Kevin Richard Martin admits to “a certain amount of trepidation” about tackling his latest assignment, a rescoring of Andrei Tarkovsky 1972 cinematic masterpiece Solaris. Not only is the film regarded as among the best science fiction productions ever made, it already features an extraordinary soundtrack. Soviet electronic music pioneer Eduard Artemyev paired his work with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chorale prelude for organ Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639,” performed by Leonid Roizman. The former was used to add colour to space station scenes; the latter represented the rest of us back on earth.
Whether genuine or simply polite, Martin’s modesty is unnecessary. His Return to Solaris – due June 25 on Phantom Limb – is Tarkovsky in a bottle. It is entirely true to the spirit of the great film. More than just a exquisitely detailed electronic music recording, it is a picture-perfect introduction to Solaris for anyone not yet familiar with it.
Solaris is a planet entirely covered in water, under observation by scientists aboard a space station sending back alarming, inexplicable reports. Psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to investigate. What he finds is deeply unsettling. One of the scientists has killed himself after leaving a long-winded, puzzling video message about how dangerous the situation has become. In addition to the other two researchers, who are oddly distant and unhelpful, Kelvin sees others – not members of the crew – aboard the station.
Kelvin then finds his late wife aboard, unable to explain how she’s come to be at the station (not to mention alive). Whatever is going on down there on Solaris is a source of real harm to the scientists. The worst kind of harm – one they cannot understand.
Which is what Martin’s Return to Solaris sounds like, from its “Opening Credits (Theme for Kris)” to “In Love With a Ghost” and finally “Rejection of Earth.” He has employed 21st century electronics to capture our age-old fear of the unknown.
One of the album’s many highlights is a piece called “Resurrection.” It is a noise piece, gentle at first. Its intensity builds gradually over the first two minutes. It’s not loud or harsh, it is more quietly dramatic. Martin employs multiple layers of dense sound here. One of them – buried low – is a blaring onboard siren. It is one of those elements that is easy to miss. But once pointed out, it sets an unmistakable tone. It is perfectly executed.
That Martin has produced this remarkable album at a time when there is so much in the world we do not understand makes the release that much more important.
In this respect, Return to Solaris is more than simply a reimagined soundtrack. By capturing the universality of the film’s theme, Martin has achieved something quite extraordinary. He has reached back, to a futuristic work, in order to help us understand ourselves in the here and now.