Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason:
I'll admit that when I first saw the cover of Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason's collaborative project Sólaris, I thought I was in for another artist album collection of hard-line techno, given the appearance of the leather-clad gentleman looking ever-so-serious in the cover photo. Not so fast: it turns out Sólaris has nothing to do with techno and everything to do with symphonic composition. The orchestral suite takes its inspiration, of course, from Andrei Tarkovsky's film of the same name, and honours it by extending its brooding and portentous ambiance into a purely sonic realm. Co-composed by Frost and Bjarnason, the material was arranged by Bjarnason and performed by the two with the Sinfonietta Cracovia. The approach the two brought to the compositional process deserves mention, as their initial sketches were improvised in response to the film, then manipulated using software, and finally orchestrated in conventional manner. On instrumental grounds, strings are the focal point, though guitar textures and piano appear, too.
After a sombre opening, “We Don't Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors,” the music plunges into a seeming black hole of meditative-drone quietude where tension builds slowly and prepared piano chords echo against lush backdrops of strings. Suggestive of slow-motion space travel, the instruments' pitches shift woozily as they execute the album's forty-six-minute flight plan. Swells in volume and density occur throughout, and additional contrasts emerge in instrumental configurations that find settings of shuddering strings (“Reyja”) alternating with piano-based pieces (“Snow”). Waves of subdued ambient guitar noise accompany the slow march of strings and piano during “Cruel Miracles” before the agitated strings of “Hydrogen Sulfide” and the bell tones and creeping string textures of “Unbreakable Silence” initiate the journey home.
One comes away from the recording impressed by the composers' collaboration, their effort never feeling like the work of dabblers but instead individuals fully up to the challenge of producing a thoroughly credible orchestral work. Without wanting to suggest that their intent was to create a literal analogue to the film, Frost and Bjarnason nevertheless have created a powerful and dramatic treatment that effectively distills the film's essence into abstract sound form.