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  • Composed by Cliff Martinez
  • La-La Land Records / 2011 / 43:35

Steven Soderbergh’s had an odd dual career really, alternating the vacuous crowd-pleasers of the Ocean’s Eleven films with far more serious fare.  You don’t get much further from a vacuous crowd-pleaser than Solaris, the very definition of a hard sell to audiences (four people bought tickets for it on its release in 2002 and I believe their showing is almost coming to an end now).  This meditative film (the second based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel after Andrei Tarkovsky’s famous 1972 adaptation) was never going to break box office records.  Soderbergh’s films aren’t renowned for their original scores, but he usually picks the right composer for the job.  A few eyebrows were raised when one of his favourites, Cliff Martinez, got this job – but he turned out to be an inspired choice.

The score is neither the orchestral show-stopper one might expect if all one knew about the film was that it was set in space and called Solaris, nor the ambient electronica one might expect from a Soderbergh/Martinez collaboration.  It is wonderfully unique, a genuinely contemplative and frequently laid-back piece which is also clearly filled with passion.  No, there aren’t big themes; but there’s big emotion here, emotion presented in the most thoughtful of ways.  I often see this score being described as “cold” – I know why people say it, but I don’t think it is.  The beautifully-titled “Hi Energy Proton Accelerator” is an eleven-minute piece of intense feeling, the highlight of the score.  The cellular approach to the composition that Martinez takes throughout the score gives it a truly hypnotic quality;  occasional flashes of colour are provided by unusual instrumentation (most brilliantly, steel drums).  Not a score for everyone by any means, but one that offers rich rewards to patient listeners and which continues to reveal more on each new visit.  It’s great that La-La Land has made it available again.  ****

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  1. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Friday 8 April, 2011 at 22:54

    As one of the four people that saw it in theaters (long as it is, it’s an hour shorter than the 1972 version!), and one of the three that bought the original disc that same year, it’s good to see a positive review. This is, for me, the highlight of Martinez’s career and one of the finest scores in a rather limited genre. In fact, I think you’d have to go to the video game or concert world (e.g. Ligeti) to find its like.