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Posted on January 11th, 2012 (7:01 pm) by Mark Schiffer

It makes perfect sense to create an ambient album based on Solaris. It is a work that in all three of its popular incarnations--Lem, Tarkovsky, and Soderbergh (let's not go into the 1968 TV film version)--bleeds trauma and loss for the entirety of its length. The narrative of Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel somehow also manages to take the form of a scientific case study, which even then reeks of the humanity contained within. Regardless of the form the adaptation takes, the examination of humanity is explored similarly through the themes between both novel and album, fifty years apart.

Daniel Bjarnason and Ben Frost have received many accolades for their previous releases in ambient music. Frost, with his 2003 ambient work Steel Wound, and Daniel Bjarnason with 2010's modern classical Processions, created incredibly important work on their own term regardless of any genre tags they may have received. With their first collaboration, Solaris, they have constructed a dark ambient universe, which for some listeners may be rather overwhelming.

Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason have created an orchestral ambient album that, although it never breaks out of its form, still bleeds emotion and humanity from its apparent cold exterior. We are pushed ever-forward with “Welcome to the Machine”-esque futuristic sound effects, which join with despairing orchestral accompaniants. It is a scary, unpleasant world these musicians place their listeners in. The intersection between alien settings, humanity, and technological advancement is explored in as pessimistic a mode as possible. Then again, if the despair truly is as palpable as it is on this work, perhaps the manner in which this kind of humanity is being expressed perhaps isn't as pessimistic as it seems.

As an album in itself, Solaris only suffers from two noticable defects. The first one is typical to world of darker ambient works. Namely, it is too unpleasant and tremulous to use as background music. The second is rather unfortunate, because it really doesn't seem like it should apply to this genre. But all the songs sound the same. While with somewhat less dark ambient works these may seem to be less than major issues, in this case Solaris leaves its listener feeling rather constricted. Although undeniably gorgeous in its construction and execution, by the conclusion of the album's runtime it is difficult not to feel a bit perturbed. The pianos and orchestral scrapings never break out of the minor key, and the industrial accompiniants which shoot the album into deep space emphasize the empty, inhuman aspect of the machinery its inhabitants are encased in rather than the wonder of an unknown environment. Vast stretches of near-silence unnerve and unsettle. On the other hand, maybe that is the whole point.

A climax of sorts occurs late in the album with “Saccade,” where the otherwise relatively inobtrusive musical landscape is overwhelmed by a sharp, high-pitched inhuman tone, which gradually warps into something resembling what would seemingly resemble divine light. But it isn't divine light. It is a human construction, like all music. And yet, the sound pierces into the body of its listener, disrupting mental processes and agitating nerves. It is not unlike the blue tendrils undulating from the planet's surface towards the close of Soderbergh's adaptation--maybe an alien construction, maybe a biological process in itself. But tied inextricably to humanity.

Track List:
1. We Don't Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors
2. Simulacra, Pt. 1
3. Simulacra, Pt. 2
4. Show
5. Reyja
6. Cruel Miracles
7. Hydrogen Sulfide
8. Unbreakable Silence
9. You Mean More To Me Than Any Scientific Truth
10. Saccades
11. Venia

Ben Frost, Daniel Bjarnason, Solaris
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

77 / 100
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