This week I turn to the classic dark ambient album Stalker. I’ve been mulling over the sounds of the album since deciding to include one of the tracks in a film edit I’m doing currently. (Nothing big, it’s a short film I made with my friend a few years ago and I’m re-editing it out of boredom, really) It’s a classic of dark ambient music, combining sinister soundscapes with jarring dissonance. It’s unsettling and vivid: music for a witch burning or a walk through Chernobyl. But what I’d like to talk about most in relation to this album is its inspiration: the Andrei Tarkovsky film of the same name.
Stalker and Stalker. No, it’s not a perverts’ advertising agency, it’s 2 forms of media, separated by language, time and a million other constants, yet somehow are inexorably linked. Steve and I are both great fans of the film Stalker, a strikingly haunting film about a mysterious “Zone” that supposedly grants whoever enters it their deepest desires. The journey to the Zone, however, is perilously dangerous, and only those with sufficient mental stamina and power (the Stalkers of the title) have the ability to lead others to the Zone safely. The film tracks the journey of 2 men to the Zone, and along the way their desires and fears are explored.
Tarkovsky was, for me, a hugely influential director. In a refreshing change from the snap shot, action packed, fast moving Hollywood films, Tarkovsky used long takes and deep focus to emphasize the lingering uncertainty faced by his characters. In a 2 ½ hour long film there aren’t more than 150 shots. Similarly, he relied not on flashy special effects for this film, but on suspense and expectation. The dangers of “The Zone” are stressed by the Stalker, and he is always on edge while in the Zone, cautiously moving, whispering etc. Yet nothing “dangerous” is ever shown on screen. There are mysterious voices and telephone calls, areas that defy gravity and other such subtleties, but nothing explicit. All we have to go on is what Coleridge described as the willing suspension of disbelief; that we are convinced of the dangers of the zone because the characters themselves are fearful of it. We believe their fear, so we believe the dangers are real even if we don’t see them. It’s a masterstroke in suspense. But to get back to the album in question, I find this point of view to be similarly applicable. Robert Rich and Lustmord don’t create ugly, aggressive pieces of music to create an atmosphere of unease; it’s all done very subtly. Quiet and still with an interjection of the macabre; mirroring the subtle development of the film. The pieces are brooding, minimalist and quite long, not unlike Tarkovsky’s direction. I don’t think Stalker was designed to be a soundtrack to the film, but it certainly could have been. One piece in particular – Undulating Terrain – mirrors the theme music for the film with its heavily processed, Eastern-sounding woodwind.
Like the film, Stalker delves into our greatest fears and anxieties. Our humanity, our limits, the conflict between our needs and desires. It’s a quiet journey through the deepest and darkest recesses of your mind, challenging and haunting.
Words - Adam