Review Summary: A beautiful journey into the unknown.
One of the greatest things about being an open-minded musician and/or music listener is that every new piece seems like its own journey, whether good or bad. When keeping your musical horizons open, you could always find the next source of inspiration in your own music or even just your daily life. As long as there's a genuine sense of passion a listener has for that certain style of music he or she is looking into, any note can tell a story of its own. That ideology is why the combination of cinema and music have worked so well together; even though you see what's happening on screen, music can still always enhance the mood of the proverbial "journey" the film is showing. Think about an action movie; would most people be very interested in an action scene without some awesome orchestral or heavy metal tunes to get you pumped? Not usually; these days, the visual medium generally favors being accompanied by music to enhance atmosphere or simply contribute to the effectiveness of scenes. However, there is one film that has shown me that some movies wouldn't even feel complete without music; that film happens to be Gravity.
A perfect fit to the film it accompanies, Steven Price's soundtrack to the Alfonso Cauron movie Gravity is a complete marvel of a soundtrack. Not only do you get an amazing ambient album with perfectly-placed symphonic and electronic flourishes, but a soundtrack that displays a mastery of the concept "tension and release." Similar to the film, the atmosphere of the record ranges between beautiful and sprawling to extremely tense and frankly terrifying; both extremes are done in a very balanced way. For instance, the opener "Above Earth" sucks you into its spacey world with a melancholic choral line and ominous strings firmly placed underneath to give a sense of unease. But then, just about ten seconds later, the song builds up to an insanely loud volume until it abruptly switches to the quiet atmosphere we just heard earlier. Expect to hear this a lot throughout the soundtrack, especially near the very end of multiple pieces. However, some songs such as the eleven minute "Don't Let Go" or the beautifully hopeful-sounding "Airlock" are more calm and spacious. The electronic effects in "Don't Let Go" are paired perfectly with the underlying synthesizers and strings, giving off a surprising amount of humanity given the odd combination of sounds, whereas "Airlock" is a minimalist piece that benefits from the lack of low instruments/sounds involved. The piece, unlike most of the songs, is a very airy ballad-esque composition that displays the importance of dynamics in any soundtrack; many other songs represent the tension, and this is one of the biggest releases to counter that. What's also interesting to note about all of this is that there's literally no percussion throughout the entire record; Alfonso Cauron wanted a soundtrack without typical Hollywood cliches, so one thing that was taken out was the percussion. It works though, because more focus is given to the scope and power of the other instrumentation that's utilized. Given the ambient nature of the soundtrack, drums and other percussion probably would have bogged down the experience.
However, the soundtrack's quality isn't just based on the strength of its compositions and dynamics; I mentioned "humanity" earlier, and that's perhaps the biggest highlight of all. Based on the compositions, you can almost feel the plight the main characters are going through if you've read up on the plot, even if you haven't actually watched the movie yet. For every tense moment of absolute chaos, there's a quiet ambient moment to let the listener reflect on what he or she heard. The last song "Gravity" is pretty much the embodiment of that reflective side, both melancholic and hopeful as you think about what you just listened to. As the song builds from simple ambient melodies to a climax of powerful singing and a rush of strings, there's finally a moment to breathe after the musical storm that preceded this piece. Then there's a piece like "Aningaaq" which focuses on a light F-major synthesizer chord for quite a long time. That might seem like a bland way to fill a composition, but the quality here lies in the fact that there are many subtleties going around the chord. For instance, around the one-minute mark, there's a beautiful instrumental flourish that washes over the melody and gives off a temporary dynamic shift to the piece until it returns to its original serenity. Stuff like this is what makes the soundtrack work; the little things that catch you off guard really add to the overall picture and create an incredibly emotive experience.
This soundtrack is just magnificent. I recommend you see the film anyway, but even if you don't, this album is really a must-own. The only reason I wouldn't consider it perfect is because it's better experienced with the film instead of being standalone. Even then, it still warrants multiple listens regardless. Like any great musical journey, it's an experience of musical peaks, valleys, and inspiration. Most of all, though, it really makes you think long after it's over.