For as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing with Hans Zimmer. As a ten year old, I would listen to the score of the Lion King on repeat, while diligently crafting Nala-taking-over-the-pride fanfiction and eating way too many Twizzlers. As a kid in high school, themes from Gladiator and Pearl Harbor were typical backgrounds as I studied Biology and English. And I don’t think I would have passed my Philosophy of Science class in university without the Batman and Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks scoring my late-night writing blitzes. Fast forward to the past handful of years, and I wrote my first novel alongside the violins and cellos of The Da Vinci Code. (Who knew that the angsty tension of cellos and choral overtones were great mirrors for middle-grade drama?)
Movie scores are perfect writing background music, because they provide a conduit for your emotions in a way that doesn’t overshadow your own thoughts. You’re driven to feel, but free to interpret the specifics for yourself. You know that you’re feeling, but the what you describe is up to you. Creative scaffolding, all in a handy set of earbuds.
Patterns and rituals are incredible tools for writing, and it turns out that 25+ years of writing with Zimmer pays off, and within seconds of sitting down to hear him and his orchestra live last night, my writing brain whipped into high gear.
The concert was amazing, but in true Write-with-Zimmer style, I wasn’t just focused on the music itself, rather the subconscious ideas that bubble up to the surface when that scaffolding appears. It got me thinking about art as a whole, and how lucky we are to be able to create in any direction we please. It also got me thinking about the inextricable value and web of art in our lives.
Hans told several stories last night about creating film scores. He spoke about getting a phone call from Christopher Nolan, who was looking into making Batman movies. When The Dark Knight was a go, Hans was very interested in who would be playing the role of the Joker—it would need to be someone spectacular. Like most of us, he was blown away by Heath Ledger’s performance. Then he spoke about Heath’s death, and how his first instinct was to redo some of the score to The Dark Knight. To remove the manic razor blade edges of the sound, the anger, and the chaos. He quickly realized that in order to truly respect and honor Heath’s performance, he had to leave it as it was. This struck me hard as an incredible example of the power of art—literally honoring art with art. Because what better way is there?
He also spoke about The Lion King, and we were lucky enough to hear the original vocalist for the scored Circle of Life last night, Lebo Morake. Lebo was a political refugee from Africa when The Lion King was being scored, and he worked in a car wash in Los Angeles. (His voice is the first one you hear when watching The Lion King, as the sun rises over the plains.) Last night, Lebo performed the song with his daughter, who wasn’t yet born when the movie was released. Talk about the Circle of Life. Art as a circle, a tradition. Art as freedom.
All of these stories and more got me thinking: most creators intuitively understand the role of art in their lives. We love reading books, or watching movies, or staring at paintings. Even nature, probably the most talented artist of all, provides us with endless miracles to take in if we’re paying attention. There is value in “finished” art.
But there is also a value in creating art. The experience changes us, and lets us create a sort of magical alchemy with the influences and worlds around us. We learn what we’re made of, and find new paths to thoughts and feelings we might not have found otherwise. Art isn’t just something we do or create, it’s a system of give and take, constantly renewed by itself. Art is an ecosystem.
When you consider that art permeates our experience in almost untraceable ways, you could say that the “ambient art” around our lives is like oxygen, fueling our ideas, our processes, and creative experiences in ways we probably will never be able to pinpoint. This ecosystem is in place from the moment you’re born, and just like environmental ecology, your impact doesn’t simply die when you do. Your art can continue to play a role in the artistic ecosystem for centuries. There is something of you left over, that fuels others.
There is no control for the experiment to determine whether you would have written the same books without your favorite childhood movies knocking around in the back of your subconscious, or that five-bar introduction to the song that played at your first dance. Maybe it’s the flowers of faded wallpaper, or the taste of rum raisin ice cream, or the smell of your worn copy of Harry Potter—all of these creative pieces are so much more than the sum of their parts in your life. They’re the winding gears that propelled you to be the artist you are today. And how fortunate that your specific combinations of ambient art differ from anyone else on the planet! Your artistic ecology is yours and yours alone.
So why the long-winded post about it all today? Zimmer strikes again and here I am writing. As always, art inspires art. It breathes life into artists no matter what way you take it in—and I want to make sure that you, my dear friends, let your art out today. Whether it’s your next bestseller or a few words on a napkin, a song at the top of your lungs in the shower, a vase of flowers on your kitchen table, or a well-timed happy dance for no reason at all: let your art out.
Whether it’s big or small, whispered or screamed, faint or dazzling, remember: art is oxygen for the world, and there’s no telling where yours will end up.
Let your art out