If I Had Written the Score to Interstellar

If I was Hans Zimmer, I would be a bit annoyed.

What is arguably the best score Hans Zimmer has ever written, the music for Interstellar, has thrilled me to my core. However, I came to that conclusion by an indirect route.

Like many of you, I saw the movie in all it’s cinematic glory when it was released in 2014. But it was not until 2017 that I fell in love with it, both the movie and the score.

In preparation for an after-dinner talk to a panel of the American Heart Association’s 2017 Science Conference, I was looking for an inspirational way, preferably with great video and sound, to describe the sport of competitive free diving. This past summer I had the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best free divers and free diving instructors in a Colloquium put together by the University of California at San Diego, Center of Excellence in Scientific Diving.

I had pretty much given up on finding something to help me illustrate the beauty, and challenges, of competitive free diving. That changed, however,  when I came across a posting from a group of tactical military divers. In a short 3-minute video the young French diver Arnaud Jerald set his personal free diving (CWT, Constant Weight Dive  discipline) record of 92 meters in a competition in Turkey. He placed third in a field which included world record holders in the same event.

Three things made the diving video great, in my opinion: 1) the subject matter which vividly shows a human activity little known by most people, and understood by even fewer; 2) steady and clear video produced by a new underwater camera, the Diveye, and 3) the accompanying music.

A film score is only successful if it aids the audience in generating an emotional response to a movie scene. In that respect, a great movie hinges not only on good acting and script, but on an almost telepathic connection between the film director/producer and music director/composer.

In the free diving video clip, the accompanying music swelled in concert with the audience’s tension, generated perhaps unconsciously in response to the drama of the moment. And then there was organ music at just the right point. For me a pipe organ truly is the most impressive and grand of any musical instrument.

And just when the cinematic moment was right,  you could hear the heart beats, helping us realize what a strain it must have been on young Jerald’s heart as he reached his deepest depth, far from the surface, and air.

Indeed, when I gave the presentation, the video clip seemed to have the effect on the audience that I was looking for. But afterwards, I was relieved that no one had asked me where that music came from. I had no idea.

I don’t recall what led me to Interstellar as the music source: it may have been a random playing of movie soundtracks on a music streaming service, but once I heard a snippet, I recognized it. “That’s it!” I shouted to no one in particular.

It wasn’t just me; my family, including a nine-year old granddaughter had heard me rehearse my talk many times, and they also immediately recognized the similarity between the free diving video, and part of the Interstellar soundtrack.

The closest musical correlation to the diving video was the “Mountains” track in the movie soundtrack. Strangely, the match was not perfect. In fact the differences were easily notable, a fact I discovered after I bought both the movie and the Hans Zimmer soundtrack. And I must note, I think the music in the diving video is better.

Perhaps the full music was present in the original version of the movie, and perhaps some fancy mixing in the sound room deleted it. If so, too bad. But I must admit, the quiet musical nuances would have been missed during the cacophonous sound of a 4000 foot tall tidal wave sweeping upon a tiny spacecraft. There was lots of shouting and screaming.

As for my opinion that Hans Zimmer might be annoyed, well, I suggest you watch the portion of the full movie where the Mountain track rises to prominence. That is the part where the tidal wave, initially mistaken as mountains, appears on the horizon of the first planet the Horizon space craft landed on outside of our galaxy.

As exciting as the action was, and as wonderfully crafted the dialog and acting, it obscured the finer points of the music. Fortunately, the free diving video, coming as it does with no dialog at all, puts the music in the perspective that I, at least, can completely enjoy.

I find it fitting that in both videos, the incredibly powerful music was used to showcase humans extending themselves to their absolute limits. Of course, one of those stories is fictional, and the other is real.

 

 

 

I See Dead People – Sort Of

The exit to the Morrison Springs cave. (photo credit: ZoCrowes255)

The young man in a swimming suit was lying lifeless at the bottom of a fissure on the floor of Morrison Springs, a popular underwater cave in Walton County, Florida. If his eyes had been open, he would have been staring straight up at me. But mercifully, his eyes were shut, as in sleep.

My diving buddies from the Georgia Tech Aquajackets dive club and I were breathing air from scuba tanks at about 110 feet sea water. We were in a portion of the cave that received no indirect light from the cave opening. Without the cave lights in many of the diver’s hands there would have been total darkness.

Who knew that on my second so-called “open water” dive I would find myself deeper than 100 feet in a cave, using the dispersed light from my buddies’ dive lights to examine a very fresh looking corpse? He looked to be about our age, late teens, high school or college age. A rock outcropping hid his body from about mid-hip level down. But the top portion of a bathing suit, his lean stomach, chest, and boyish-looking face and head was plainly visible.

There must have been some current at the bottom of the crevice because his brown hair was waving gently, being the only sign of motion from the deathly pale white boy with closed eyes, waiting patiently to be recovered to the surface.

I and the other divers stretched our arms and shoulders as far into the crevice as we dared, reaching towards the young man, hoping we could grab onto some part of his body. But it was futile – he was at least a foot out of our reach. Finally, checking our dive watches, we saw it was time to swim toward the cave entrance and start our ascent.

Since there was no scuba gear on him he must have been a free-diver, a breath-hold diver who entered the cave then passed out and sank to the deepest, most inaccessible portion of the cave. As I and the other divers rose along the limestone borders of the cave I watched the darkness surround the young man’s cold body once again. I felt lonely, almost as if I could feel his spirit’s loneliness.

As I reached the surface I turned to the closest diver, removed my regulator from my mouth, and panted, “How are we going to recover that body?”

His response stunned me.

“What body? That was no body – that was a Navy 6-cell flashlight!

How could it be? I would have signed a sworn affidavit to the police describing everything I had seen, in detail, just as I’ve reported it to you many years later. The visual details, the textures, the emotions will not leave me.

But they were not real.

As for why that happened, the only thing I can assume is that for a nineteen-year old novice diver, descending in the dark to 110 feet, in a cave, might be just a bit more than the diver’s mind is prepared for. The nitrogen in air is narcotic if found in high enough concentration, so I was undoubtedly suffering from nitrogen narcosis. Plus, at the time the entrance to the Spring was macabre, with a large photo of a diver with his back filleted open by a boat propeller, and signs prominently displaying warnings of the large number of fatalities in the cave from poorly trained and equipped divers exceeding their limits.

My mind was prepared to witness tragedy, and the normally mild nitrogen narcosis of 110 feet may have  been just the trigger needed for a vivid hallucination.

I have had no hallucinations since then, from diving or anything else, except for one medical procedure reported on in this blog. But what remains remarkable to me was my absolute conviction that what I had seen in that cave was real. Consequently, I now know very well  that what people testify as being real, whether they are diving or not, may in fact be only imagined.