Shot entirely from the air, Upstream is an experimental film which follows the course of the River Dee in Scotland, running through to its eventual source in the Cairngorm Mountains, making it the highest of any river in Britain. By providing the soundtrack to the film, German pianist and composer Hauschka returns to Sonic Pieces, scoring the essential, elemental sound of the Scottish Highlands, at once ancient and majestic, capturing an untouched area where nature, wildness, and winter all converge.
As a soundtrack, Upstream stands on its own. Its rustic strings are both old and rejuvenated; much like the landscape they tie themselves to, the strings seem to be eternal, and as solid as jagged rock. The deeper cello is rooted to the Earth, piercing the ground and going deep into the rich and fertile soil of the land. The music is alive, its geography and topography evolving – breathing – rumbling and shuddering in tune with the changing physical landscape. On its way to the mountain range, the music opens up to the elements; some of the notes drip like a spattering of cold rain, while others linger in the air, influenced by gusty and piercingly-cold winds.
With poems, a sprinkling of prepared piano, sound effects, and slabs of synth, Upstream is a living and breathing wonder. Also infiltrating the atmosphere are prose poems, written by Robert Macfarlane and voiced in Gaelic and English respectively by Niall Gordàn and Julie Fowlis. A haunting atmosphere emanates from the spoken word, which is stripped of everything save for the voice and a bare, stark cello. The sound of the river can also be heard in the background, making it an essential voice of the record. In fact, throughout its duration, two voices speak at once: both the river’s voice and a human one.