Monday, September 30, 2013

Gravity by Steven Price (2013)

Review by Travis Elder

The cold, dark vacuum of space takes center stage in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity in perhaps a more realistic manner than ever before.  The movie stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer, but first time astronaut, who gets stranded in space with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) after their shuttle is destroyed during a routine spacewalk.  With no sound in space this is where the creativity of Steven Price's score comes in providing both music and sound design.  In a day when sometimes one blockbuster score can be swapped for another this is not the case with Gravity's thoughtfully constructed score.

This becomes clear early with the spatial ruckus, Debris.  Price literally creates a harrowing orchestral and electronic debris field.  He does this by impacting and crashing together, up, and down, left, and right, fading, and echoing in organized chaos a dizzying number of elements into a tension filled maelstrom.  Synthetic, bassy zips, zaps, and crashes, get whipped around echoing whirs, unsettling wind effects, signal buzzing and beeps, crashes and barely recognizable strings.   Some may quickly discard this cue for its discordance.  And to be honest played at high levels this cue could be grounds for disorderly conduct.  However, Price's creativity in musically simulating the mayhem of a debris field in space is undeniable, refreshing, and undoubtedly ratchets up the onscreen intensity and fear ten fold.

Several other space connections wend their way throughout the score.  Shuttle engines effects build and wind up, sometimes as if roaring up for launch, sometimes grinding and petering out, and sometimes idling.  Even the vacuum of space gets utilized with the music seemingly getting gobbled up into disquieting, sudden, and stark silence (end of Debris, for example).  Muted, untuned in terrestrial signals create a subtle eeriness such as in the opening of ISS.  Thruster bursts become soft percussion in Parachute.  The flow, echo and swish of wind often provides ambient textures.

A glass harmonica.
Glogger / Foter / GNU Free Documentation License
To give the score an otherworldly feel Price uses a glass harmonica as well as individual, water filled glasses played beautifully by Alasdair Malloy.  Malloy's crystalline tones appear throughout the score including a movingly elegant performance in ISS and and another highlight performance in the climactic final cue, Gravity.  Really a beautiful instrument and a perfect choice for underscoring Gravity's off world story.

The tranquil vastness of space is represented in minimalist style with gentle, slow tempo piano in cues such as Airlock and Aurora Borealis.  Other cues in this same vein include the ambient and textural Aningaaq (Greenlandic mythology's name for the moon), the ethereal Soyuz, and the mysterious, glassy tones of ISS. Those who enjoy minimalist and texturally ambient works such as Cliff Martinez's Solaris, Brian Eno's Prophecy Theme from Dune, the works of Arvo Pärt such as Spiegel im Spiegel, and Henyrk Gorecki's dark and weighty Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Symphony No. 3) will enjoy Price's entries in the genre.

Gravity's main theme first appears in Don't Let Go, played from 1:06 to 2:49, and again from 9:31 to 11:04, both times pensively by violin amidst glassy tones, Lisa Hannigan's haunting vocals, and other textures.  Far and away, the highlight performances of the theme come in the magnificent eleven-minute finale, Shenzou and Gravity.  Here the determination of the human spirit shines, through heavenly and powerfully delivered vocals and with the orchestra finally letting loose in triumphant, and chill-inducing harmony.  At 2:38 in the final cue, Gravity, a strumming anthem begins, gains in intensity, and is joined this time by Katherine Ellis's exultant strains before all the music gets sucked up into space's vacuum one last time.  A stellar end to the journey!

The score does get bogged down at times in dreary murkiness such as in The Void, Atlantis, and parts of Parachute perhaps playing to feelings of hopelessness arising from the characters' maroonment in space.  Gravity excels though in its meditative passages, the distinctive space personality imbued throughout, its shimmering glassy tonality, alluring vocals, and terrific finale.  This is not the kind of space score we are used to hearing, but that just may be the reason many will find it so alluring.  The score is available on disc and digitally from WaterTower Music. Amazon CD-R | Amazon MP3 | iTunes

Track Listing:
1. Above Earth (1:50)
2. Debris* (4:24)
3. The Void (6:15)
4. Atlantis (3:43)
5. Don’t Let Go (11:11)
6. Airlock (1:57)
7. ISS* (2:53)
8. Fire (2:57)
9. Parachute (7:40)
10. In the Blind (3:07)
11. Aurora Borealis (1:43)
12. Aningaaq (5:08)
13. Soyuz (1:42)
14. Tiangong (6:28)
15. Shenzou* (6:11)
16. Gravity* (4:35)

Total running time of score: 1:11:44
*ScoreCues 2013 Best Cues Nominee

Gravity on Spotify

Film Music Magazine (Daniel Schweiger)
THR (Alexa Girkout)
Huffington Post (Christopher Rosen) (Vic Barry)

Glass harmonica example:

Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im spiegel:


  1. Just FYI, the Amazon links at the end lead to Arrow, not to Gravity :)

  2. My favorite of the bunch is probably "Aningaaq." Terrific, incredibly dense harmonies throughout that piece. (It's not part of the soundtrack audio, but the Greenlandic man's singing during the movie harmonizes with that cue perfectly, too.)


Thanks for sharing!