Only a handful of artists inspire across-the-board excitement at ACL, and even fewer in the realm of the purposely calm. Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie is one of them, thanks to his work with Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Salero affords him the opportunity to design a score for an already-evocative film, matching tender compositions with widescreen images. An additional bonus is the Budapest Art Orchestra, which boosts Wiltzie’s string ensemble to swelling breadths, nudging the score from its ambient roots into the arena of modern composition.
The film is an elegy for a way of life: the vast Bolivian salt fields and their harvesters, which cede ground to big business and the mining of lithium. Wiltzie’s music has always borne a touch of sublime sadness, and the vast strings push this emotion into the foreground. Every surge, every swell communicates a sense of loss, especially poignant in the triptych of “The Few of Us Left”, “They Dream of More” and “Bring This Place to Life” in the center of the set. And yet, the music never sounds defeated; it stares into the distance, deep into the pink and purple sky, across the salt flats and into an unwritten future.
The transition from dispirited loss to quiet resolution is so subtle that one can miss it, even after playing the score multiple times. Yet somehow, by the end, one exits the experience with a sense of inner strength. Perhaps the uplift of Wiltzie’s end credits is to blame; perhaps director Mike Plunkett’s pristine images. There’s something tender and powerful in the interaction between father and son that Wiltzie manages to bottle in his compositions. Life may change, but love does not. Industry may intrude, may even disrupt, but human greed – for progress, for technology, for things – does not diminish the heart of humanity. We are more than the products we harvest and create.
Together, Plunkett and Wiltzie surround the harvesters of Bolivia with a visual and aural dignity that honors their life’s work as it faces transition. Watch for a screening near you, and stay tuned for the upcoming online streaming options by entering the film site below. (Richard Allen)