Described as “an ode to the mountains,” director Joke Olthaar‘s BERG is an enchanting, patient film, shot in black and white to produce vistas of elegance. Such a film deserves a pristine score, and is graced with not one, but three: the one used in the film and a pair of alternate takes, presented for speculation. Which is better? Is there a “better?” Or might this trio of scores be indicators of a sonic multiverse?
The first score dances on glaciers of drone, while the second swims in the river of modern composition. Both are elaborate, slow to unfurl. The first piece, from Rutger Zuydervelt and sound designer Hugo Dijkstal, arises gently from silence, allowing field recordings to slip in, as quiet as the hooves of the mountain goat in the trailer. This alternate take is referred to as a translation, mood for mood rather than note for note. We feel the frozen expanse, along with its awesome beauty. The low, early drone reflects the seemingly never-ending vistas, frozen yet not devoid of life; local birds compare notes. Three hikers venture into the great unknown, but save for an initial conversation (found only in the film), they do not speak.
But then, yes, the wind advances. The territory may be lovely, but it hides its treachery in snow-covered crevasses. One hears subterranean rumbles along with what may be helicopter wings. A cold stream flows, threatening to become a tumult. But then, mercy; the danger subsides to reveal a consoling bass. There is still time to drink in the horizon. In the final third, the elements make themselves known in thunder, crackle and wind. We hope that the hikers have found safety; the film’s rescue footage comes from a different expedition. Eventually, the birds are closer, louder, the stream calmer: kind harbingers in a cold climate.
The second half of the disc includes the original score proposal, which Zuydervelt recorded with cellist Peter Hollo. Zuydervelt calls this “an outtake that’s too beautiful not to share” ~ we agree. Discarded does not mean disliked. This rare glimpse into the process of forming a film score is a precious artifact. The choice to move to something more subdued seems to fit the film, but once the film hits international distribution, listeners will be able to decide for themselves.
A breaking wave sets the stage for what will be a (slightly) more action-packed journey. The cello conveys its own narrative of struggle, leaving the ending wide open: surrender or survival, failure or success. Hollo bestows an additional layer of nobility on the hikers as they set out on the grand adventure. But the cello also communicates melancholy, as may be felt when one encounters the vastness of a great terrain and reassesses one’s own importance. The Slovenian Triglav mountains do not care: they stand mute, existing generation after human generation. Zuydervelt’s electronics now become mountains of their own, casting shadow after cold shadow, creaking and surging, implying landslides and cracking ice. Even the bass is different, a low, intimidating thrum.
Percussion also appears for the first time, light taps atop sonic booms. The low end grows even lower. And now, the wind. Foreboding chords visit mid-piece; there is no time afforded to lower one’s guard. Do not lie down in the snow. Do not close your eyes. We’ve seen these movies before, but these are not this movie; instead, they are alternate timelines portraying how the fate of the hikers might have changed under worsening conditions. One must wait until the 22nd minute to reach a playful plateau, which comes as a relief after the elemental battle.
Strangely, although neither piece is the “actual” score, the album makes even more eager to see the film; we suspect Joke Olthaar is pleased at the path these three composers have taken, striking out into new territories, just like the trio of hikers in her own cinematic narrative. (Richard Allen)