Palaeontologists and dinosaur fans alike were recently treated to the audio-visual brain bath that was Apple TV+ and David Attenborough’s Prehistoric Planet. The first-of-its-kind natural history documentary brought animals from the cretaceous to life using visual effects borrowed from the makers of the Lion King.
The phenomenal series was also accompanied by a score pieced together by Hans Zimmer and the Bleeding Fingers, which saw musicians turn their craft to fossilized rocks, bones, and improvised instruments like the “FatRex” to transport viewers back 66 million years. We spoke to composers Anže Rozman and Kara Talve, who worked with Zimmer, about what it’s like to create unique music for other-worldly environments.
How did you come to be involved with composing the score for Apple TV+’s Prehistoric Planet?
Bleeding Fingers Music has a long-running history with the BBC and its natural history department. Both of us have worked on several natural history documentaries in the past separately, and together as composers and additional writers (the BBC's The Planets, Universe, and Seven Worlds, One Planet, and NatGeo's Heroes of The Ocean).
Our style of orchestration is very similar, and we both have our strong suits in other departments, so we complement each other very well. Hans Zimmer and Russel Emanuel (our score producer) saw these traits in us and thought we would be the best fit to score Prehistoric Planet together with Hans.
Of the tools and instruments used in its music, which was your personal favorite?
Out of our custom instruments, it is really hard to pick our favorite one since each of them has such a unique character to them. If we really have to pick a favorite, it would probably be our FatRex instrument. It's a 14'' frame drum with a cello neck, one low and one high main string, and 6 sympathetic strings and on the back – to top it all off – we put a T. rex skull replica on its crests.
The sound of the low string is so deep and resonant that one can almost hear the whole harmonic series in it, while the high string has such a unique and evocative timbre to it. The instrument fits so perfectly for our velociraptors in Prehistoric Planet. The rumbling low string makes them feel scary and the high melodic string brings out their contemplative and calculative element so well.
What do you enjoy most about creating scores for factual documentaries?
We are both science enthusiasts and nature lovers. We both also love watching documentaries as well as scoring for them. Scoring for natural history documentaries is never only about music. It's about exploration, a celebration of science, a celebration of our biodiverse world now and in its past. And often documentaries (such as Seven Worlds, One Planet) shed light on how humans are very much contributing to the demise of certain ecosystems and the extinction of species.
Even though Prehistoric Planet takes place 66 million years ago, in a unique way it celebrates the biodiverse history of our planet. It makes you think, "If all of these majestic creatures roamed this planet for millions of years and are now all extinct, why can't the same happen to the creatures that inhabit our planet now? Including us!"
So, our task in writing music for such documentaries is to inspire, make the audience think, and make them ponder about what they have just seen on the screen. And hopefully, our little contribution has a butterfly effect in changing the world into a better place. We hope we can give a little helping hand in the creation of the next generation of explorers, scientists, nature preservation advocates, teachers, and amazing humans.
What advice would you give to other musicians hoping to get involved in this kind of work?
Usually, the best way to get involved is to connect with your local community of filmmakers. Do you have a friend making a documentary about a forest, lake, or a local species? Ask if you can help out and contribute to the project with your talents! Surround yourself with people that inspire you. But always remember, each individual is on their own little path. Not two "success" stories are the same.