Arctic Surrealism From Christine Ott and Torsten Bottcher
The 1922 silent film Nanook of the North was a patronizing noble-savage docudrama that foreshadowed similarly dubious explorations of indigenous cultures by the BBC and PBS. Christine Ott and Torsten Bottcher’s pointillistic, keyboard-based new soundtrack – streaming at Spotify – seems to closely follow the original narrative This music is much more surreal than you would expect. Digeridoo, tabla and steel pan in a story about Eskimos? Fans of both Philip Glass and Terry Riley ought to enjoy it.
The soundtrack begins with gongs and then whistling bowed bells, a surreal Asian snowscape particularly appropriate for its milieu. The protagonist’s theme is hypnotically circling, minimalist piano over white-noise washes, followed by a lively if repetitive, surrealistically tiptoeing electric keyboard melody.
A rippling open-water kayak tableau and a return to echoey, distantly uneasy electronic piano, with what sounds like a muted ukulele, provide a brief beach scene. Bells and delicate upper-register piano underscore the fragility of Eskimo infant life, followed by muted steel pan alongside bell-like, stealthy, jazz-tinged piano.
From there the score segues into Walrus Hunting – yeah, those adorable creatures are food, that far north – with its grim crescendos over a loopy tabla pulse. The onset of winter signals a hypnotically oscillating, increasingly agitated piece with toy piano and that digeridoo.
The score’s most epic theme, part Fender Rhodes soul, part Japanese temple bell music, concerns igloos. A fateful morning comes tiptoeing in with an eerie, Satie-esque minor-key vamp, then the piano spins around with an elegant, precisely articulated angst. The score closes with the big blizzard portrayed via Satoko Fujii-esque extended-technique piano variations. Of all this year’s movie soundtracks, this has to be one of the most original.