Laurel Halo - Possessed

  • On her first film score, the electronic composer delivers a soundtrack that is as stimulating and disorienting as the movie itself.
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  • When Laurel Halo cupped her ear to the hum of new technology on Quarantine, she sounded like an individual subject, an isolated node undergoing heartbreak malfunction. "The signal keeps cutting out but one thing is clear / Nothing grows in my heart, there is no one here," she sang on "Tumor." With Possessed, her first original score, Halo's tech-anxiety gets to express itself not only at the personal but also at the species level. Laurel Halo folds organic elements into digital debris, religious symbolism into rough materials, and quiet gestures into tectonic movements. Released in 2018, Possessed is the work of Rob Schröder, a graphic designer and documentary filmmaker part of the zeitgeist-shaping design studio Metahaven. The hour-long film combines surreal, slow-motion shots of a young woman exploring the ruins of former Yugoslavia with an array of historical and found footage: fuzzy clips of soldiers dancing to "Thriller," tourists holding up selfie sticks at the Coliseum, the view from a helicopter gunsight. A young woman, one of the film's three narrators, speaks in lyrical musings that could have come from Halo's screen-focused persona on Quarantine: "We never talk, we message," she says, while tapping at a pebble as if it was a smartphone. The other two voices belong to Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, the authors of Inventing the Future, a manifesto for a "world without work," who offer academic commentaries on the film's themes. As the directors explained in 2018, Possessed understands our digital devices not as tools for connection but "as objects of isolation." More specifically, that isolation isn't just the generational malaise of dopamine-addicted millennials, but the logical output of decades of neoliberal capitalism. Halo tackles these chunky themes and textual cacophony with a score that never sits still, folding synthetic sounds into acoustic recordings and darting across time and space with the efficiency of a jump cut. Several tracks feature Oliver Coates, the cellist and tape manipulator who scraped his strings over Mica Levi's Under The Skin score, and violinist Galya Bisengalieva, both members of the London Contemporary Orchestra. Their instruments reach backwards into the past on "Cave Walk," a Romantic lament, and "Rome Theme," where Coates' cello rings out unadorned. On "Marbles," Halo's shape-shifting piano adopts the precision of a Michael Nyman score, a moment of introspection before the baroque splendour of "Rome Theme II." Against these classical-oriented pieces are sections of dissonance and upset: free-moving piano clusters, electronic burps and ripples, and the haunted scrapings of "Zeljava," named after the abandoned Croatian airbase where some of the film was shot. On "Hyphae," a vibrating phone cuts through the blurred textures, demonstrating that our ears are always attuned to our phones' interruptions. One of the score’s boldest moments is also one of its shortest: a brief melody from Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater," a piece of 18th century sacred music which captures Mary's grief for the dying Jesus. This skeletal piano line appears towards the end of Possessed as Williams considers humanity's "atrophied" future and suggests, with not much conviction, that what's needed is "a leap of faith." The film's subject matter is complex and vast. Halo doesn't waste energy trying to match it with grand, empty gestures in deafening surround sound. Instead she makes a connection between the personal and the infinite, with a single hand tracing a hymn on the piano's keys.
  • Tracklist
      01. Hyphae 02. Rome Theme I 03. Breath 04. Lead 05. Marbles 06. Rome Theme II 07. Zeljava 08. Last Seen 09. Rome Theme III 10. Cave Walk 11. Stabat Mater (Excerpt) 12. Masks