Although Cliff Martinez scores about one movie per year, his lengthy association with director Steven Soderbergh has continued to foster a musical style that’s a mix of minimalism, impressionism, and ambient sonic & percussion textures that feel wholly organic, regardless whether the instruments are classical, ethnic, or electronically processed.
Andrey Tarkovsky's 1972 version of Stanislaw Lem’s meditative sci-fi novel Solaris was nearly twice as long as Soderbergh 2002 film, yet Eduard Artemiev’s avant garde score was also sparse. Like Martinez, Artemiev’s music was strategically used amid striking visual montages that lulled the viewer into a state of calm – much in the way the characters have been lulled into a quiet, numb state by the psychotropic planet, which has created interactive impressions of past memories.
Martinez’ music is frankly one of the best sci-fi scores ever written because it’s so perfect in construction and execution, matching the images in Soderbergh’s 2002 dreamy film, as well as the subdued colour schemes and montages that capture Chris Kelvin gradual loss of reality once he arrives on the orbiting station off Solaris.
There are essentially two themes in Martinez’ score: the opening “Is That What Everybody Wants?” and the gentle 'dead wife' lament, “Can I Sit Next to You.” The former is the film’s main theme and is used to propel scenes and enhance the sense of urgency as the drama becomes more strained and surreal. The use of baritone steel drums and the Baschet crystal bring forth the chiming theme, under which a driving 3-beat, bass note pulses steadily before a brilliant cascade of melodic chimes - an aural representation of the space craft's intricate design.
Those three components collectivel match images of stars, the eerie planet, the dreaminess of Kelvin's outer space travel, and they provide contrast to the more stripped down tonal textures Martinez applies for the bulk of the film’s final third.
The secondary theme is a lament - an aural memory blast of Chris’ dead wife Rheya - and it’s an agonizing cue because its simplicity: wafting tones that glue themselves onto romantic chord progressions. Martinez bypasses familiar approaches to melody and lyricism, and goes straight for the emotional core of a passionate marriage that’s destroyed by a cancerous element (Rheya's suicide).
The lushness of the strings is both romantic and a cruel cheat, and the theme later reflects Chris’ vicious yearning for Rheya and the agony of being unable to save her. He’s forever haunted by her tragic demise, and Rheya's reappearance on the orbiting spacecraft is underscored by quiet but coarse tonal textures reminiscent of Ligeti, whose music (also used in 2001: A Space Odyssey) was temped tracked in the film by Soderbergh prior to engaging Martinez.
Martinez' Solaris affects listeners in different degrees outside of the film, but it’s not unusual to become ensnared by its haunting beauty, looping playback several times because of the hypnotic writing, and the score’s superb engineering.
La-La Land’s CD is a reissue of the 2002 Edel & Trauma Records CDs, and many subtle nuances can be picked out on CD – little acoustic features otherwise buried in the film’s sound mix. Whether it’s peripheral sounds, the slow fadeout of tracks, or the low-end bass notes which fade in and out of cues, the details come through with clarity, and Julie Kirgo’s liner notes provide a solid overview of the film and score - both of which enjoyed renewed attention by film and film music fans after studio Fox had no idea how to sell the film to audiences wanting formulaic sci-fi material.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan