Cliff Martinez

Martinez's bubbling, chiming, luminous score for Solaris (2002) holds up very well indeed when disengaged from the film's images. It's not exactly sweet, but it's not quite depressing either. It's a quiet, contemplative work that occupies the same ambivalent space as the film itself.

artist:
Cliff Martinez

country of origin:
USA

style(s):
Soundtrack, orchestral, ambient, neo classical, electronica

decades active:
80's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Solaris soundtrack (2002, Superb Records)
  • Drive soundtrack (2011, Lakeshore Records) 
     

Reviewed by Mike G

Is Cliff Martinez's soundtrack album Solaris (2002) the best science fiction film score since Vangelis' opus for Blade Runner? Martinez's score may have equals in the sci-fi sphere, but nothing surpasses it for originality and haunting atmosphere. Martinez and American filmmaker Steven Soderberg have worked together for many years and their collaborations have always been interesting, notably Traffic (2000), Contagion (2011) and Sex Lies & Videotape (1989), even if the accompanying soundtrack albums for those films are hit and miss affairs. Solaris, however, is completely unified as a standalone album.

Soderberg's philosophical sci-fi love story was one of the best films of 2002 and is the second attempt at filming a difficult novel, the first being the extremely slow, long and arty Russian movie made by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. It's interesting that the more recent version successfully tells pretty much the same story in a much shorter running time of 90 minutes. Martinez's bubbling, chiming, luminous score holds up very well indeed when disengaged from the film's images. It's not not exactly sweet, but it's not quite depressing either. It's a quiet, contemplative work that occupies the same ambivalent space as the film itself.

The weird thing is that it sounds electronic, yet the roll call of instruments reveals most of sounds are orchestral. Martinez explained in an interview with Dangerous Minds:

"Steven has always liked to make ambient music whenever appropriate, and he wanted something like that for Solaris, but also wanted the sound of the orchestra, which is unusual because he generally prefers an electronic sound. So I had to approach it as an ambient score, but not ambient electronic, an ambient, minimalist, orchestral score. At the time I was fascinated with the baritone steel drums I had bought and put in my living room, so I was adamant about using them in the film. At the same time Steven was cutting to a lot of different types of [temporary guide] music, he was really jumping around. And the two things I really fell in love with that he had used were the work of Giorgi Ligeti and the music of Tangerine Dream, which was very rhythmic. Those two things were the biggest influences, so I would throw them together and add the baritone steel drums and some other bell-type percussion instruments. It ended up coming together really well."

Indeed, the result is highly original. But while texturally Martinez's Solaris doesn't actually sound anything like the classic Vangelis score for Ridley Scott's more famous film, they do share one crucial quality: emotion. Matters of the heart are what both of these films are really about, so it makes sense that Martinez’s soundtrack feels as much about inner space as it is about outer space. Put it on and prepare to be moved - in more ways than one.

For ambient fans, the other standout in Cliff Martinez's discography is Drive (2011), his score for the low-budgeted but hugely successful indie drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Skip past the first five pop/rock tracks by other artists and you have another fine, self-contained album of ambient instrumentals. Compared to Solaris the sound is a little leaner, and much more electronic than orchestral. A few tracks like "Deluxe Version" echo the eerie throb of Tangerine Dream's 80's soundtracks, while most of the others are beatless concoctions of reverberating guitar, spooky atmospherics and brooding, gliding synths.

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