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Press Reviews for SÓLARIS

How do you collaborate on ambience? Solaris - a re-imagining of the soundtrack to Tarkovsky’s 1972 sci-drama - is the subtle, intensely brooding effort of Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, two of perhaps the most well-received artists in recent memory here at The Silent Ballet and also a pair that separately would never be anywhere near the word “subtle.” Certainly they can both be contemplative when the need arises, but Frost’s last full-length was the appropriately titled By The Throat which, when it wasn’t being flat-out aggressive, found its transcendent moments in a sort of overwhelming power drone a la Tim Hecker. Likewise, Bjarnason’s Processions took off with the unforgettable “Sorrow Conquers Happiness,” which is about as snarling as a string ensemble can get. Solaris is still a white dwarf of negativity, just so tightly compressed as to let out the dark in its disturbing use of space rather than violence.

“We Don’t Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors” is our mission statement, if you’ll excuse sci-fi pun. Much like how the original film is psychologically piercing while being almost incidentally “science fiction,” this score eschews any obvious “spacey” leanings and turns the music to reflect the human element: it’s emotionally draining without the dressings of cheesy over-chorus effects or electronic detritus. Something like “Saccades” flirts with machination in the distant bass pulses but never becomes an overwrought spaceship simulator and instead turns the sounds disturbingly into ocular movement for which it is named. Which is true for most tracks: “Hydrogen Sulfide” flirts between distant space and understated menace, for example. “Menace” is par for the course, really, and it's within that M.O. that the two work best together and the score succeeds most strongly. Take “Cruel Miracles,” with its too-simple-to-not-be-foreboding piano motif that is always just shy of being swallowed whole by the vague mess of noise and drone boiling underneath, and “Unbreakable Silence,” which may be the most outwardly Bjarnason-esque track on here as it drags skittery, bow-heavy strings to the forefront, building until it’s snarling as hard as anything Frost as done himself. Undoubtedly,  there are some tracks with teeth to be found within Solaris.

In a knowingly oversimplified word, both Bjarnason’s and Frost’s solo works are incredibly “busy.” There is an absolutely massive amount of sounds, all jagged and fierce and serene and lucid, and nothing “clicks” particularly quickly. It’s music the listener must work for - really, something to be tamed. Which is why the sparseness of Solaris is surprising not only in its presence, but in its strength. Obviously “depressing space drama” calls for something dark, and certainly both musicians can handle dark, but without the bombast, it can really be oppressing. Not to say that’s a bad thing - that’s undoubtedly the goal here, ill-fitting cover art aside - but it does make for an exhausting listen. The distance between notes and phrases can be agonizing, and the remoteness of the real textures (take the rumble underneath “Simulacra II”) is downright alienating. There is very little to hold on to, and when there is something, it’s not at all reassuring or comforting: a dissonant melody or a trickle of piano notes that are not quite right.

It’s clearly music with a purpose (to soundtrack the film) and while one's enjoyment will be independent of his viewing or familiarity with the visuals, it is an album with a very particular place: a pitch-black, cold, and undoubtedly far, far away place, brought disturbingly close. It’s a solid hint of what these two could do together with less restraint, and it would be a thrill to give them the chance to run wild within each other’s musical vocabulary. As it is, they are operating together with the restraint of the soundtrack, with which they still do a sublimely gorgeous job with. Maybe their respective voices come out necessarily a bit squandered, but as it stands - and especially in context - it’s a frequently beautiful but always vaguely upsetting suite. Needless to say, it comes highly recommended.

Cavin Young

The Silent Ballet (March 11th 2012) ★★★★★★★

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