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BMW hires composer Hans Zimmer to produce sounds for its electric cars

For any brand that wants its next car to be a blockbuster, what could be better than getting an Oscar-winning composer to write its soundtrack?

That's what BMW has done by hiring Hans Zimmer, who has penned the scores for a host of hit films including Gladiator, the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise, The Last Samurai, The Da Vinci Code, 12 Years A Slave and Dunkirk. 

He won an Oscar for his The Lion King score and has earned ten other nominations so far.

Sound choice: The new all-electric BMW iX3 SUV hits UK showrooms in July priced from £58,850

Options: The iX3 is a new fully electric version of the X3 compact SUV and the first BMW to be available as pure electric, plug-in hybrid and petrol and diesel

But what can an award-winning composer do for motorists? Well I've had the privilege of talking to him exclusively to find out.

He says his love of cars, and BMWs in particular, began as a child living near Frankfurt: 'In Germany my dad was an engineer. 

He was car mad. I grew up surrounded by sports cars. He loved doing rallies, though he inevitably lost.

'We had BMWs my whole life. As a kid there was a strong emotional connection. The sound of the BMW engine meant: 'Things are safe. Everything's fine. Mum and Dad are going to be home'.'

Maestro: BMW has recruited Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer (pictured) to sweeten the sounds of their new electric cars

Hans's memories show that the clunk of a car door closing, sounds like the ignition firing, and the throaty roar of a sports car's V8 all add to our connection to motor vehicles, whether we realise it or not.

And car-makers actually spend countless hours 'tuning' cars to make them sound just right.

They often enhance the sound with technology that boosts the natural noise of the engine through the exhaust system. 

Hans Zimmer's top soundtracks 

Zimmer wrote the score for the 2007 blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man's Chest starring Johnny Depp (pictured)

But sometimes they use digital dark arts and even loudspeakers to boost the sound inside the cabin.

But with the Government decreeing that sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be outlawed from 2030 a problem arises. For purely electric cars are almost zero-sound as well as being zero-emissions.

To ensure that vulnerable road users — pedestrians, cyclists, and visually impaired people — can hear and anticipate their approach they must make some noise. 

To this end, new laws have been brought in that require electric cars to emit artificial sounds. But what kind? 

The next BMW to feature the soundtrack treatment is the new BMW i4 Gran Coupe which will be available to buy before the end of the year

Snout: With its large exaggerated grille, the i4 goes into production this spring and will go head-to-head with the Tesla Model 3

Enter composer Zimmer who I phoned to ask how he is putting his movie skills to work on soundscapes for inside and outside cars.

He said: 'We have an extraordinary opportunity to turn electric driving in a BMW into a very special experience with the help of great sounds.'

Zimmer has a studio in Santa Monica, California, and is working closely with BMW sound engineer Renzo Vitale. 

Their first collaboration is for the new all-electric BMW iX3 SUV which hits UK showrooms in July and is priced from £58,850 for the Premier Edition, and £61,850 for the Premier Edition Pro. 

Their short sound composition — an invitation to drive — is heard when the driver presses the Start/Stop button.

The iX3 — which I have driven on UK roads — is a new fully electric version of the X3 compact SUV and the first BMW to be available as pure electric, plug-in hybrid and petrol and diesel. 

Winners and losers for cars holding their value 

Porsche had five models in the top ten for least depreciation including the Taycan (60.9 per cent), pictured

As sales show signs of a post-lockdown bounce-back, consumer magazine WhatCar? has charted the best and worst vehicles for keeping their value after three years.

Porsche had five models in the top ten for least depreciation, headed by the best-performing 718 Cayman 4.0 GT4 which kept 72.4 per cent, and including the Taycan (60.9 per cent), pictured.

The top ten also include the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid retaining 57.6 per cent of value and the all-electric Tesla Model 3 (58.2 per cent).

Other 'winners' are the Land Rover Defender 110 P300 S and the Range Rover Evoque P250 R-Dynamic S, both retaining 59.3 per cent of the original price.

By contrast, many vehicles retained less than a third of their value.

Worst performer was the Audi A8 55 TFSI Quattro Vorsprung retaining just 27.3 per cent of its value — a fall of £77,300 from its original £106,305 list price.

Other poor performers include the Fiat 500 Convertible 1.0 Pop (retaining just 29.2 per cent), Vauxhall Astra 1.5 Turbo D SRi Nav (33.4 per cent), and the BMW 2 Series Convertible M240i Nav auto (33.2 per cent).

It accelerates from rest to 62 mph in 6.8 seconds up to a top speed limited at 112 mph and has a range of up to 279 miles.

The vehicle will charge up to 80 per cent in 340 minutes or you can give a short, sharp 620 miles boost to the car's driving range with a swift 100 minute burst. Later models are expected to cost from about £45,000.

But this is just the start. The next to feature the soundtrack treatment is the new BMW i4 Gran Coupe which will be available to buy before the end of the year.

With its large exaggerated grille, the i4 goes into production this spring and will go head-to-head with the Tesla Model 3.

The electric motor drivetrain delivers 530 hp and promises acceleration from rest to 620 mph in just 40 seconds up to a top speed of 124mph with a range of 373 miles.

But while an electric car may have dramatic performance, the near silence of the electric drive can risk making the experience feel soulless.

To help counter this, Zimmer says the sound repertoire of the BMW i4 covers the variety of driving modes. 

Sport is a soft sound that rises to a crescendo. While the cruising mode is similar, but softer and more ethereal.

No haggling and vehicles delivered to the door 

Genesis is a new luxury Korean car-maker which was launched in the UK and Europe this week.

With a largely female team of personal assistants working from boutique-style showrooms — the first are in London, Munich and Zurich — it promises a stress-free sales experience for customers.

It will offer home or office delivery and collection as well as transparent pricing that means no haggling.

New Korean luxury brand Genesis will offer home or office delivery and collection as well as transparent pricing that means no haggling

Genesis said a large proportion of employees working in the showroom will be women recruited from service-oriented businesses outside of the motor industry, including high-end retailers such as jeweller Tiffany & Co and the luxury hospitality industry. 

Gemma Dixon, who previously worked for a cruise line and is based at the Genesis UK flagship store at Westfield, West London, said: 'Our role as Genesis personal assistants is to be available for the customer should they have any concerns, questions or queries, from the moment they step into the Studio right through to the purchasing process and beyond.'

Orders open in June for the G80 saloon, which is expected to cost from £40,000 and the GV80 SUV at around £50,000.

The G70 and GV70 models that will follow are expected to range from around £30,000 to £45,000 respectively. Three electric cars will arrive within the first year.

Set up five years ago, Genesis is the luxury vehicle division of South Korea's Hyundai Motor Group which includes both the Hyundai and Kia brands.

Acoustic accompaniments to a door opening or starting the electric car are also part of the vehicle's 'soundscape'.

He explains that the creative process starts by imagining someone getting into their car on a grey November day in Munich, then he works on a 'beautiful' sound to make their spirits feel more uplifted.

Does he think that there's any potential for wider personalisation with motorists commissioning their own off-the-shelf interior sounds as electric cars become increasingly popular and eventually the norm?

'That's what I'm hoping. It's a way you can totally personalise the car other than giving it a new spray paint. Just as the design team at BMW is creating a revolution, we can do the same with sound.'

Hans Zimmer's postponed 2021 live European tour includes gigs in London, Manchester and Dublin in late March 2022. Details at: hanszimmerlive.com

What other car makers are doing

rival manufacturers are also giving unique sounds to their electric models to make them audible and more desirable.

Audi has created a package of synthesised sounds to help enhance the driving experience of its sporty new electric e-tron GT electric grand tourer.

Audi has created a package of synthesised sounds to help enhance the driving experience of its sporty new electric e-tron GT electric grand tourer

Sound engineers used everything from electric drills and guitars to model helicopters to create the GT's soundtrack

Sound engineers used everything from electric drills and guitars to model helicopters to create the GT's soundtrack.

It costs from £79,900 — and goes up to nearly double that for the hottest 646 hp £133,105 RS version. 

Lotus is working with British music producer Patrick Jordan- Patrikios to develop a range of sounds for the firm's all-electric 200mph, £2m Evija hypercar (pictured) 

UK supercar maker Lotus is working with British music producer Patrick Jordan- Patrikios to develop a range of sounds for the firm's all-electric 200mph, £2 million Evija hypercar.

His challenge was to craft the Evija's external sound as it accelerates from 0 to 62mph in under three seconds up to 186mph in under nine seconds. 

He also developed chimes and tones for the indicators and seatbelt warning.

Hans Zimmer's 'Dunkirk' techniques influenced the sound of new BMWs

Oscar-winning Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer gave me a fascinating insight into his work and technique by comparing and contrasting how he approached the 2018 war movie 'Dunkirk' and the forthcoming new BMW i4 Gran Coupe.

Some have described him as a 'sound designer', especially after his work on the movie 'Dunkirk' but he said: 'I never worry too much about what title they give me.'

He did however confirm that he exploits a curious technique called 'the Shepard tone' (named after scientist Roger Shepard) which creates the auditory illusion of a tone that seems to continually ascend or descend in pitch, yet actually gets no higher or lower.

He laughed: 'That's just half of it. But I'm not telling you the other half. I have to hold back some secrets. It's quite mathematical. But I can't tell you everything. I have to keep some mystery.'

So for example, in 'Dunkirk', for which he wrote the score following close collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, Zimmer cunningly draws on Sir Edward Elgar's movingly patriotic 'Nimrod' (used every Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph) at an exceptionally slow pace (about 6 beats per minute) which then – over the course of the movie's 100 or so minutes - gradually increases in pace and 'constantly speeds up' to the point that you actually realise what it is. He includes a ticking clock to ratchet up the tension.

The aim in the movie is to make the audience aware that time is the real enemy, and that it is running out, as the tension increases, he explains.

But that's in sharp contrast to the thinking behind the 'soundtrack' for the forthcoming i4 Gran Coupe where the sound is more open ended.

He said: 'Here it's the sense of moving forward. It's trying to get somewhere. It's the idea that things can be infinite.

'You are moving forward, but you never get there. A good piece of music transports your endorphins.

 'It's the opposite to Dunkirk, where we could not move forward. The only thing that moved forward in Dunkirk was time.'

His work for BMW, collaborating with the car-maker's sound engineer Renzo Vitale, exploits such contrasts and tensions. 

He said: 'Renzo and I have a sense of aesthetic. We see and hear things straight away. That's what I do with movies.'

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