The Ambiguity of Sound: A Ride Between Two Worlds

Wow. Andrei Tarkovsky's films have been digitally remastered, and a major retrospective of his work is currently underway across the UK. Tarkovsky is up there as one of the great directors who was willing to explore cinema as a truly audiovisual experience. Something in sound itself I think, that helped serve his metaphysical and spiritual line of enquiry - "sound's potential for ambiguity and abstraction [...] allowing a sound source to remain a figment of our imagination, mystifying rather than orienting" (And Then There Was Sound: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, 1992, Andrea Truppin).

 Stalker [1979] / Photomontage

Stalker [1979] / Photomontage

This is the railway cart ride into The Zone. A four-minute sequence near the beginning of the film showing the three main characters riding a small motorised railway cart into the zone. The scene consists of four shots that slowly drift between the anxious faces of the men and the passing landscape behind them. In the soundtrack we hear the metallic rhythms of the cart grinding along the track. As the journey continues a series of soft electronic sounds, like metallic coils of unknown origin begin to become audible. At first we detect them as diegetic elements from within the picture, perhaps from the rusty metallic surfaces or drifting across the land as distant sonic events. Gradually they grow in intensity, echoing in odd counterpoint to the steady rhythms of the cart. We begin to consider the origin of these sounds; they seem to linger outside the frame somewhere between sound and musical score. As the electronic texture continues to swell, so the sounds of the cart slowly change. The heavy weight of the metallic rhythms begin to strangely transform into new timbres that coalesce with the echoes of the electronic sounds. This new soundtrack of electronic tones and processed cart sounds continues until the men arrive at their destination. They have left a decaying civilization and are now in unknown territory, bound up in the enigmatic power of the zone.

Excerpt from Booms, Bells and Distant Voices - The Ambiguity of Sound, 2013, Rob Szeliga