WE LAST encountered that Stockholm-based talent Shida Shahabi in these pages just over a year ago, when she released the soundtrack EP for Jennifer Rainsford’s subtle sci-fi short Lake On Fire; and rather a lovely thing it proved, seeing Shida step away from the piano with which she recorded her 130701 debut Shifts in favour of organ, synth and subtle electronics (read our review of that EP here).
Some thirteen months on she returns with another lovely, brief missive from the shores of the soundtrack, this time for Swedish director Maria Eriksson-Hecht’s 20-minute short, Alvaret.
Alvaret packs an awful lot of punch into its short arc. It documents the aftermath of a family tragedy and a young girl’s determination to hold her remaining family together. It’s sparse in terms of dialogue; yet large on emotional honesty and integrity, showing rather than telling.
Shida’s task is to complement the plot and the immersive, flat landscape which bears mute witness to events; and as with the storytelling, retreats from over-sentimentality into a more detached, closely observant evocation.
In order to achieve this Shida stepped away from the keyboards once more, employing electric bass and synths for starker, more ethereal tones alongside cellist collaborator Linnea Olsson, who also works on a regular basis with Ane Brun.
If Shida is new to your world, it’s as well to offer a little a sketch. She was born in Stockholm 32 years ago to parents who had fled war in the Gulf; she’s studied piano since she was 9, and began to pick up classical pieces by ear rather than learning them from sheet music.
Aside from being steeped in the classical tradition, she also grew up with 90s’ Persian pop, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, The Cure and Yo La Tengo, leaving her with an open ear for the possibilities within musics.
She says: “I don’t know if the music is necessarily an influence for me, maybe some way unconsciously. But I get more inspired by a band’s or an artist’s artistic practice and learning how they work.
“It’s been inspiring to find curious composers who can write film scores or collaborate with other art forms whilst musically trying out material in very different constellations and other genres.”
She’s worked on short film commissions before; she played piano on and help arrange the score for Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s animation The Burden in 2017 – a film that played to warm reception at Sundance and Cannes; she also played on the soundtrack for Maria Eriksson’s Schoolyard Blues that year.
Talking of this latest soundtrack work, she says: “I’ve worked from home just like everybody else during the pandemic, so my studio set up was quite minimal with a couple of analog synths, an electric bass and several FaceTime recording sessions with Linnea Olsson on cello.
“I knew that the soundtrack needed an earthy yet big feeling, and that it was important to create a sound that also described care, grief but also an emotional complexity of the relationship between the daughter Alice [and] her father.”
Outside of the world of film scoring, Shida recently released “Cloud No.26”, a reworking of Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 26 in E Flat major, Op. 81a”, following an invitation from Deezer for is Beethoven Recomposed project on the 250th anniversary of his birth. She’s also working on her next full album and a feature-length score.
Five tracks in all comprise the EP, all with titles falling in line with simple, observational aesthetic: “Dog Walk”, “The Place”, “Low Land” &c. Although therefore a quintet of tracks, the five flow together, undivided, as A Winged Victory For The Sullen might have it. A 20-minute film therefore receives a ten-minute suite which flows together in warm and sonorous, understated atmospheres, that cello overarching.
On “Dog Walk” we enter the world of the film in the sustain and bated breath of cello drone, other tones, interjecting deftly, ringing with funereal power. Release and relief is offered in synth counterpoint; but as with the white heat of grief, that is but momentary as the drone surges on once more. “The Place” is so very tiny, all 57 seconds of it; but makes its point well and with a true aim, the hum of life beyond the horizon the spare ground for Linnea to let free a cello flourish which edges a razor anguish. “The Place”; the place; it sounds a location that will burn into the psyche and must only be turned away from.
That unnamed locus is left to process “To Town”, where more melody is allowed; the intrusion of interaction breaks the stillness with resonance and harmony, a figure simple but absolutely on point not just for soundtracking but autumnal listening. And “Low Land”, progresses the soundscape into a much bigger place of hum and echo and more complex lament; well, take a listen below.
There now remains one passage of two and a half minutes, focusing on our child protagonist, “Alice”, who is determined to anchor the fracturing family in the midst of loss. There’s been a gentle progression of tonal colour and increasing space throughout the EP, which peaks here in an evocation of that child who must now grow before her time, learn things she shouldn’t yet know; the subtlest drone warms a swooping and vivacious cello cadence. It speaks of sorrow; but then again it also speaks of life, abiding.
I’ve said it before and I’ll reprise the axiom here, soundtracks exist just to the side of a true discussion of an artist’s work since they are, necessarily, in the service of a dominant optic form. (that said I’m sure you’re like me in owning and adoring scores to films you’d barely countenance). Shida’s Alvaret (Original Soundtrack) still, however, serenades both those huge skies and low horizons and the perception of the infinite and our vanishingly tiny place in it as revealed by sudden tragedy. And it does so with acuity.
It reminds me most of late-era Stars of the Lid; it has that tonal majesty; is existentially weary, if not tired per se. It laments from a higher ground, observing it all.
It really is the tiniest miniature of an EP, bare ten minutes in length; yet it’s very lovely, and it it whets the appetite all the more for the following full-length works that we’re promised.
Shida Shahabi’s Alvaret (Original Soundtrack) will be released by FatCat digitally on November 26th; you can order your copy over at Bandcamp, now.