The Organ of Interstellar and the Temple Church in London

Interstellar is one of my favorite movies of all time and the soundtrack to the movie, which is composed by Hans Zimmer, is simply jaw dropping. The strong organ presence in the soundtrack also really draw me to the music because I first learned to play the organ as a young child before later moving on to play piano and keyboards. So what's the story behind the Interstellar Organ? What organ was used and why did Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (the director) end up choosing the organ as such a central instrument? Like everyone else today I did a bit of searching on the internet. Turns out the decision to use a pipe organ as a central instrument in the score was first brought up by Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer quickly jumped on the idea and the rest was history.

So why was specifically was the 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ in the Temple Church in London chosen? I couldn't find the answer to why that specific organ was chosen but I suspect it was for the amazing acoustics in the Temple church along with the relative notoriety of the Harrison & Harrison organ in the church. Keyboard Magazine published an interview that was done with Hans Zimmer and Hans had this to say about recording the organ in the Temple church for the movie soundtrack:

"Abbey Road Mobile set up a remote studio in one of the side rooms of the church. It wasn’t just the organ; we had the orchestra in there as well. So we had an enormous amount of microphones placed all throughout that church. But I think the main mics really were a few Neumanns, about 20 feet away. More were about 40 feet away from the main pipes."

"It was great being able to really use the space. Because an organ doesn’t exist outside its acoustic space, so you have to find the right space. The great thing about Temple Church is, it’s in the center of London but it’s completely isolated. There are just the law courts all around it, and it’s basically a pedestrian zone, so there’s no traffic noise."

The reason an organ in general was chosen was because of the scientific significance of the instrument (after all Interstellar was all about the science). A quote from an article in title "Why Interstellar's Organ Needs to Be So Loud" in the Atlantic I think says it all:

"As Zimmer recently told the Film Music Society, the organ was chosen for its significance to science: From the 17th century to the time of the telephone exchange, the pipe organ was known as the most complex man-made device ever invented. Its physical appearance reminded him of space ship afterburners. And the airiness of the sound slipping through pipes replicates the experience of suited astronauts, where every breath is precious (a usual preoccupation with sci-fi movies that is taken very literally in Zimmer’s music, which also features the exhalations of his human choir)."

I could go on and on about the details of how the soundtrack was made, but this short video does a great job of explaining it:

But this article isn't just meant to be about the background behind the Interstellar soundtrack. No, I wanted to share with you what it was like to actually experience being inside the Temple Church in London and hearing first-hand what the acoustics are like in this small but impressive and quite old church. In the past year I have had two business trips to London. When I went to London last year I only had about 3 or 4 hours of free time in London and I didn't make it to see the Temple Church. Turns out this was a good thing, because when I went back to London this summer we ended up spending about half a day at the Temple Church and its surrounding grounds (which are quite extensive and beautiful). Below are several pictures I took of the exterior of the Temple Church, the Temple Church grounds, the organ of Interstellar itself and the surrounding interior of the church:

Now its time for the real content. I want to share with you a short piece of audio I took with the built-in mic on my iPhone. While we were visiting the Temple Church there was a small acapella men's group practicing. Honestly, the visit to the Temple Church would not have been complete without this amazing audio demostration. Granted it would have been even better to have heard the organ being played, but then again maybe not. You expect room filling sound with an organ but the way this small group of human voices filled the volume of the church was simply amazing. I chose to use this short clip as my video for one reason...the singers stop to correct a mistake. Honestly, if they had not have stopped you could have easily assumed I simply subbed over a silent video with CD quality singing. So plug in some headphones, close your eyes and imagine you are standing in the middle of the Temple Church listening to this small group of singers.

Its one thing to watch the Interstellar movie or listen to the soundtrack, but its quite another to witness first hand the acoustics of the Temple Church. After being there in person I no longer have to question why this organ and this church were chosen to be part of the soundtrack for the movie. If you ever go to London, take some time to stop by this beautiful church and see and listen for yourself!

iTunes Sale: Interstellar

My new all time favorite movie, Interstellar, is on-sale for a limited time on iTunes. Yes, Interstellar has replaced Gattaca as my favorite movie of all time.

If you haven't yet seen this movie or have and just haven't got around to puchasing it yet now is the time. Head over to iTunes and buy Interstellar while it's still on sale!

Beyond The World of Interstellar

I was very sad the night I went to see the latest Hobbit movie ("Battle of the Five Armies") back in early December and I realized that they had moved Interstellar out of the IMAX theater. That meant I had seen Interstellar in IMAX for the last time. So needless to say, I didn't get to see Interstellar in the theater as many times I would have liked. Then I heard about the one night event coming up this Tuesday April 7th:

Beyond the World of Interstellar:

Director Christopher Nolan's critically-acclaimed masterpiece starring Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine and Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain returns to theaters with exclusive bonus footage including red carpet interviews from the gala screening of "Interstellar" at the Royal Albert Hall in London; plus footage of Christopher Nolan, world-renowned physicist Kip Thorne and composer Hans Zimmer discussing the art, science and music behind the film at the "Interstellar Live" event in London. In addition, behind-the-scenes footage from the film's Blu-ray release will also be shown.

I was telling my youngest while watching Interstellar at home that the opening sequence just wasn't the same without getting your butt shaken by the IMAX theater. We all know what we are doing this coming Tuesday night!

You can find theaters that are participating in this event and event buy tickets at Fathom Events.

The original story can be found at

Review: Interstellar

NO SPOILERS...I promise.

I just saw Interstellar last night, for the 2nd time. Yes, it's that good. When I first learned about this movie I couldn't wait for it to come out. I set my expectations for it so high and I knew that was going to lead to disappointment. I was wrong...The 1st time I went it was just my wife and I. Last night I took my two older kids (12 & 16). My youngest is 9 and while there isn't anything really objectionable in it for a 9 year-old, the movie is just long enough and emotionally driven enough that it might not have been that enjoyable for her. Needless to say, my two older kids loved it as well.

I can't really give much of a review about this movie without giving away major plot points. What I can say is that this is now my new favorite movie. This website is named after what used to be my favorite movie, Gattaca. Why is this my new favorite movie?

  • Absolutely NAILS what it means to explore
  • Doesn't sacrifice the human connection for the safe of sci-fi
  • Takes just enough liberties with known scientific principle to make you question what we REALLY know about our universe (which is not that much)
  • Makes you feel

The last point is what I think makes this movie so special. Maybe it's the father in me or maybe it's just the space geek but this movie really struck a chord with me. I can't remember the last time I was this emotionally connected to a plot in a movie. Christopher Nolan takes you on an emotional, visual (and thanks to Hans Zimmer) and an audio roller-coaster. On that last point, the movie soundtrack is not to be missed. I've been spending WAY too much time wrapping up my final project for the Systems Engineering class I am taking this semester and the Interstellar soundtrack has been playing on an endless loop while I work.

If you are into sci-fi then this is a must-see. Even if you aren't a sci-fi geek, there is enough of a "human story" to hook even those people who could care less about sci-fi.

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