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Annihilation (Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow)

March 1, 2018

I’ve been listening to Annihilation by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow today. It’s a peculiar piece of music, mostly because I personally struggle to describe it as ‘music’. There are a few moments of strumming acoustic guitar. The other 80-or so minutes consist of droning, whirring, moaning, buzzing, hissing, scraping, clunking, tinkling, slamming, banging and…. some vocal exercises. I think that pretty much sums it up.

It all sounds rather unnerving and when played at full volume in a cinema, I’m sure it’ll creep the heck out of most people. However, when you’re at home and you’re looking forward to listening to a new soundtrack for what promises to be a most intriguing film, you may be disappointed. From start to finish, this score’s sole purpose appears to be building tension. It does so through sounds, as in sound design. There are no melodies. No dramatic arch that I could sense. You could argue there are a few motifs at play (the plucking guitar, some particular sounds), but it’s all at an incredibly minimalistic level.

On a few occasions the score flirts with Johann Johannsson’s Arrival by using similar vocal effects. At other times it sounds like the machine from Contact… yeah, the actual machine. Some sounds recall Goldenthal’s experimentations for Alien 3 (but again, I’m exclusively referring to some of the sound effects there).

I admit, this is not the kind of score that’s supposed to be heard out of context. I’m sure it was a technical challenge to put this score together, and I’m in no way criticising that. I’m purely reacting to it as a stand-alone listening experience, which it’s not really supposed to be. Away from the film it’s boring at best and downright unpleasant at worst. Now, I like experiments as much as the next person; and I’m not averse to minimalistic scores, sound driven scores, electronic scores or a combination of all of that… but there are so many of these scores these days. My biggest issues with them is that, other than unease, they offer no emotion, no storytelling, no dramatic arch. I’ve said this many times before; and there are many a 2017-score that I didn’t even bother reviewing because I’d be repeating myself as much as those scores repeat themselves. I guess quite a few film-makers prefer a score that is ‘gutteral’ more than ‘intellectual’. It’s not for me. [1/5]

Annihilation, Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow. 29 tracks, 82 minutes, Lakeshore Records 2017.

Review by Pete Simons. (C) 2018 Synchrotones

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