WORKING with huge acclaim in the shadowier textures of electronic music now for longer than we care to recall, Kevin Richard Martin – aka The Bug, King Midas Sound, Techno Animal – has composed a new score for Andrei Tarkovsky’s incredible 1972 sci-fi Solaris, which work will be released on Phantom Limb on June 25th.
Based these days in Belgium, Kevin was invited by the Vooruit Arts Centre in Ghent to compose a new score for a film of his choice last May; Solaris was, he says, a “natural choice”.
The resulting score, entitled Return To Solaris, mirrors the film’s intensity and psychological devastation. If you haven’t seen it, you so should – masterpiece is the watchword; in sketch, a psychologist is sent to a space station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane; but it investigates love, horror, sorrow, nostalgia, memory and dystopia on its way. Go watch. The original, of course. It’s one of those films that really transcends; pretty much does what 2001: A Space Odyssey is supposed to do.
Intense, compelling, bleak, dystopian; the rescoring of course working in atonality, weight, alienation, dissonance, distance, huge spatial arrangement; all in line with that which drew Solaris out of the hat as his immediate choice.
The original score came courtesy pioneering Soviet electronic composer Eduard Artemyev and is incredible in its own right, and also $$$ for any pressing on Discogs; “it was with a certain amount of trepidation I stepped into such large footprints,” says Kevin.
Tarkovsky’s Solaris won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and was screened for an incredible 15 years uninterrupted in the Soviet Union. It invariably places highly in greatest movies of all time lists. Steven Soderburgh directed a Hollywood remake in 2002, starring George Clooney.
Drawn to its “narrative struggle between organic, pastoral memories of a lost past, and the harsh, dystopian realities of a futuristic hell,” Kevin mined his collection for suitable equipment, favouring antiquated, hands-on hardware over computer-based production. He acquired an original Pulsar 23 drum machine, created by cult Russian synth-builders SOMA Laboratory; much of his new score is centred around its spectral sounds.
The project represents a whole clutch of firsts for Kevin: his first commissioned soundtrack; his first composition to picture; his first work in his new Belgian home after moving from Berlin; his first live performance to a film screening.
On completion, he performed Return to Solaris to picture over sold out two nights in October 2020, in the beautiful Voorhuit concert theatre in Gent, Belgium.
On completion, he performed Return To Solaris with the film in the Vooruit theatre over two sold-out, socially distanced nights last autumn. It was also his first public performance of the Covid era. The primarily arthouse and cineaste crowd, included many unaware of his existing profile, “which made the rapturous reception and incredible feedback to the performance all the more memorable,” he writes.
“Opening Credits (Theme For Kris)” (Kris Kelvin, the hero/protagonist of the film)- c’mon, where else is a score to start, chaps? – begins with a shimmering, alien tone, a muezzin call in the metallic register, ringing with an eerie hollowness and reminiscent of the telephone wire recordings of Alan Lamb; drone, but as about as far from the warmly amniotic as its possible to get. There is melody, long and deeply buried in the raw sound state. The frequencies are wide, spectral and full-bore unsettling.
“Solaris” – arrival in orbit – keeps that furious astral storm of drone and grain swirling past your portholes, obscuring everything else from view. Huge pillars of sound drop, partly rebound as outside the storm finally shifts its currents. “Concrete Tunnel” churrs with the grand and dread of that made by humans from steel and wire and weld, and which then operate in a soundscape and sonorousness almost too much to bear.
“Hari” is Kris’s dead wife back on Earth, who appears, is despatched into deep space, reappears, commits suicide, resurrects, eternally a shade companion; Kevin wrests her a theme of primal unease, almost tonally voiced as human, almost ambient, hellishly other in overtone and indefatigability. Sub-bass becomes discernible and does nothing to ease your mind as you’re drawn into refraction and echo.
“Together Again” again richochets and pulses through the namelessly vast corridors and fabric of the ship, small-i industrial whirrings, chirpings and oscillations the very stuff of the pulsing metallic life; there’s so much space in the interior, never mind outside, and Kevin allows some degree of melodic relief in a fractured techno chord interval, Berlin in decaying warp drive, a scant refuge from the roaring and echoing coming at you down those catwalks and in those holds.
“In Love With A Ghost” shivers in a corrupted chordal blur in the way Warp-era Seefeel did, shorn of the dub; rasps and reports of grinding melody come echoing down to you through an increasingly torsional inferno of sound, that intermittent two-note call just enough to cling to. There but for the grace.
“Weightlessness” is indeed suspended, calmer now, spinning gently and irreversibly on the starlight of that eight-note hook, four double beats, a focal point in the swooping solar radiation and ensuing, cacophonous metallic shudder.
“Resurrection” is thrummingly, ecstatically, terrifyingly transporting, in a Tim Hecker-meets-Bebe and Louis Barron kinda way. If you ever wondered how re-entry felt – into the mortal clay or into the merciless frictions of the upper atmospheres – I suggest this is it. Diminuendo seems to offer relief, but merely allows for a different textural cluster to make play with you merrily.
“Wife Or Mother” recalls the cyborg near-melody of a Stefan Betke’s ~Scape label release, massive, massive tones birthing equally massive textural fractals; there is humanity in here, albeit coming in shiversome cackle. It cycles on with an unerring machine pulsing; and pulls us with unerring gravity to the concluding “Rejection Of Earth”, an exercise in sonic capture and diminishment, crawling slowly out of non-existence into a primally rousing major-to-minor pulse, some otherly chorale of massed beings in two-chord song, shimmering and blinding. Continuing on from the concept we were toying with on “Resurrection”: if you ever imagined how the parting might sound, the finish, the end-beginning, the discorporation; I suggest it might be this.
Kevin Richard Martin’s Return To Solaris is a dark triumph; so far from music to help you rest easy, it draws that hallucinatory, sanity-testing, fugue-state of the film out in infinitesimally crushing, barely human sonics – and I think there’s the crux, there’s the tiniest ghosts of the human evident in the machine, permitting some immediate, subconscious empathy, or at least seeking thereof. It’s that makes for the distant specks of light and focus.
So removed from ambient easy listening, so very moving; if awesome, often discomfiting electronica soundscapes are your thing, really, look no further. Eerie; thrilling.
Kevin Richard Martin’s Return To Solaris will be released digitally and on strictly limited, gatefold sleeved 2xLP by Phantom Limb on June 25th; you can place your order at the label’s Bandcamp page, here.