“You have to look into the abyss to see beyond it.”
Robert Jay Lifton, author ofTHE PROTEAN SELF
Into the zone. The realm of science fiction, and of ambient music, is mapped by paths to new beginnings, changed viewpoints. Typical motifs in the fantasy genres center around a protagonist, or group of them, passing through a gauntlet of experiences to arrive home with a new vision, or to arrive at a new home entirely.
One early model for this vision quest, or walkabout, myth is Homer's ODYSSEY, an epic poem of the proverbial voyage home. Stanley Kubrick based his classic film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on this theme, forcing his Future Everyman, Dave Bowman, to make a hallucinogenic as well as physical trip, return to Earth as a radically altered being, a "Star Child." Posters for the film heralded 2001 as "the ultimate trip." The film set the stage for other films in which characters traded in their visions, even their personalities, for newborn mindsets. George Lucas' classic THX 1138 and Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER both feature heroes who go through hell to emerge in a dangerous new world, stripped of the shackles of the past. THX literally makes a passage through the "outer shell" in a stolen car, climbing into a sunlit world of the unknown. BLADE RUNNER's Deckard (previously a replicant-killer) goes on the run with his replicant lover, starting a new life as an outlaw.
In Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER (Mosfilm, 1979), an alien artifact (meteor? spacecraft?) crashes to Earth and renders a widespread area apparently inhospitable; the authorities declare the surrounding region off-limits to visitors. Rumors about the object abound. At the center of "The Zone," a place of mystery and portent, a myth is born: those who dare travel to the object will have their wishes granted. The journey, though, strips the individual bare, and one may arrive with entirely different goals. A group of seekers hire one of the guides (a Stalker) to lead them into The Zone, and the film documents the inner trials that each character suffers.
Like the films I've mentioned, STALKER (the album) is an ambient work of traveling through distress, to reach a moment of paradigm exchange, and discovery. The CD begins with an unearthly, almost metallic howl, and terrible thud, as if a door thrown open upon a dark chasm of the mind. The titles of each segment suggest a trip that will be taken through the listener's imagination: "Delusion Fields," "Synergistic Perceptions." Robert Rich's audio environments have always been alive with some sort of life, strange organisms, mythical presences, birds, crickets, or dreadful, subterranean "glurps"; here, the soundscape is fraught with spirits, human and otherwise, and echoes of past travellers taunt from the shadows,... and inner voices. B.Lustmord's (Brian William's) work in film and ambient music is based on dark stuff; he's a low-end fanatic. STALKER features gobs of low thumps and drones, like clouds are reaching to the ground and patting the dirt.
The album moves thematically, from the atmospheric to the metallic, from airy to claustrophobic ... arriving finally at The Raining Room (which was portrayed in a segment from Rich's earlier Hearts of Space release, RAINFOREST). At the center of The Zone, the album becomes enlightening, and sound is freed from any urgency of transit. The "Point of No Return" is a place of reckoning, not with the mystery of The Zone, but with one's own fascination with it, and one's self.
Along the way, Rich and B. Lustmord have dropped homages that can only have deeply personal resonance. This is an "audio film," a portrait that blasts out from your stereo and takes over the room. The texture of the music is bizarre: it's crisp and alive, yet so many of the acoustic entities are indistinct, puzzling. Like a dream, the soundscape is murky. Each time I listen to STALKER, I hear new sounds, and have different reactions. My interpretation of this work is a dynamic, evolving exploration. Like a Stalker entering The Zone, I've waded into this CD with a portable player and ten watt speakers, or a large hi-fi with Bose 401 speakers, or digital-ready headphones plugged right into the player. Each time I visit The Zone with STALKER, the experience reveals more of this musical puzzle. Of all the ambient albums I listen to, STALKER stands in a class of works that exists out of time, out of place, and (ultimately) relevant only unto itself. Like the best of ambient works, it will become your world.
-- D.B. Spalding
(C) Copyright 1995 D.B. Spalding. All rights reserved.
Order Stalker, or the inspiration for the album, Andrei Tarkovsky's visionary film, from Amazon.com.
A self-described multicareerist, D.B. Spalding is a writer, musician, independent radio producer, computer consultant and online sysop; he writes frequently about music, film, computing and the mass- and multimedia.
Fathom, a division of Hearts of Space, PO Box 31321, San Francisco, CA 94131 fax: 415-759-1166 e-mail: email@example.com Web: http://www.hos.com/
Other links for Andrei Tarkovsky and Stalker (January, 1999):