Music

Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto: The Revenant

Photo: Stanley Patzold

After a short hiatus from music, Ryuichi Sakamoto set himself up for quite the challenge in scoring The Revenant.


Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto

The Revenant

Label: Milan
US Release Date: 2016-01-15
UK Release Date: 2016-01-15
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has jumped out of the fire only to land in the frying pan.

Sakamoto was forced to scale back on various projects after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014. A little over a year's worth of treatments, he stated that he felt healthy enough to get back to work. One medium in which Sakamoto has enjoyed a certain amount of exposure is the film score, and he made a rather daunting choice by agreeing to score Alejandro González Iñárritu's The Revenant so soon after his recovery. An ambitious project for all involved, The Revenant is a film where "Iñárritu has chosen to forgo almost all dialogue in favor of a gorgeous soundscape and a sweeping score." That puts a heavy burden on the actors, cinematographers, sound editors, and Sakamoto himself as they all work together to tell a survival story good enough to make movie-goers the world over squirm in their seats. As of this writing, The Revenant has received three Golden Globe awards and twelve Academy Award nominations. It appears that everyone carried their weight.

Ryuichi Sakamoto did not approach to scoring The Revenant alone, though. He reached out to Alva Noto (born Carsten Nicolai), a frequent collaborator of Sakamoto's in the field of electronic music, and American composer/guitarist Bryce Dessner to round out the score. The resulting product is huge in scope, with 23 tracks clocking in at an hour and 10 minutes, but is unnervingly hushed in execution. Leonardo DiCaprio's character Hugh Glass may have been violently assaulted by a grizzly bear, leading to abandonment and a fight for his life, but the music rarely approaches a forte dynamic. It's a 70-minute low boil, an astounding amount of tension that never achieves its sweet release. My guess is that Sakamoto and company were trying to tap into that blessedly rare feeling when you are in so much pain that you want to die, but can't.

Most of the score for The Revenant is made from string swells, gentle piano, and the eerie pauses between them. These are not only the defining characteristics of the lead-off track "The Revenant Main Theme", but the only characteristics to speak of. Electronic elements, courtesy of Alva Noto, are subtle enough to never become a sonic anachronism. For instance, the high-pitched squeal in "Hawk Punished" mimics tinnitus while the soft pongs just below the surface in "Goodbye to Hawk" could be mistaken for a far away noise coming from the forest. The clatter that elbows its way into "Killing Hawk", while melodic in its own right, still embodies all the chaos of a natural disaster. Those aren't authentic footsteps lurking in the background of "Cat & Mouse", but they might as well be for all the anxiety they conjure from sound alone.

When these sounds hits the screen, that's when the gravy hits the potatoes. Too many soundtracks whither on the vine when cut from their visual component, even the ones that have won Oscars. The best thing you can say about a score is that it can stand on its own, film or no film. The Revenant can not only stand on its own but can also be taken as an electro-acoustic experiment in ambient music, where the natural and the synthetic don't enjoy convenient boundaries. I won't go so far as to say that it's a whole new genre unto itself, but it represents one that isn't explored very often -- on or off-screen.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.