Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov composed the soundtrack to the late Russian Andrey Tarkovsky's first controversial film -- so controversial that though it was made in 1966, it was suppressed until 1971. It is the story of a 15th century Russian monk who is consumed by both devotion and passion and happens to be the greatest living icon painter in the Orthodox Church. Half of the same team that composed the scores to Solaris and Stalker, Ovchinnikov was very partial to the pipe organ -- as much as Nino Rota was to the violin -- as a means of composition though here he also uses orchestral elements such as strings and winds. As opposed to other film scores of the era in the Soviet Union or anywhere else for that matter, Ovchinnikov's scores have little to do with cinematic formalism. They are abstractions meant to deepen the images on the screen rather than to move the narrative along. Sonic enhancements that would have been blasphemous to other composers were the means by which Ovchinnikov widened the reach of his score and therefore enhanced Tarkovsky's images to the point of tension -- they need to break open and allow the narrative to flow. Here, where bassoons and flutes make spare appearances juxtaposed against strings playing in the lower registers -- with some completely unrecognizable instruments and echo effects tossed in -- with lots of space in between, we hear passages repeated with only slight variation in tonalities or instrumentation -- on many levels this score could have been composed by Stefan Wolpe or even Earle Brown in the early '50s -- offering a glimpse that is seemingly endless into the tension that must have been mounting on the screen. An alto appears out of nowhere singing a wordless, otherworldly melody. She is unaccompanied for half the selection's length -- about three-and-a-half minutes, when a piano enters playing whole-toned chords from inside the instrument as her voice rises and fades with the mode and dynamic of the keyboard. It's so unbelievably strange and beautiful it sounds like nothing else this writer has ever heard. There are serialist elements in the percussive tone rows and choral figures from Lutoslawski to Pendereki at work as well as machinery and unrecognizable sound. Ovchinnikov was so imaginative, so completely focused on Tarkovsky's images -- he knew the director had his narrative firmly in hand -- that he allowed himself the luxury of meditating on them until they became narratives -- in sound -- of their own. How fortunate for us.
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