After composing the most spectacular soundtracks for Hollywood (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Interstellar, Dunkirk…) as well as the latest acoustic theme for Netflix, Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer is now turning his talents towards the automotive industry.
Renzo Vitale, BMW sound designer and engineer, has partnered with the famous composer to create sound signatures for the German manufacturer’s electric models. The BMW i4, i4M (sport version) and iX3 will all benefit from the IconicSounds Electric system, which will allow drivers to have a more immersive experience, but also let pedestrians hear the vehicles. Electric motors are a real problem for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists because they are completely silent, even when starting.
These sound signatures, which BMW calls “sound worlds”, can be heard when the doors are opened, when the car is started and while driving on the road. Each driving mode will produce a different sound: an “immersive and pleasant atmosphere” in Comfort mode, “more dominant and powerful” in Sport mode and total silence for Eco Pro mode.
It’s about connecting sound to an emotional experience. “We are at a moment in time, with electric cars, when we get to change the whole sonic landscape of everything in a vehicle,” Zimmer says. “We can allow the interiors of cars to set moods and give people an experience, to let people devise their own experience, not be forced into the rumbling of a petrol engine anymore.” The German composer added: “Think about your morning, where you have to go and start your car and go to your job. Wouldn’t it be nice if the starting sound was something beautiful, something that put a smile on your face, something that makes your day better?”
But doesn’t this project go against one of the fundamental promises of electric cars, the ability to drive in total silence? Hans Zimmer says that for many, silence can be unnerving, especially at high speeds. Indeed, the sensation of not hearing any noise when accelerating can be strange. When the composer created the music for the film Interstellar, he drew on this feeling to convey the awe of traveling in a spaceship. The blastoff is the loudest moment in the film, but the soundtrack then becomes very quiet. “That’s when everything was at astronomical speeds,” Zimmer says.
This collaboration between BMW and Hans Zimmer comes at the perfect time, because as of July 1, 2019, the European Union has made it mandatory for all new electric vehicle models to emit noise. Electric cars are particularly concerned because without sound, they could surprise cyclists and pedestrians, especially pedestrians who are visually impaired. Consequently, these vehicles must emit a noise that reaches at least 56 dB at 20 km/h. The volume must also be adjustable depending on whether the vehicle is accelerating or slowing down.
Right now, the “sound worlds” composed by Hans Zimmer for BMW exist as a concept, but they will be available as standard on the BMW iX and as an option on the BMW i4. For older electric models from the manufacturer, it will be possible to download them via a software update.