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Ex Machina

2015
  1. The Turing test
  2. Watching
  3. Ava
  4. Falling
  5. I am become death
  6. Hacking/Cutting
  7. The test worked
  8. Skin
  9. Out
  10. Bunsen burner

In recent years the films soundtrack trends have been polarised. On one hand, composers like Brian Tyler, Alan Silvestri or Michael Giacchino have taken the baton and created great orchestral works for spectacular blockbusters. On the other hand, electronic musicians (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Chemical Brothers, Steven Price), initially unconnected to the cinematographic environment, have introduced their compositions into more modest films, but many times highly praised by audiences and critics alike. Far from the 70's and 80's cheesy synth pop soundtracks, the new line of work is more related to experimental sounds, distorted atmospheres and sound design.

This is the situation also with the soundtrack by Geoff Barrow (producer and Portishead member) and Ben Salisbury for Ex Machina, Alex Garland's debut in film direction. In the movie, an interesting study about artificial intelligence, Garland locks the four protagonists up in a claustrophobic space where nothing is what it seems, no intention is clear and each one's nature will be permanently in question.

The film shows off restrained production values, with an avant-garde design touch which sets the coldness of the claustrophobic environment. And the music adapts like a glove to that.

The first track in the album, 'The Turing test', builds slowly over itself, introspective, like a thick prelude with a short crescendo in its middle part and a long fade out to black in its second half. In the film the characters observe and analyze each other, trying to know who is lying and who is telling the truth. 'Watching' transmit those under the skin fears, first with two guitar notes in ascending loop, then with a pulsing sequence of bass notes.

Around 'Ava' revolves everything, and her theme is an innocent sounding lullaby, almost childish, to which Barrow and Salisbury give the precise touch of reverb to make it less cold than the rest of the music. In 'Falling' interact the subtle electronic arpeggios with an electric guitar. Since it is all about the relationship between humans and artificial beings, composers have used this combination of electronic atmospheres and the human touch of the guitar to remind us that Garland's story is more about science than fiction and its feet are in the ground.

Both 'Hacking/Cutting' and 'The test worked' swing over the depths of experimentation and electronic distortion, bordering on Reznor's industrial sound the first and on the dark ambient the latter. 'The test worked' includes as well a rendition of Cuts' 'Bunsen Burnen'. Unlike other electronic soundtracks, which trust everything to the sound design, Ex Machina is still loyal to some principles of conventional film music, like using leit-motivs. 'Skin' gets Ava's theme back and elaborate on it. If it was before a lullaby, a symbol of something that was barely born, here it amazingly transforms, revealing the true nature of events.

'Out' closes the soundtrack with the return to reality, electric guitar featured and the unsettling feeling that nothing was what it seemed. The digital edition of the album includes the full version of Cuts' 'Bunsen Burnen' as a bonus track.

Ex Machina is an intelligently calculated soundtrack and an excelent example of the possibilities of electronic music in the field of film music.