Vacuity (2013) is a short science fiction thriller written and directed by Toni Morejon in which Denis (Francisco Javier Sánchez) begins to take revenge on those who took his prized possession. But it soon becomes clear that disturbing things seem to be happening in the world around him. Director Morejon’s aim was to create a dark and haunting mystery for his thriller and music plays a major contributing role in this low budget film. Vacuity’s eclectic score is composed and played the Spanish band TenebraEh!. Made up of musicians Elías Egido (bass), Ferran Giralt (guitar), Ramon Marc Bataller (keyboards/percussion) and Naiel Ibarrola (piano), TenebraEh! formed in 2012 as an offshoot of Spanish Indie rock band Eh! to extend their music into composing for film and video games and their first project was an eclectic score for the 1927 Tod Browning silent film, The Unknown.
There’s a sense of dreaminess when listening to Vacuity that springs from the score’s preference for a level of disjointedness that’s achieved by using short fragments of ideas that fade in and out of the mix, the use of sound manipulation techniques and a sense of improvisation in the music that leads to a feeling of meandering through some sort of ethereal world. These ideas, together with the choice of instruments – particularly the use of “twangy” guitars – fits in well with the film’s apparent dreamlike tone. As far as musical ideas themselves go, there’s two main elements to the score: a three-note motif that opens the score which recurs throughout, and a strident strings-based ostinato figure (and variations thereof) that appears several times and which is a bold statement in the otherwise meandering score.
The album opens with “Recuerdos Diurnos, Encuentros Nocturnos” where the 3-note motif emerges from silence on very low keyboards and is then transferred to the aforementioned twangy guitar and then piano. This short motif undergoes a number of transformations that are achieved through the use of different instruments playing the motif (e.g., delicate keyboards in “Dentro de Un Sueño Que Alguien Está Soñando” and twangy guitar in “Dime Que Lo Nuestro Ha Significado Algo”) and also via variations in orchestration that accompany the motif (e.g., “Dime Que Lo Nuestro Ha Significado Algo” uses piano, synths and additional keyboards to colour the basic 3-note motif idea). It’s this 3-note motif that contributes most musically to the dreamy feel of the score and it’s heard best in “Todo Será Posible”, where a Hammond organ is used to give a delicate and hesitant statement of this motif. It is worth noting here that it’s at this point that the motif reminds me most strongly of a beautifully understated motif heard in Bernard Herrmann’s Journey To The Center of The Earth (“The Lost City / Atlantis”).
The most memorable component of Vacuity is probably the insistent string ostinato that seems to be associated with a dream state in the film (if the album’s track titles are anything to go by!) First heard in the second track of the album, “Entrando en Un Sueño”, the powerful ostinato repeats unwaveringly and is accompanied by an unusual rasping device before it changes suddenly to an alternate descending ostinato pattern in low strings that’s now accompanied by various piano chords (giving the ostinato part of the track an A-B pattern). These ostinato passages are somewhat at odds with the feel of the rest of the score, being more ordered and strident. The score closes with both these ostinato patterns except they are in a B-A pattern, reversed in order in which we first heard them and this gives the album (and score?) a sort of resolution. An eerie organ accompaniment adds a new variation to these insistent string passages in this closing track (“Saliendo en Un Sueño”). The remainder of the score is made up of two or three tracks that take simple ideas such as processed guitar chords (“Nunca Fue Tuya y Jamás Lo Será”) and a continuous synth drone (“Fase de Reconocimiento Cerebral”) and creates soundscapes that don’t really add much to the listening experience.
TenebraEh!’s score for Vacuity is an interesting album to listen to. Those familiar with the previous albums from the “parent band” Eh! will recognise many similarities with these earlier releases and their score for the film Vacuity; the distinctive twang of the electric guitar and the various uses of keyboards are obvious common features. Whereas the other instrumental albums are characterised by their eclectic mix of styles (a property that is also heard in TenebraEh!’s score for The Unknown), for Vacuity they reign in the variety and focus more on using 3-4 ideas within a common framework. Some may find that restriction limiting (particularly for those familiar with Eh!’s output) but I find this focus advantageous both to the whole idea of scoring a short film such as this but also for the overall listening experience. The appreciation for the score to Vacuity is one that grows with each listen. The disjointed nature of the opening track and the improvised feel to the music are not something that’s encountered every day in music for films or television but it’s definitely worth persevering if the style is initially off-putting. Although I’m not sure about the suggested similarities to the likes of Lalo Schifrin, Ennio Morricone, John Barry and Henry Mancini that’s been attributed to Eh!’s music by some, the transfer of their style of “krautrock”/musical experimentation/jazz to TenebraEh! is an interesting one and I look forward to hearing any future projects. The score can be listened to in full and is available as a free download at TenebraEh!’s Bandcamp page HERE.
- Recuerdos Diurnos, Encuentros Nocturnos (4:22)
- Entrando en Un Sueño (2:19)
- Discordia (1:10)
- Nunca Fue Tuya y Jamás Lo Será (2:08)
- El Relevo (2:27)
- Dentro de Un Sueño Que Alguien Está Soñando (1:34)
- Dime Que Lo Nuestro Ha Significado Algo (4:30)
- Todo Será Posible (3:39)
- Fortaleza vs. Divinidad (4:00)
- Fase de Reconocimiento Cerebral (2:13)
- Saliendo en Un Sueño (2:16)
Running Time: 30:42
BCore Disc (2014)