German-born, Los Angeles-based composer Ramin Djawadi has been mapping a wide-ranging musical topography almost since birth—learning to play piano by ear at four, studying classical arrangements, bending guitar strings and tones in a band, immersing himself in Middle Eastern instrumentals, completing foundational studies at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, before taking a transatlantic leap and apprenticing under Hans Zimmer.
This led to many collaborations and eventually breakthrough works for Blade: Trinity and the first Iron Man film. So, when HBO and Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss approached him about scoring the show, which debuted in 2011 and has completed six seasons, Djawadi drew on boundary-free creativity to journey across fantastical lands and commanding personalities through musical blends.
Taking advantage of the tracking rooms and custom sound library at Remote Control Productions, Hans Zimmer’s Santa Monica-based post-production facility where he maintains his studio, Djawadi adds new language to the show’s musical vocabulary of conspiring melodies, haunted keys, and unpredictable sonic impact. Whether recording stringed instruments or keys, comping prepared piano, musical antiquities and sound effects, or writing for small ensembles and full orchestra, Djawadi doesn’t worry about drawing on any singular period or place so much as enhancing sweeping tension throughout the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
In 2016 new Djawadi works could be heard not just in Game of Thrones, but also in the Warcraft movie, as well as HBO’s Westworld series. In February 2017, however, Djawadi is set to return to the lands of ice and fire as he explores a new kingdom—arenas—while leading the Live Nation and HBO Global Licensing-produced Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience.
He took a few minutes to talk about his personal story arc, technological shifts and influential alliances, and the interaction and adaptation of instrumentation and visuals.
Tell me about the musical experiences that built the foundations for your work as a composer.
I always wanted to be someone who could write music for film, and I think that having a background in different music and styles helped. Growing up in Germany I had a lot of classical [Romantic] music around me, then I heard Metallica as a teenager. And I studied jazz at Berklee, so those influences all set me up as a film composer needing to write for different dynamics. And I’m half German and half Middle Eastern, so there is the influence of the [Iranian] music my dad listened to, as well.