It’s been a while since we’ve had a new score to a silent film (the last being We Stood Like Kings’ Berlin), but we’d love to hear more! The latest comes from Mikel Lauki, who identifies his base location as Antarctica. Suitably, his new work was composed to accompany a screening of the silent 1919 Swedish film Herr Arnes Pengar (Sir Arne’s Treasure). The titles of the tracks reflect the narrative. On the surface, the film is about Scottish soldiers who escape from prison and kill all but one member of a family. One of the soldiers falls in love with the surviving member, yet cannot escape his guilt ~ and dire consequences await. The defining image, shown on the cover, is that of a ship stuck in ice. The soldiers cannot get away, because the ship is locked; but neither can they escape from their deeds, for their hearts are frozen as well. Ironically, when a heart begins to thaw, shattering events are set in motion.
Lauki captures this interplay perfectly, aided in great part by the violin of Heike Grafe on the opening tracks and main theme. The glacial ambience of the score is offset by the romantic yearning of the strings, the danger of the setting by subtle electronic beeps and static charges. The opening track (“Break”) serves as an overture, and is one of the album’s finest, seeping dire portents of darkness and doom. This sets the stage for a love theme that is not quite a love theme; it’s a shrouded sort of love, from which secrets have been kept and over which hangs the sword of Damocles.
By using vast, organ like tones, Lauki provides a pure reflection of the landscape and its ice-locked inhabitants. These intensify as the album progresses; the foghorn tones of “Sir Donald” offer an early peak. The creaks of “Sir Arne” effectively convey the expansion of ice, while a looped wind howls through “Visions from Branehög”, a metaphor for intractability. This is one of two older tracks originally composed by Lauki along with Pleq; no seams are present, and it’s easy to see why such selections were made.
The cover image is found 55 minutes into the movie; a dog and its owner occupy the sledge. Although “Dear Dog” arrives early on the album, the track is well-placed for the home listening experience. As the album is half the length of the film, some liberties had to be taken. In its current form, the set progresses slowly and inevitably toward a poignant climax.
Perhaps to nobody’s surprise, the love theme carries the highest emotional weight. Appearing here in three forms, it culminates in the finale (billed as the original version). Love lends the movie its tragic tinge, and without love – even doomed love – the plot would lack its moral center. Nearly a hundred years after its release, Herr Arnes Pengar has found a new, sympathetic ear. (Richard Allen)