One of the most impressive parts of the Interstellar experience is the noteworthy connection between the emotional energy and the soundtrack. The film prominently features the awe-inspiring sound of the pipe organ to help enhance this emotional energy. If you would like to see and hear more about the actual organ used, read on.
The Music of Interstellar
Hans Zimmer has done a wonderful job with the music for Interstellar. Viewers of the film will notice a blend of instruments including strings, piano, and of course, the pipe organ. As a pianist and an organist, I always appreciate the tasteful use of these instruments in modern settings.
The pipe organ is well known for its ability to create dramatic volume and intensity changes. If you watch the film, you will definitely notice the dynamic range of the sound during tense moments. The pipe organ was used very effectively to enhance the feeling throughout the film.
Check out this short video featuring Christopher Nolan, director, and Hans Zimmer talking about the use of the organ in Interstellar. Please note that Paramount Pictures owns this video and I had nothing to do with its creation.
The Virtual Pipe Organ
Hans Zimmer used the software sampling technology known as Hauptwerk to create some of the sounds and plan the organ’s role in Interstellar. This software allows a user to recall samples of individual organ pipes using a keyboard. The end effect is a simulated or “virtual organ” that models a specific pipe organ.
While it may not be visually obvious, many large pipe organs have thousands of pipes. Each one of these pipes would be recorded multiple times and loaded into this program. In many cases, sound engineers can capture the acoustic of the building with each pipe sample. The end effect realistically recreates the features of many pipe organs from around the world.
I’ve spent a few years working with this amazing technology. I have found that recordings of pieces using a Hauptwerk organ compare very convincingly to recordings on actual instruments.
The Real Pipe Organ
In addition to the use of a virtual organ, Hans Zimmer also made use of a real pipe organ when creating his soundtrack. He visited the Temple Church in London and worked with the resident organist, Roger Sayer, to have his compositions recorded. Many of the sounds you hear during the soundtrack are from this organ (pictured below).
Temple Church, London
Keyboard Magazine published an interesting interview with Hans Zimmer and Roger Sayer. You can read the full interview here. When asked about the unusual role of the organ in Interstellar, Roger Sayer had this to say:
I think it’s such a breath of fresh air. It gets away from this idea that the organ is something that just plays hymns and leads the congregation. Of course it does do that, but as you and I know, the organ, particularly when it’s in a building with fine acoustics, can capture almost every emotion possible. To put it bluntly, it’s an orchestra in a box. It has all colors you need from an orchestra. And it’s the sort of instrument that people have the wrong idea about. Here, we’re showing that it can live and breathe in the 21st century. It can tell a story; you don’t need words.
The Timeless Pipe Organ
For me, the organ references the divine. It can transcend its own space. We have had hundreds of years of intricate and beautiful music composed for the organ. Many compositions are particularly suited for placing the listener into a certain emotional place. I appreciate Hans Zimmer’s clever use of the instrument for this purpose, and I hope to see more references to the organ in our current culture.
You can learn more about the pipe organ in this post: Pulling Out All The Stops.
If you have yet to see Interstellar, you can click on the link below to listen to the soundtrack. However, I would recommend checking out the movie itself for the full experience.