Anxiety in Soft Neon
If you watch the trailer for Panos Cosmatos’ film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, you’ll notice two things: the retro 80’s style in which the film is shot, and the ominous tones of an ethereal space choir provided by Jeremy Schmidt’s solo recording pseudonym, Sinoia Caves. The space choir only appears sporadically throughout Sinoia Caves’ soundtrack, but the 80’s sci-fi vibe is ever present; conjuring up images of soft neon lighting (a la Stanley Kubrick), malicious robots, and white plastic mazes with electric doors.
The soundtrack is less a collection of songs than it is one long suite, or rather, one long, shifting soundscape. No one song can truly stand alone outside the confines of the album (although “Forever Dilating Eye” was released as a single). This is a good thing. Like any good soundtrack of this type, the music itself follows a narrative arc. It is a totally immersive aural experience that would be diminished if any one of the songs distinguished itself too much. Starting from the first notes of “Forever Dilating Eye” all the way through the fading bass of “Sentionauts II,” the listener is transported to Cosmatos’ and Schmidt’s vintage sci-fi world. The success of this transportation is owed to the fact that Schmidt decided to go all-in on the 80’s aesthetic, fully committing himself to the sound and working within its confines. Because of this, and his incredible attention to detail, the homage to 80’s sci-fi never comes across as anything but sincere.
Despite the fact that each song fulfills a narrative function within the larger confines of the soundtrack, there is one that stands out. “Arboria Tapes – Award Winning Gardens”, is a bit of a calm before the storm. It comes just before the hyper-tense “1983 – Main Theme” and the 16 minute tour de force that is “1966 – Let the New Age of Enlightenment Begin” (a track in which the synths seem to be constantly rising without ever getting higher. An impressive, and eerie technical achievement). But back to “Arboria Tapes”. The track seemingly takes place underwater, with beautifully constructed synths bubbling and modulating between channels (this is headphone music through and through) and a tranquil space-flute melody looping in the background. This is not, however, a break from the ominous and spooky tone of the record. The tranquil flutes are juxtaposed by a crescendoing noise track boiling just beneath the surface. It sounds as if the whole song is poised to explode and collapse at any moment, but it never does – and that is perhaps what makes this soundtrack so wonderful. Schmidt is able to create and sustain anxiety inducing soundscapes from a somewhat aesthetically restricted palette (restricted by choice, not lack of skill) without ever providing release. The soundtrack keeps you on edge until the final note, and even then, the deep bass and space choir seem to stick with you, warranting another listen, and another, and another.