Introductory side note: this review is all about preaching to the choir, for obvious reasons. People not familiar with Carlson‘s output won’t be looking for this unless they saw the film. I’ll get down to brass tacks immediately – this music illustrates the majesty of the cosmos’ ways, and how small, uncategorized and random we are in the face of it. Also, this review contains minor spoilers.
So there I was, sitting in my room, staring at a screen, voluntarily and involuntarily ingested molecules creeping through my brain like snails in the dead sea. I was watching the beautiful zoomed-in outline of a gold nugget slowly crossing the frame from south to north. Carved upon it, the projected names of cast and crew. Accompanying it, the familiar mid-trebly twang of Drcarlsonalbion aka Dylan Carlson and his new album. Movie soundtrack album. Or maybe it’s the other way around? The gold nugget filling the screen seemed to perfectly illustrate the tones reverberating from Carlson‘s guitar. Gold is one suite of 24 tracks made to accompany the 2013 German art-western Gold. So now you know why this review started with a screen instead of a sound.
I’ll be short about the film: Gold is a slow to mid tempo German masterpiece about a bunch of German gold rushers traveling through the wilderness, apparently on their way to Klondike (I’m Dutch, and if you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much, but my German is limited and the subtitles were as well). The cast consists of rugged, understated characters whose faces speak using subtle twitches and glances. At first, I thought the whole movie was going to be made up of a german Nicole Kidman in nineteenth-century Canada wilderness, constantly dodging the words of two-legged apes. Of course, this creates room for dynamics Hollywood lacks. The obligatory zoom-in-on-their-eyes amputation scene, the soundtrackless this-is-not-a-western-but-there’s-cowboys shootout: the usual tricks. Nina Hoss, the aforementioned Nicole Kidman look-and-act-alike, really shines in these scenes. She’s able to evoke psychological weight through body language with an ease few actresses display.
Now if this little introduction to the movie sounds the least bit cynical, it’s not meant to be: Gold is beautiful, but it is not about script nor characters. Or rather, it is, but the main character isn’t human. It’s momma Nature herself, and like the cargo ship in Alien, it tickles your imagination and converses with you in more ways than the characters do. In musical terms, this film is a Rick Rubin album- stripped down, but infused with raw nature magic that is hard to capture on tape. And boy, did they capture some beautiful shots.
Ah, the confusion of idea and sound. Draw a circle. Draw a star. Which one do you call ‘booba’, and which one do you call ‘kiki’? Exactly. The results are almost always the same- this is called ideasthesia, and if that word spurred the association of synaesthesia, you’re not to blame. Whereas synaesthesia is about linking what we perceive as ‘our separate senses’, ideasthesia is about linking ideas to senses. Concerning linking ideas to senses, there is something funny about this album: suddenly some people are noting that Earth’s latest output and Carlson‘s solo music have a ‘western’ twang. I must say, the twang’s definitely there, his signature guitar tone is there, and the familiar phrasing that is all about letting something ring out is there as well. Now, pardon the pun but I’m a country boy at heart – I’m just not from the west. I’m from the woods. So that’s what I hear. Woods. And the fact that this album is the soundtrack to a western won’t change any of that.
Therein lies the beauty. This album is immensely evocative, but it’s your choice where to fly. The ending of Gold features Nina Hoss and two horses, disappearing into the wilderness under the gleaming daylight of noon. The accompanying soundtrack, featuring guitar playing that like most of Carlson‘s output focuses on letting notes ring out instead of focusing on hitting notes, is the perfect accompanying ideasthetical link to the image provided. But the same track would also do the trick for my, shall we say, idealized image of girlfriend X, lazily draped over my balcony like gold over a rock. It is your choice. That is the core of this album. That is the magic of Carlson‘s soundtrack.
Obligatory Tuscany loggia with wine and summer evening not included.
Scribed by: Jochem Visser