- And Then There Was Light, the director Tatsushi Omori recently explained, was borne from "a desire to shoot the brilliance of life outside the realm of reason." That, and the film's plot—two former lovers entangled in an unsolved murder—is the unusual inspiration for Jeff Mills' latest full-length, an OST for Omori's crime thriller of the same name, which will expose his work to the largest cinema-going audience he's had yet. (This marks the first time Mills has made music for a new, mass-market film.) Since 2000's Metropolis, a soundtrack for the Fritz Lang classic, his LPs have steadfastly mined science fiction themes—time travel, alien worlds, the future—and space exploration; a nine-album "musical science fiction" series, The Sleeper Wakes, is among these. He's done so with a longstanding mission in mind: to show that techno can be more than dance music.
As an accompaniment to film, techno is drearily utilised, confined mostly to generic club scenes. Mills's OSTs have shown more imagination, to a point. In 2013, I attended a screening of another Lang film, Woman In The Moon, where Mills played music that would eventually become a triple-CD album. Segueing from queasy minor-key melodies to glitter-studded orchestral sweeps, the tracks were evocative and transportive. But this combination of visual and musical ideas—that is, sci-fi and techno—was hardly radical. The launch scene's climactic moment came with a 4/4 burst that struck me as a test flight for an audiovisual cliché. As he tried to expand techno's horizons, it occasionally seemed like techno was narrowing his.
A comparably intense section near the end of And Then There Was Light has more bite. After a brief swirl of synth whistles, titled "Trigger Happy Level," the drums on "The Players Of Consequence" don't beat so much as gush. (You'd imagine the corresponding scene to be the film's most violent.) The next track, "Lost Winners," conveys a kind of frozen terror, with arp cascades, laser blips and, later, a temple-piercing trill that all approximate nausea. Since Omori's film means to examine our reptilian impulses, the LP's fiercest techno—the exceptional "The Hypnotist (Hikari Mix)," the less remarkable "Incoming"—could represent our submission to them. But setting aside where they belong in the film, these tracks fit poorly here, and feel oddly positioned. "Incoming"'s rheumatic pump ends the album abruptly.
The less it sounds like techno, the fresher And Then There Was Light seems. In "The Secret Sense" and "Islands From The Lost Sea," vibrato flutes, theremin-esque slides, steady hand drums and microtonal chimes portray some untamed paradise. "Danger From Abroad"'s thumb piano and snaking echo trails gesture towards a bleaker Fourth World. "The Revenge Of Being In Lust" draws a tensile funk from insistent synth bass prods, which might remind you of the Jaws theme. The resonant water drops of "Landscapes" echo Japanese environmental music. A soundtrack for a crime thriller—an uncomplicated assignment for Mills, relatively speaking—doesn't naturally promise this much variety.
Last year, Mills described his albums as being "80% research, 20% music." Supposing that's also true of And Then There Was Light, the film has inspired surprising—and sometimes remarkable—results. The mood of the opening run, from "The Secret Sense" to "Parallelism In Fate Part 1 And 2," is an exotic mix: mysterious, uneasy, sensual. Until its last two tracks, the album has a natural narrative rhythm, through which you can more or less grasp Omori's major themes—in other words, there's little here that sounds "sci-fi." Strangest of all is that the techno tracks should be the least appealing aspect of a Jeff Mills album.
01. A Secret Scene
02. Islands From The Lost Sea
03. Raindrops Of Truth
04. Parallelism In Fate Part 1 And 2
05. The Revenge Of Being In Lust
06. The Bond Of Death
07. The Trail Of Secrets
09. Danger From Abroad
10. The Little Ones
12. Trigger Happy Level
13. The Players Of Consequence
14. Lost Winners
15. The Hypnotist (Hikari Mix)