- Above Earth
- The Void
- Don't let go
- In the blind
- Aurora Borealis
Wait, a soundtrack here? In a site about electronic and experimental music? Well... Gravity is a bit of both things, actually.
'Gravity' (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013) is not a conventional movie. The story is quite simple: two astronauts suffer an accident while making reparations outside their spaceship and are left floating without direction in space, desperately looking for the way home. It is in its visual conception that this story of survival achieves its innovative dimension. We had never seen the space before so magnificent, so vast and vastly void, so beautiful and so dangerous.
Gravity's music should display those same emotions in an environment where, by nature, there's no sound at all. The result could not have been more original.
Steven Price is a British composer, and it is surprising to discover that this one is only his third only feature film effort. He made his debut in the British science-fiction comedy 'Attack the Block' (Joe Cornish, 2011) and also in 2013 wrote the music for the comedy 'The World's End' (Edgar Wright, 2013). However, Cuaron's bet was not a blind one, since as musical editor Price had worked together with Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, Patrick Doyle, David Arnold or Anne Dudley.
The mix of orchestral elements and electronics, so common in recent film music (listen to Zimmer or Jablonsky works) steps ahead in quality with this work by Price, in part due to the particular needs of the film: virtually the whole movie takes place in the space void, where there's no possibility of sound, so the soundtrack assumes not only its traditional emotional role, but also an unusual functional nature. Price solves this brilliantly, adding multiple sound elements to the music, foreign to it but so well integrated that everything becomes an indivisible whole.
Also deviates this album from a more conventional soundtrack in its musical structure. Instead of choosing a thematic or melodic development, the author has preferred to priorize the construction of atmospheres around the emotions and feelings of the characters. Which are ultimately two: fear and panic. So a theme so dark as 'The void' walks on the thin line between really eerye music and total cacophony. It may look as if it is just random irritating noise over an orchestral mattres, but a careful listening allows to discover repeating patterns (even from theme to theme) and characteristic sounds that the astronauts might listen to inside their helmets, like radio static.
Although most of the music from Gravity attempts to provoke in listeners the same permanent stress that in the movie, there are also moments of eerye beauty and calm. Anyhow, space is also a wonderful place. So 'Airlock' is almost a lullaby and 'I.S.S.' or the lovely 'Aningaaq' may drive you to dream, for a moment, with an infinite ocean of stars.
Looking at it globally, from the premise that the music follows or manifests the human emotions in this story, this album could be structured in three stages, three basic emotions that the listener can feel while listening. In a first moment, it is surprise: listening to 'Above Earth' or 'Debris' for the first time is a shock, a meeting with the unexpected, a violent proof that this music is different and unforeseeable. Then comes the acceptance and its peaceful interludes ('Aurora Borealis'). Finally, resolution: 'Tiangong', 'Shenzou' and 'Gravity' are the price, the reward after putting up with the intensity and coldness of previous music. Because of this, Gravity is an album that can be only understood if you listen to it from beginning to end; only those who suffered with 'Don't let go' or floated 'In the blind' can feel the deep emotion of 'Shenzou'.
Gravity exists because of and for a movie, that is true. And in its filmic dimension the work of Steven Price is technically brilliant and fits like a glove. But the real achievement, what turns this music into something different, is that it is an experience on itself, an emotional challenge, a musical journey that starts in the oppressive darkness and floats to hope. It is not an easy way, but it is worth the effort.