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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Solaris Soundtrack

Not to be confused with a version of the Unix operating system by Sun Microsystems with the same name, Solaris is an award winning classic Russian science fiction film released in 1972 by Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986). It is based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, a popular Polish science fiction writer. Like many film directors, Tarkovsky got into stage directing opera. In 1983 he directed Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House in London with musical direction by Claudio Abbado.

I rented Solaris from NetFlix and viewed the it for the first time last evening.

As you can imagine, I scrutinize the soundtrack of movies very closely, and this one by Eduard Artemyev is rather good. The long movie (169 minutes) progresses slowly and is sparsely scored, but his thoughtful music and an ambient electronic soundscape appear at key locations throughout the film.

The composer and director selected a chorale prelude for organ by J.S. Bach -"Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" (BWV 639) - as a musical reference point to symbolize Earth (Director Tarkovsky was a fan of Bach). In contrast Artemyev composed pure abstract electronic themes for the planet Solaris. The two sound worlds stand in direct opposition.

The Bach chorale prelude appears four times throughout the film, usually at points of intense emotion. The musical iteration that caught my attention was in the penultimate scene in the film where Artemyev composed additional music on top of Bach's work. Leaving the Bach as the base, he added additional instruments into the mix.

The sound quality of the following clip on YouTube is not the best, but you can hear a female voice, vibraphone, and finally strings that double with (and suspend over time) the original pitches of the chorale. It has an ethereal quality, and results in interesting sustained harmonies and thicker textures than you would normally hear in Bach. The Bach-Artemyev collaboration in the YouTube except lasts for only two minutes before Artemyev's Solaris electronic sound world emerges to end the film.