iPhone cat videos would be if a Grammy and Academy Award winning composer wrote the soundtrack. You probably know what's coming next: Yes, there's an app for that.
The app, available exclusively for iOS, is called VJAM. World-renowned music composer and producer Hans Zimmer helped develop the app with UJAM, a company he co-founded several years ago.
Not only did Zimmer lend his creative expertise to the project, he also contributed one original composition, which is available to use, along with 10 other songs/themes, with the free version of the app.
"We feel we have created a basic app that does something very powerful," UJAM CEO Axel Hensen tells Mashable. "We're not looking for a quick viral success that's yesterday's news in a few months."
"We want to build something that provides a value to people for years to come. VJAM is just the beginning."
VJAM employs a freemium model, so if you get bored of the free themes, there are more options available for purchase. The goal of the app is to allow users to easily turn their iPhone videos into more cinematic creations.
The app is smart and simple to use. In less than five minutes, I turned a short video of my baby cousin eating lunch into an epic, using the theme "Slow Mo Hero," which features Zimmer's "Woad to Ruin" composition.
"VJAM looks simple, but we have made leaps in cloud technology, music technology and musical intelligence that puts us ahead of the game," Hensen says.
To get a better feel for what makes VJAM tick, Mashable caught up with Zimmer for a short chat about music and technology. You may know Zimmer's work from films such as Inception, The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, along with many others.
Even though he has already achieved significant success — including four Grammys, two Golden Globe Awards and an Oscar — Zimmer does not seem afraid to alter his methods; rather, he embraces change. He started composing in the late 1970s. Sporting coiffed hair and some sharp duds, he played his synthesizers in MTV's first music video, The Buggles "Video Kill the Radio Star."
Since then, Zimmer has stayed on the cutting edge of technology, including playing a significant role in the mobile app revolution. Check out the following Q&A section for his thoughts on technology, music, media and more.
Q&A With Hans Zimmer
How has your background shaped your views on music and technology?
I've come from a confused family. My mother was very musical, basically a musician, and my father was an engineer and an inventor. So, I grew up modifying the piano, shall we say, which made my mother gasp in horror, and my father would think it was fantastic when I would attach chainsaws and stuff like that to the piano because he thought it was an evolution in technology.
I think as a kid I started with one foot in the music camp and the other foot in the technology camp.
It was all the same thing to me because all I wanted to do was go and invent, and figure out...how to make new sounds.
You're already a successful composer and producer. Why did you decide to get involved with mobile apps such as VJAM?
It came from a lengthy conversation Pharrell Williams and I had. We were talking about this idea: We're really lucky because we get to do music as a living, and we get to do it everyday.
Neither of us has a grand musical education. My grand musical education is two weeks of piano lessons. So I'm not a good player, but I'm a good programmer.
I've always felt that the computer was my instrument.
We thought, wouldn't it be fun to figure out how to use the technology within an iPhone to help people make their home videos a little better, and at the same time, do it in a way that it could be done instantaneously, where there wasn't a big learning curve involved.
What was your role in the creation of the VJAM?
I'm sort of the disturbance in the force. I'm the one who's forever going, "Why couldn't it do this? Why can't it do more of this?"
When everybody thinks it's finished and it's a masterpiece, I'm the one who comes in and throws a grenade into the middle of the room and goes, "Let's go and get all differently."
That's really my job — creative nuisance — I think that should be my title. Question everything at all times, and then execute Plan B flawlessly.
Clearly you have your hands in whatever current technological revolution is happening, but this isn't your first go-round. You were also involved with advent of music videos. You even appeared in the first MTV music video, "Video Killed the Radio Star," with The Buggles. What was that like?
It was really Trevor Horn's doing. It was sort of his band, and I was the guy who had the synth.
And it was actually quite hard, because nobody wanted to hear about it; nobody wanted to give us a record deal. MTV was still two years away, but we just had this gut feeling that this thing was coming, something was coming that was going to marry visuals and music. It just seemed obvious to us; it was instinct.
In those days I was the coolest guy around because I had a computer that had 16K of memory.
People kept asking, "What are you going to do with all that memory?" They thought it was outrageous that someone could have that much memory inside his computer.
How has technology fueled change more recently?
The technological shift has already happened. It's an evolution, not a revolution.
I think the whole iPhone thing is fantastic. For Inception, I did a whole app that was far more interesting for me to do than a soundtrack album.
Now we're at that point where everybody can sort of add into the musical publicization or into the personal publicization in a very inexpensive way.
The first revolution came when the electric guitar became affordable. But nowadays, the technology really truly lets you express all those things you have in your head.
What does your studio look like now compared to when you first started?
It isn't that different. There sort of comes a point where there are diminishing returns.
Thirty-inch monitors are as big as you want to go for your computer, because otherwise your head is bobbing side-to-side like in a tennis game. The musical keyboard in front me is just a convenient way of having 88 switches at my disposal.
So, some things are sort of the same, it's just that my computer power has gone up tremendously. It's just an upscaling of the same paradigm.
You have accomplished a great deal to this point in your career, including numerous awards. If you had to give yourself an award for something you've worked on in your life, what is your proudest accomplishment?
It would be the award for not coveting awards. Because really honestly, it has nothing to do with pride or any of those things.
Every morning I check with myself, "Do I want to go to the studio and write some music?" And to this day, it's still the most exciting thing I can do.
I still get fired up and I still get excited about making music.
What does the future look like?
From a musician's point of view, I think the future looks very similarly to this. But because of YouTube and because of the Internet, you now have access to finding a lot more really interesting people to work with. I do that a lot. I go to YouTube; I hear someone perform; I find out who they are; I give them a ring. Next thing I know, we're in a room together making music.
The thing that hasn't changed, and I don't think will ever change, is that the operative word in music is "play." You have to have a playfulness about it. As the world shifts, it's starting to understand more and more that to have a playfulness about any and everything is actually the way of having a better life, or being more creative, or being more productive.
The rules are:
The more playful we get, the more we can get rid of the rules.
That's really what VJAM is supposed to be about. You're shooting your little video on your iPhone or something, and it's not all that great. But you can put a little piece of music with it, and the technology will do it in a relatively intelligent way.
Suddenly, your rather banal little video of your cat becomes something you can share with your friends.
If you want to be pretentious, you can call it art. But if you just want to talk about it like a normal human being, you can do something fun and share it with your friends.
Any last thoughts about technology or music?
The bottom line is, for me, there has never been a difference between a composer and someone who is building technology.
It's all about inventing and it's all about that playfulness, and that game and aesthetics. I get on very well with technologists because I think they're sort of doing the same thing. Figure out a way to express ourselves and make the world a slightly smaller place, in a good way.