Skydiver and composer Kim Planert’s new album soars
“Is this as good as it gets, chasing life, escaping death?”
The album is so sweeping, so soaring, so beautiful, that the punch of the lyrics can sneak up on you. Like when you’re on a skydive, concentrating hard to execute the dive plan, and suddenly you see—really see—the earth below you and the sky around you. Time stops, or your heart does… for a second, for a beat. It takes your breath away.
The album is Kim Planert’s Skylight: Notes from a Logbook, featuring the Budapest Scoring Orchestra and artists like Lisbeth Scott (Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia), Waterson (UK dance charts), Keeley Bumford (Assassin’s Creed, Dresage), Kelci Hahn (soprano, LA Master Choral), and William Close (Earth Harp). Created at the intersection of Kim’s love for writing music and his love for skydiving, Skylight was a long time in the making—years of work, sacrifice, tears, laughter, learning, even blood, distilled into these notes, these words, this music.
It’s one of those tangled origin stories; without the sky, there wouldn’t be the music. But the music came first.
Kim was born in Germany. At 12 he persuaded his parents to let him buy a drum kit. More than 10 years of drum lessons followed, along with playing in a big band, an orchestra, and a Van Halen/Toto cover band. He dreamed of becoming a professional drummer but was turned down by four universities. Believing their verdict, that he didn’t have what it took to be a professional musician, he became a sound engineer. But he couldn’t seem to let go of the idea of making music himself.
“After the day shift, I used to stay on in the studio to write my music,” Kim says. “Once when I was sitting with Craig [Armstrong] in his studio at the piano, he said, ‘Your limitations create your sound.’ Life is full of paradoxes! Some things we are told and believe are the exact opposite of what they actually are.”
While working in Scotland and kicking around the idea of becoming a composer, Kim made his first skydive. “After my first jump I wrote the song ‘Never.’ I actually thought for a while that I had beaten fear for good. I felt invincible, riding on the skydiver high. I learned over time that the fear doesn’t go away at all. The fear stayed around, taking different forms, the same way that every day is a new start filled with possibility and the challenge to not let fear stop us from using our full potential.”
Whether the draw was feeling fear or beating fear, Kim was hooked. “[One] reason why jumping attracted me and felt familiar,” says Kim, “was my time during the Bosnian War taking part in four humanitarian aid tours. The echo of that experience led me to jumping. The feeling of putting on the bulletproof vest is the same as putting the rig on. Relationships build faster when lives are on the line. Trusting somebody you don’t know is rarely practiced off the drop zone. In war and extreme sports life is simplified to black or white, live or die; normal life is way more complex.”
Soon, skydiving intersected with music again. On his first skydiving trip to the U.S., in Charlotte, North Carolina, Kim saw a production company sign saying ‘Film Foundry.’ “In a sweaty tank top, carrying my demo CD, with a post-jump smile on my face, I marched into the production company offices. I got to speak to the No. 2 in command. Two weeks passed, and back in Scotland I was surprised when they asked me to pitch [to compose the score] for their $10 million movie. I got second in the race to get the job. At the time I didn’t have any scoring credits, but this made me realize that I needed to go to the U.S. to get my music heard.”
Cut a few years and 270 belly jumps later, Kim was in SoCal writing music for TV and learning to wingsuit. “Eight seasons of scoring TV shows and movies followed, and I was making a living from writing music. The impossible had come true. Jump and the net will appear!”
It was the dream, and it wasn’t the dream. The demanding schedule of writing TV music meant that skydiving had to come second. And though Kim was building a solid career, he was primarily writing as an additional music composer. “As an additional music writer, one is even further removed from the audience and at danger of getting lost in obscurity,” Kim says.
Then, in 2015, he broke his leg (tib/fib) at a boogie in Panama when he hit a wooden structure on the beach on landing. “My accident was followed by two surgeries, a very painful time of recovery and reflection, out of which evolved these 10 tracks,” says Kim. “The album describes the beauty and the inevitable pain of skydiving, the risk, the possible price for a moment of peace that seems to light up our lives and makes us feel like superheroes for a moment. It doesn’t try to give answers. It’s a love letter to the sport … but the sport doesn’t get away unquestioned.”
The recovery was worse than the accident. Kim originally told himself he’d be back in the sky within three months. Three months came and went, and he was still grounded. He couldn’t fly, but (once he battled through the pain meds) he had the music.
During his recovery, he crossed paths with Jen, a former ballet dancer who had to reinvent herself because of injuries. They have been together for three years now, and she was instrumental in encouraging him to finish Skylight. As Kim looked skyward from the ground, he found himself pulled to finish the project he had started—and to put into music everything he wasn’t able to express through flying.
As he wrote, the energies of music and skydiving continued to swirl around each other. “An orchestra session is like a big-way,” Kim says, “with forty-plus people playing to a dive plan written down in notes being performed for the first time. These musicians have practiced their entire lives for this moment and somehow are in tune with each other making micromovements on the fingerboard. Especially interesting is to challenge them to play notes that are at the brink of playability, when it could all fall apart at any moment, like the fast violin section runs in ‘Skydance,’ representing two wingsuiters—inspired by acro team Elsinore Bad Wings [Joel Hindman, Val Sobol and Tom Van Djick]—flying around one another. There is a tension that’s palpable that can only be created with real musicians.”
Other tracks on the album were inspired by specific skydives, including “Glow,” based off an early-morning balloon jump; “Believe” about wingsuiting over Burning Man, and “Ignite;” inspired by a night wingsuit jump. “BSBD” is dedicated to those we’ve lost. In every way, the album is a true labor of love.
While for-profit videos would need to license Kim’s music normally, Kim hopes skydivers will use his songs for personal use on their own videos.*
“I hope jumpers will find themselves somewhere between the notes,” says Kim. “Skylight is an homage to the sport and those who have fallen. The tracks are also my gift to the community to be used on their skydiving videos. There seems to be a shortage of good music that has a deeper connection to the experience, from Hollywood movies to weekend jump vids. Partially and rightfully so, caused by copyright rules. But also, mostly written by artists who have never experienced a jump. Sometimes it’s picked because it makes us look cool but is lacking the spiritual experience, which I tried to describe in my music and which really is at the heart of jumping. The feedback from skydivers so far has been very positive. Please all let me know if I managed to capture the experience!”
Kim has composed music for more than 230 episodes of prime-time television shows including Castle, Missing and others, along with scoring several feature films. He is leaving open the question if he’ll ever jump again.
“Since getting my wings trimmed I have learned to be more grateful for a pain-free moment, for the ability to go for a run and looking at the sky from below,” says Kim. “We are all looking to experience this moment of peace and focus where nothing else exists. I reach it sometimes when I write music. I’ve experienced it mountaineering, and in a 54-mile race in the Scottish Highlands. Skydiving is a really fast and maybe lazy way to get into the ‘zone.’ A $20-something dollar jump ticket, a short flight up to altitude, and boom! For the moment, I am trying other ways to get to the same place. Yoga got me back to a basic level of fitness. It’s hard to sit with yourself, takes patience and, above all, practices accepting the imperfect self. But no day passes without me subconsciously spreading my wings, tucking my shoulder to initiate a barrel roll and occasional shouting at planes that pass overhead: ‘Juuummp!’
“I remember a sunset solo jump with a thick cloud layer right at the edge of the DZ. As I fell past the clouds’ edge, the skylight shone through like drapes. It was so beautiful that I sucked it quite low (for my standards) to make the moment last. Those are the jumps I remember most, where time slowed down, where I found pure awe at the beauty of being alive in this world. That’s the paradox of skydiving: finding life 10 seconds from impact.
“One prerequisite to ever jumping again is that I am sure that life is enough on the ground. Then I will be free to do it for the right reason, the pure joy of flying—and for that, it’s worth the risk!”
Skylight is available on all major music streaming and purchasing platforms.
*From Kim: “There will be no copyright strikes or take down notices for skydivers using the music non-commercially.”
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