In May 2020, British musician Kevin Martin was invited by the Vooruit arts centre in Gent, Belgium to compose a new score for a film of his choice. Having been long inspired by pioneering Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Martin tells us that his 1972 masterpiece Solaris was the “natural choice”. The film is an unattested giant, not only of science fiction and Soviet film, but also in the annals cinematic history. And its original score, composed by regular Tarkovsky collaborator and early Soviet electronic musician Eduard Artemyev, is a magnificent work of haunting majesty, a key element to the film’s brilliance. Martin’s challenge was great: “it was with a certain amount of trepidation I stepped into such large footprints,” he writes.
The results – an all new score entitled Return to Solaris – are breathtaking. The film is intense, psychologically devastating and bleakly compelling. Interweaving themes of love, horror, sorrow, nostalgia, memory and dystopia, Martin’s score expertly mirrors this expansive breadth of psychic weight, from existential dread to heartbreaking poignancy, with immense emotional gravity. Drawn to its “narrative struggle between organic, pastoral memories of a lost past, and the harsh, dystopian realities of a futuristic hell,” Martin employs atonal noise, simmering waves of distorted synthesis, undulating drones and otherworldly, astronomic sound-design to crushing effect. Subtly submerged recurring motifs – reflections of individual characters – rise and fall amidst the fog, occasionally illuminating the doom like motes of starlight, before settling back into the density of space.
Album opener “Theme for Kris” begins with a shimmering, alien tone, mimicking a disembodied, metallic choralsong that creeps and snakes about an unsettling frequency range. Ghosts aboard a deserted space station. The hissing, technological dystopia of subsequent track “Solaris” sends evaporating torrents of steam through bulging, clanging, echoing chords, while later on the record, “In Love With A Ghost” revisits these same passages of seething doom, but now refocused into billowing, droning clouds of noise.
Determined that his score should retain the eerie, dreamlike mood of the film and authenticity to its era and origin, Kevin mined his analogue lab for suitable instruments and recording equipment, favouring antiquated, hands-on hardware over computer-based production techniques. With Voorhuit’s help, he acquired an original Pulsar 23 drum machine, created by cult Russian synth builders SOMA Laboratory. Appropriately, much of his rescore is centred around its spectral, strung-out sounds.
The project represents many firsts for Kevin: his first commissioned soundtrack; his first composition to picture; his first work in his new Belgian home after a move from Berlin; his first live performance to 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 of Gent, Belgium. And, with huge personal significance, this was his first public performance of the Covid era. He performed to a socially distanced crowd, many of whom unaware of his existing profile, “which made the rapturous reception and incredible feedback to the performance all the more memorable,” he writes.
Tarkovsky’s Solaris won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and was screened for an incredible fifteen years uninterrupted in the Soviet Union. It is placed highly in “greatest movies of all time” lists published by Empire and the BBC, among others. Steven Soderburgh directed a Hollywood remake in 2002, starring George Clooney, and scored by Cliff Martinez.