SPACEMILLS OF YOUR MIND

It is late. The television is the only light in the room. You slouch, alone, on the couch. The movie you’ve been determinedly watching through to the endless final credits has been disappointing. What were people raving about?

Unfulfilled, you surf a few channels, hoping for…what? Something to prod you out of this torpor; a canvas swathed in 60s technicolour, perhaps, or an unfamiliar rock movie full of snotty energy.

One late evening in the late 70s, I stumbled across some stark film credits, white rolling across black, in Russian. Wondering whether this was the beginning or the end, I hesitated on the channel tumbler. It was clearly a sign, but of what?

Subtitles informed me that it was Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. That didn’t mean a damn thing to me, but the music did. Church organ, magisterial, haunting, like a Bach meditation. I stayed. The screen changed colour with a lingering shot of deep green river reeds performing an undulating dance in a muttering stream; I stayed. Next to the entangling water stands a middle-aged man wearing a vivid blue leather jacket. He looks pensive, both curious and resigned. A little sad. The camera, stationary, pans to follow his ambling path through green woodlands to a mist-shrouded lake. On the other side is a house…

solaris-posters

Film poster photo courtesy of MUBI *

Tarkovsky’s mysterious film about humanity and loss is considered a classic, perhaps even an Eastern 2001: A Space Odyssey. So much so that Steven Soderbergh re-made Solaris with George Clooney in the lead role of the psychologist sent to investigate strange happenings on a space station orbiting a distant planet. But the 2002 re-boot is not of interest here, it is the hypnotic 1972 original that stayed with me across so many years. So much so, that when I happened across a re-issue of the original soundtrack late last year, I bought it on impulse. No doubt the beautiful packaging played a part—a still from the film pasted into an embossed ‘frame’ within the 12” album border—and certainly the information on the back cover (reproduced here in its entirety):

Eduard Artemiev, composer

Music and noise recorded on the photoelectron synthesiser ANS

Bach and electronics. Good enough for me.

Tarkovsky's Solaris

As I reflect on the film and its music, I find it difficult to separate the two. The windmills of your mind have migrated to a slowly orbiting space station. Visitors from the swirling psychedelic lava of the planet below drift through the white corridors and infiltrate memories. The placement of the Bach chorale prelude “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ) indicates Tarkovsky’s beliefs, but also provides an organic connection (pun intended, I’m afraid) to Earth. Where it appears, in linear time or memory, there is a terrestrial link. Elsewhere, it is the metallic, technological murmurings of Artemiev’s synthesiser that punctuate the (often long) silences. The theme of presence and absence is central. Film scholars have doubtless written theses on how George Berkeley’s philosophical idea that things cease to exist when they stop being observed manifests in Solaris, just as psych honours students could have a field day with the exploration of memory versus ‘reality’. But I’ll stay away from such discourse partially because this is an article on the film soundtrack but mainly because I’m not clever enough.

Solaris vinyl Back cover

The 2013 re-issue by Superior Viaduct has, in addition to the beautiful front cover, another intriguing feature. Inside is an eight-page booklet of the same dimensions as the photo on the front. If you were of a destructive bent you could cut up the booklet and rotate the stills through the cover frame. But for those disinclined to vandalise the artwork, the Californian record company has temptingly provided three versions of the LP using a selection from the eight in the booklet. (Well, Discogs says three, and I’m not going to argue). So lots of pocket money to invest for completists.

Solaris booklet

Who would enjoy this album? Certainly any fan of the film will be drawn into its surreal orbit by the ghostly sounds created by Eduard Artemiev. Would anyone else? I think so, as this 1972 creation has a transporting potency all its own. The work might be defined thus: A Minimalist Ambient Industrial Electronic Soundscape. Navigate this pentagram and its intersections with the Bach organ work and you’ll find, paradoxically, that the cold enigma of the non-music connects you to your own humanity. And that can’t be a bad thing.

solaris album meadow

*  Film poster photo courtesy of MUBI. Link below.

Adrian Curry: Movie Poster of the Week: “Ivan’s Childhood” and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky

The posters are (clockwise from top left) “the Polish (by Andrzej Bertrandt), Italian (by Renato Casaro), Czech and French designs.”

*cropped-img_11411.jpg

1 – 14 NOVEMBER

Program updated daily

25 comments

  1. Nice review Bruce – I aspire to one day record an album that could be classified as a Post-Minimalist Ambient Industrial Electronic Soundscape!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On FB, someone described it as ‘dark ambient’ which is much more economical than my category! It’s interesting though, whatever the label!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yet to see Solaris, but Stalker has always been a firm favourite. Must check out that soundtrack. Extraordinary filmmaker

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Watching Solaris again recently certainly made me want to sample more Tarkovsky. I know ‘Stalker’ is rated highly.

      Like

  3. Great post, Bruce; this sounds really pretty special. Would you believe that I’ve never seen Solaris! I really should fix that… and get to listening to this soundtrack!

    Like

    1. Thanks J. Someone called this music ‘dark ambient’ and I think that works.
      Choose the film when you are in the mood for a v e r y slow unfolding…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll add it to the Discogs list… I definitely get the impression I’ll dig this…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Masterfully written, and a brilliant start to this series! Well done, Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot Aaron.

      Like

  5. I have seen the sequel, but not the original. I think I would possibly prefer the soundtrack to the movie. Bach may be the great, great, great grandfather of heavy metal so his music is timeless to me.

    P.S. I assumed the artwork above could turn into an optical illusion if I stared at it long enough, and after a short time, 2 circles appeared.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Er, what kind of tea are you consuming?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello. Hello. Hello. Is there anybody in there?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Just shout if you can hear me.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Intrigued, I tried the technique for three d puzzles on the circle (ie focal point beyond the object) and very easily got the two circle effect.
        Interesting film and review.
        Thanks Bruce.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I never really cracked those 3-D poster things. Always worried the wind would change and my eyes would be stuck in the middle distance.
          It’s an intriguing film, DD.

          Like

  6. Enjoyed this, I picked this LP up last year too.

    There’s a very interesting culturally enlightening post to be had in comparing this ST, with the Cliff Martinez one for the remake of the film. Old vs new, US vs Russian etc

    I prefer the Tartovsky version of the film and the Martinez ST.

    Interesting out of all of Lem’s books this is the one that got filmed, twice, it’s my least favourite of them. But that’s just me being contrary, possibly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ms Connection and I watched the Soderbergh version on the weekend. She liked it a lot and I quite liked it. Did notice the s/t and was impressed. One to seek out, perhaps.

      I’ve never read any Stanislaw Lem. What would you recommend?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a very good film, I think I saw the other one at an age where it made a big impression on me.

        As for Lem, The Futurological Congress is my fave – a really great, funny book.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No sooner advised than ordered. Gee I love Book Depository!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. […] from whom nothing has been heard in a worryingly long time. (Note the similarity of plot line with Solaris). Even as they enter orbit, Doctor Morbius (Pidgeon) warns off the visitors, saying that they are […]

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  8. Reading the first 50 pages of ‘Solaris’ in 2014 was one of the most wonderfully discomfiting book experiences I think I’ve ever had. Lem’s ability to engender a foreboding feeling of uncertain reality was awesome. The tension eventually gave way to what I experienced as an essay in novel form questioning man’s ability to ever truly understand the fullness of the vast universe we inhabit. I still find myself contemplating (my take on) the book’s message regularly.

    I had previously seen the 2002 love-story-in-space version and liked it, but had forgotten most of its details in short order. I found it entertaining but fleetingly so. A second viewing after the book proved more rewarding as some of the book’s depth seeped into what I saw on the screen. Soderbergh did a great job of ratcheting up the crazy and the suspense, but gutted the human introspection.

    Last year I sought out and watched the ’72 film after it came up at 1537. Its treatment of memory and how we humans experience, know, and love each other was a real mind bender. I loved it. I obviously heard the soundtrack while watching, although not really consciously. I’m now curious how much it contributed to my being so pleasantly engulfed in the film’s explorations.

    What really gets me is how there can be three independently enjoyable versions of the same basic story that so vastly differ in theme.

    The real point is that I really liked this post today (just as I have each of the multitude of times I have read it over the last two months). I apologize profusely for my tendency to hijack your comments area for long-winded blathering.

    Like

  9. Ah, that 1537. He infiltrates our reading, listening and watching. Probably some clever Welsh mind-control tricks. Or he’s added psychem to our water.

    Having read your rich response, I find myself wanting to read Lem’s original novel. Did it have the spiritual component, I wonder?

    Like you, I’m fascinated by the view looking through three different windows (even though I only have glass in two). And deeply appreciate you contribution to the slow digestion of art and ideas. I know that if Solaris is chess, this blog is Chinese checkers, but I cannot help but be moved by being part of a dialogue (either internal or, as above, externalised) that connects to creativity and humanity in any way, no matter how slight. Apology, therefore, not accepted. Profuse gratitude is offered instead.

    Like

  10. That’s a great piece. When you bite into something you take a big chunk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a big chunk of movie, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It was Bach yeah – Artemyev reworked him

    Liked by 1 person

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