In space, no one can hear you scream
In May 2020, UK electronic musician Kevin Richard Martin received an invitation from Belgium’s Vooruit Arts Centre to compose a new score for a film of his choice. As a huge fan of film soundtracks, Martin chose Tarkovsky’s 1972 classic, Solaris. It was a natural choice for Martin, as he had long been inspired by the Soviet filmmaker. The film, along with its sci-fi orientation and psychological disarray, was a perfect fit for an ambient / electronic score (the original film also featured an electronic soundtrack). Solaris, and science fiction in general, is aligned with and orbits around electronic music. Return to Solaris is Martin’s first commissioned soundtrack, his first composition to picture, and his first composition in his new home after a relocation from Berlin to Belgium.
More widely known as The Bug, Martin has been active as a musician and producer for close to three decades, with projects such as King Midas Sound, Zonal, Techno Animal, and GOD all featuring dub, jazzcore, industrial hip hop, and dubstep. However, under his own name, Martin tends to focus on pure electronic music. Return to Solaris evokes the decade of the film’s production and release, as well as the recurring themes of the film. Described as drawing on its ‘narrative struggle between organic, pastoral memories of a lost past, and the harsh, dystopian realities of a futuristic hell’, Martin uses fogged-up drones and atonal noise to weld an uncomfortable and titanic atmosphere. The grainy, colour-leaking 70’s are burned into its textures, and the score intentionally gravitates towards the eerie, with a tense, on-edge mood that’s up for exploring…although it may regret it later on.
As part of his research and pre-production, Martin scoped out his equipment and instruments, eventually landing on antiquated, hands-on hardware over computer and digital-based tech. Martin even acquired an original Pulsar 23 drum machine, thanks to Vooruit and SOMA Laboratory. This has a massive effect on the overall sound, which does seem to warp back to what would be fifty years ago. Raw, hypnotic, and dynamic music is the result; you can almost feel him wrestling with some of the tones, trying to bring them under control, decreasing their speed to ensure a relatively smooth re-entry.
The score is able to pull the listener in deeply with its sub-zero electronics, but warmth exists even in the depths of space. On ‘Wife Or Mother’, the music seems caring, soft in tone and almost benevolent. This feeling is carried into the angled synths of closing track ‘Rejection of Earth’. In the belly of the space station, one never feels truly alone; paranoia and palpitations are never far away. Listeners encounter the deep rumbling of machinery, mile-long cables stretching like tentacles, and the venting of coolant. Raging, confused, and disturbed, the rough and raw tones – borderline menacing – cut through into the bowels of the soundscape, feeling like unstable things which are nonetheless capable of thrumming with a consistent rhythm. Disembodied, floating ambient synths are weightless in comparison. The film is a titan of cinema, but Return to Solaris is just as alien, resulting in a completely mesmerising and compelling experience.