The sound of Soviet Science Fiction

July 26, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized 

Highway scene from Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972)

Here’s a nice and inspiring article focusing on the vintage sci-fi music scene:

Eduard Artemiev first met Andrei Tarkovsky at a house party thrown by the painter, Mikhail Romadin, in the spring of 1970. The conversation somehow turned to the subject of electronic music and, to Artemiev’s surprise, the director soon invited himself to the electronic music studio in Moscow where the composer worked, keen to see the working methods behind the ANS synthesizer that was housed there.

Artemiev had been one of the first composers to work with the ANS, after its inventor, Yevgeny Murzin, posted a note up at the Moscow Conservatoire where Artemiev was a student, looking for composers interested in electronic music. This machine, the first Russian synthesizer, operated using a unique system of drawn sound synthesis. The composer would paint on a sheet of glass which was scanned by the synthesizer, becoming a kind of graphic score, allowing the composer to work like a painter, tinting and shading, forming textures and tone colours directly. Due to the similarities such a method conjured up with the colouristic music of Murzin’s idol, the Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, the device was named after his initials.

Tarkovsky was evidently impressed with what he saw at Artemiev’s studio for he soon asked him to compose all the music for a new science fiction film he was working on with Romadin, Solaris, having recently fallen out with regular musical collaborator, Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov. Tarkovsky gave Artemiev a completely free hand on Solaris, insisting on just one stipulation: that the film must include JS Bach’s Choral Prelude in F-minor, ‘Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesus Christ’.

Though the soundtrack to Solaris uses both orchestral and electronic textures (from the ANS), Artemiev has said in interviews that in terms of its treatment, the orchestra “functioned like one giant synthesizer.” From the composer’s notes written before he started work on the film, we can see that he delineated five general areas: landscapes; personal sound perceptions; various transformations and distortions of the Bach theme; recollections of the Earth; and the sounds of the living ocean, Solaris, itself. Of this final category, Artemiev remarked, “It is, obviously, composed of the sounds of terrestrial life as if processed by the Ocean. . . The characters of the film hear (or are trying to hear) sounds either similar to terrestrial ones, or sounds which are kind of little cells or islands remaining from the Earth which they manage to identity out of the mass of strange and yet incomprehensible noises.”

As Tatiana Yegorova notes in her study of Artemiev’s “musical universe” (1), there is something strangely homely about the space station upon which much of the film is set, and Tarkovsky and art director Mikhail Romadin at one point considered basing the design for the interiors on that of an ordinary Moscow apartment. Artemiev’s score thus becomes one of the sole sources of the sense of the alien and exotic in the film. Characteristically, though, some of the most alarming music is reserved for a scene set on earth, as Henri Berton (played by Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) drives through a tagliatelli of motorway underpasses and flyovers (shot in Osaka and Tokyo). Here, the ‘natural’ sounds of the road and passing cars are swollen with feedback echoes and combined with coruscating electronic textures to create a maelstrom of sound, as if we were experiencing the Earth through the eyes – or rather ears – of the Solaris ocean itself. This scene exemplifies perfectly the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky’s notion of ‘otstranenie‘ – the experience of one’s own everyday lifeworld as observed by an alien being.

Read the full article by Rober Barry here >>


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