One of the reasons “The Matrix” made such an impact in 1999, beyond Keanu Reeves dodging bullets and Carrie-Anne Moss freezing in midair, was the intoxicating musical score by Don Davis. Mixing a traditional orchestral score with eerie electronic flourishes that perfectly dramatized the movie’s rift between the simulation and real life, it was a composition unlike anything you’d heard before, nestled in a movie that was unlike anybody had ever seen before.
This is daunting, especially for the new composers assigned to tackle “The Matrix Resurrections.” The fourth film in the franchise, this time directed by a solo Lana Wachowski, enlisted Tom Tykwer and Johnny Klimek, longtime collaborators who have worked on Tykwer’s films as a director, usually with Reinhold Heil (everything from the pulsating “Run Lola Run” score to the sumptuously operatic “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”). Together, they composed the scores for “Cloud Atlas” (with the Wachowskis and Tykwer directing) and the Netflix original series “Sense8.” That’s when Tykwer became a part of “The Pit” – a storytelling collective that includes novelist David Mitchell and writer Aleksandar Hemon. And when The Pit reconvened for “Matrix Resurrections,” Tykwer was a sensible fit to tackle the “Matrix Resurrections” soundtrack.
TheWrap talked with Tykwer and Klimek (they were both in San Francisco getting ready for the premiere) about what it was like taking over from Davis, the philosophy of the Pit, and how their first collaboration with “The Matrix” was actually a dance song released under a pseudonym for “The Matrix Revolutions” soundtrack.
Lana Wachowski formed “The Pit,” a sort of hive mind that advised and wrote on the “Sense8” finale movie and now “The Matrix Resurrections.” As a member of the Pit, could you talk about what that means?
Tom Tykwer: Well, The Pit is really… I think the name is an invention of David, Sasha and Lana, who are, let’s say, the core of The Pit, or the birth givers to The Pit. I think it’s something that exists rarely, but it does exist, when writers and creative people come together in a place, and they start off with something. It’s a creative process that, in variations, many people probably do, but it’s more or less about the rules of the game. You go into the room and somebody offers the first idea, and people pick up the ball, and the general tendency is to make it blossom as much as it can, and to not interfere with any potential negativity. Meaning, don’t say, “Oh, that’s been made.” I’m even thinking about, we should have T-shirts. You never say, “No, but”, you always start your line with, “Yes and.”
And that is the golden rule of that room, “Ah, yes and”… somebody offers an idea, and you keep spinning the idea into something that you’re determined to be beautiful, because you trust each other that somebody who came in with something, had a good reason for it. And it’s crazy if you really follow that rule, how when gifted people come together, it can make shortcuts away from all these distractions we have with our preoccupations. The thoughts we have about potential audiences, all these things about that make us doubt. So, it’s brilliant. And of course, it’s also brilliant because it’s amazing people. We are a mini-Pit too.
You two are a mini-Pit?
Tom Tykwer: We are a mini-Pit, yes.
Talk about that.
Tom Tykwer: We juggle, we throw balls at each other all the time. We never say, “Ah, that’s crap.” We always say, “Hmm, maybe…”, and then you experiment, things have comebacks. Things that used to not feel right, suddenly become right again. It’s not helpful if you feel connected and if you have so much history like we do, that you stop being demagogic about anything.
Johnny, do you feel like that?
Johnny Klimek: I’m the absolute opposite. No, it’s the same. It’s a good sense of freedom in creativity. We never judge each other’s work or it’s just, here’s a handful of stuff, Tom will come in and just spit themes, ideas all over it. And then the fun part is just taking this and finding the gem. And often you find even just one sound that triggers the idea.
I was thinking of that the other day, even for “Babylon Berlin,” [track] “Air” is a good example. So, it’s such a unique original piece, and I prepped some weird thing and some weird loop. Tom hears it and puts this really weird piano line, and nothing was discussed. It just turned into a great piece. And that’s how we work with everything, and where some don’t work and some do. But we’re not precious in the beginning stage. It’s really the fun, creative part of being artists. Because then later, it gets really tedious. But it’s the time to really be creative without any thought process or any boundaries of how things should be.
Your gig was not guaranteed. The Wachowskis have worked with Michael Giacchino in the past and he’s done amazing work for them. And obviously, Don Davis could have come back. So, were you guys lobbying for the job? How did you get slotted in here?
Johnny Klimek: Well, I think it started from “Cloud Atlas,” right?
Tom Tykwer: It was a progression, yes. We’d met 20 years ago and became close friends with Lana, then Lana and Lily. Actually, based on the fact that we had seen each other’s films, “The Matrix” and “Run Lola Run,” which is also a film that Johnny, I and Reinhold then did together already, which those two films came out in the US, more or less simultaneously.
And it was one of those things where you feel on a really different scale. Two films that tried stuff that was unique and in particular in scoring. We said, we believe full on electronic music with some bits of orchestral elements can be amazing for an energetic score and in another way of construction, and then of course, there’s a lot of production terms. “The Matrix” did the same then. For me, it’s one of the great scores of those times. Orchestral scores combined with electronic songs, that also then sometimes took over the entire film. They were dominant in the film at times, and then it went back to orchestral. It seemed completely coherent.
So we felt like they’re siblings. So, we sent message messages to the agent and they did the same to us. We felt okay, we should meet. And then we met, and it was an immediate connection. Then we made a song just to do something together, because of course we’re always working all of us. How do we even meet and spend time together? So, we said that we need to probably just work together. So we made a song for “The Matrix Revolutions.” There’s a song in there, it’s our first hint in this direction.
Tom Tykwer: Yeah. It’s also on the album. It’s a dance scene in the movie, the club scene. But we made the club music.
Johnny Klimek: But we were called Pale 3 and the track was called, “In My Head.” We invented this name for our different releases. If we weren’t doing film scores or we did songs, we would say Pale 3, because you just sit in the studio and go pale, you don’t get out.
Tom Tykwer: It kept being a problem to really do something together, because we were very often busy with our stuff when they were doing something. I also don’t think we were capable of delivering such a crazy score and this quirky score, that for instance they have in “Speed Racer.” I don’t think we were the right people for it. Giacchino was amazing. He just came off from “The Incredibles,” he was obviously the right choice. But then we finally realized, okay, if we really want to spend substantial time with each other, we need to make a movie together, all together. Make the movie together, direct it together, write it together, spend time together, and make the music. So, that was “Cloud Atlas.”
“Cloud Atlas” really made us also develop a score in a way that we could show them what our procedure is, which is, I think slightly unique. I know that other people do it too, but it’s still, I think a minority, because I think our main aspect of developing music for a film is that we insist on developing it before the film is being shot. We believe this is the way to do it. Especially with films that have a particular language, and that have distinct voices. You want the music to be in the head of the filmmakers and maybe even sometimes of the actors while they jump into it. I think we want that intertwined system to be as close and put together as possible.
And Lana and Lily totally fell in love with this system and said, “Okay, we can’t go back. This is it.” Because you have a substantial prerecorded score with orchestra and all the elements you want to use electronically ready to go when the editors sit down, and they don’t cut any scene with any temp music. So there’s never temp music in the way, leading you maybe in the wrong direction just because it’s good but not yours. I’m so sure and so convinced that it makes it so much more cohesive.
Johnny Klimek: It offers a real collaboration with the filmmakers; the composer doesn’t come in just at the very end, and can be really part of the whole process. And with “The Matrix Resurrections,” we had three studios set up while they were editing. We moved it to the Canary Islands at one point, because of the pandemic, so we could keep doing the music in the Canary Islands at my place.
Tom Tykwer: Which is where Johnny lives.
Johnny Klimek: That’s where I live. So, we had five studios running, two for editorial, three studios for the music and we just went back and forth with each other constantly. So, Lana would just walk to the next room and say, “Can you help me with this scene?” and she’d sit with us and get very involved in the whole creative process of the music.
Tom Tykwer: A lot of time. Yes.
Johnny Klimek: And often cut the scene to the music, if it made it better. So, it’s just a very collaborative way of working. I’m so used to it now, I wonder what it would be like to have to go… I often get nervous, if I get a big Hollywood film, they want me to do the standard approach, like come in and write it all later. I wonder how I would handle that. These are the questions going in my head.
Can you talk about your approach to the score?
Tom Tykwer: When we start in this early stage, a major influence, apart from of course discussing with the director, with Lana, is the script, because that’s all we have. And of course we had some artwork that was starting to be done, but we basically started on the script. The script was for us so exciting, because… maybe even me more than Johnny. I have such respect and such admiration for the original “Matrix” score. I think Don Davis did an amazing work there. Then I remember also, when I saw the film the first time, a huge percentage of my being overwhelmed was the score. It was so much my cup of tea. And the energy of it, the obvious influence of minimal music, but combined with later American classical music.
And what was great for us and surprising too, and of course also relief, was that “Resurrections” is not at all just another sequel. It’s not like, “Okay, here’s the next one.” It’s a real reinvention particularly, in aesthetic terms. It’s a really different film, even though it completely is relating to its roots. It’s not like, “Okay, this is something really different.” You can’t really watch it without having seen the others. But in terms of the way it’s shot, in terms of the way it’s developed, in terms of the way it looks even, it’s a new universe.
And that is, I think, testament to the development of the artist behind it, and mostly Lana. She’s come from needing that exact storyboarding and reshooting a perfect storyboard, to improvising with actors, and really trying to look into their hearts, and having them open their hearts for you, and making films much more complicated emotionally, and letting go of the super controlling system of technology. And that is interesting, in particular for a film like “The Matrix 4,” because it’s all about technology, of course. So, it’s really cool the way we were invited to reinvent, let’s say, and pay tribute to the roots that we admire anyways, but develop them in a completely different direction. Which was very much influenced, of course, by our taste and ideas about electronic music, as much as the way we handle orchestras now. Which is of course also something that has developed over the time, since 20 years ago.
“The Matrix Resurrections” is in theaters and on HBO Max right now. You can listen to the score wherever you stream music.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.