Decades before Kirsten Dunst and her manic depression faced planet Melancholia head-on, Russian kino maestro Andrei Tarkovsky was exploring the crossroads of cold hard science and red-hot emotions in Solaris.
The 1972 film, centered on the psychological unraveling of a space station crew while orbiting a remote fictional planet, was a coup for the director and featured a moody score by frequent Tarkovsky collaborator Eduard Artemyev (the film’s 2002 remake also featured a classically-bent soundtrack in the vein of Pärt or Sigur Rós). Almost forty years later, composers Ben Frost (an Australian-born, Iceland-residing protégé of Brian Eno) and Daníel Bjarnason have reimagined the sounds of Solaris for their own haunting symphonic suite.
Where Artemyev dabbled with space-age Bach, glittering, shimmering plinks symbolizing Breughel-esque snow, and ambient drones as vast as space itself, Frost and Bjarnason’s Solaris captures the final frontier with a lush string orchestra, guitar and prepared piano all manipulated to varying degrees of dissonance. There’s still an unsettling largeness to the work, but it's juxtaposed with the intimacy of a nervous breakdown, establishing this imagined score to Tarkovsky’s film as a wordless opera. An especially interesting comparison is how deliberately hollow the chords of “Snow” sound against the spectral pixelization of Artemyev’s own chilly “Winter.” In Frost and Bjarnason’s world, “Snow” moves into “Reyja,” a highlight of the album that sighs heavily and with a generous dose of pathos.
Bjarnason’s leadership of the Sinfonietta Cracovia brings just the right amount of bloodless sensitivity to the work. In the end, you feel the simultaneous effect of a flash freeze and slow thaw, broken down and rebuilt from scratch. And then you hit “Play” again.