Gogol. The Beginning (Гоголь. Начало) is a Russian fantasy-horror film from 2017 directed by Yegor Baranov and starring Alexander Petrov as Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, a young clerk from Petersburg. Gogol suffers mysterious seizures during which he has visions that contain clues to help solve actual crimes. Gogol, together with an investigator, travel to the small village of Dikanka to attempt to solve a series of murders. The film is loosely based on Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol’s collection of short stories, Evenings On A Farm Near Dikanka. The film is produced by Russian production company, SREDA and the score is written by in-house composer Ryan Otter whose recent projects include the Russian 8-part biopic, Trotsky (Троцкий).

The score is orchestral in style (though I suspect a significant proportion is sampled). Low strings are very much to the fore here and there is an abundance of tremolo strings across the range that give the music a threatening and ominous tone. Piano adds a certain level of emotional gravitas, and there’s a distinct Eastern European feel with the use of a cimbalom (or similar instrument). The opening cue of the album (“Бабу Вам Привёз…Покуражиться…”)* is somewhat different in style from the rest of the score; quirky rhythms and a prominent electric guitar (the latter recurring in track 4 (“Совсем Нет Крови…”)) – together with a distinctly Despicable Me-styled pizzicato strings motif – all meld to give a comedic tongue-in-cheek feel. A more obvious influence for much of Gogol. The Beginning is Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes. Otter’s use of strong (and very catchy) low string staccato patterns and rhythms alongside the cimbalom are very reminiscent of Zimmer’s 2009 adventure score. There’s even the inclusion of a saloon bar-styled tack (detuned?) piano. Track 3, “Пять Минут На Сборы…”, is a particularly good example of this influence on the score, and is one of the score’s highlights.

Otter tends to use ostinato and short musical motifs (rather than full-blown themes) for the score. Ostinato patterns and staccato rhythms (particularly in the strings) add a bit of drive and energy (e.g., “Путь, Который Ведёт к Цели…” and “Вы Единственные Кому я Могу Доверять…”). A number of tracks showcase a creepier side to the score. Tracks 2 and 5 (“В Поисках Истины…” and “Чем Больше Страданий, Тем Лучше Писатель…”, respectively) feature simple piano motifs that, despite being pretty sparse, are efficient at conjuring a sense of unease. The piano in “В Поисках Истины…” is augmented with low register strings as well as tremolo strings to add to the ominous feel of the piano. Piano and strings then combine again later in the score with a lonely low cello stating a sombre melodic idea supported by efficiently chosen piano chords. Ethereal female choir adds an element of the fantastical. Another highlight, where the composer spends time on a longer melody, is track 9, “Всё Движется в Серебряной Bоде…”. The use of the detuned piano for quite an emotionally-charged melody adds a surprisingly fragile performance to the tune. The score portion of the album closes with more ostinato patterns where strings, brass and percussion build and brings the score to an inconclusive end: perhaps an indication of the ongoing adventure of the protagonist, Gogol, in the next instalment of the story (“Вы Единственные Кому я Могу Доверять…”). The album itself concludes with a Russian rap song of a style that seems to be popular with recent Russian movies.

Gogol. The Beginning doesn’t really offer anything we haven’t heard before, but I have to admit that what’s here is very entertaining. Despite a very short running time (the score only runs to just over 15 minutes), Otter has been able to include a variety of musical ideas that do generate some emotional response. I have assumed that the majority of the score is sampled since there are a couple of places where the instruments do sound artificial but this artificial sounding feel happens only occasionally and is balanced by some great sounding cimbalom. Once the album had finished I did wish that the album had been at least double the length. The score is not available on CD, but is available for download through the usual digital outlets. Audio clips are available HERE.

*I have chosen to retain the Russian language track titles. Google Translate seems to be pretty woeful at providing meaningful translations.

Rating: ***/*****

  1. Бабу Вам Привёз…Покуражиться… (1:11)
  2. В Поисках Истины… (1:50)
  3. Пять Минут На Сборы… (2:05)
  4. Совсем Нет Крови… (0:49)
  5. Чем Больше Страданий, Тем Лучше Писатель… (1:38)
  6. Путь, Который Ведёт к Цели… (1:31)
  7. Перепёлочку Попробуйте… (2:48)
  8. Пойдёшь Вслед За Мной На Адскую Сковородку! (0:58)
  9. Всё Движется в Серебряной Bоде… (1:12)
  10. Иди Спать, а Свои Пошлые Истории При Себе Оставь… (1:21)
  11. Вы Единственные Кому я Могу Доверять… (1:45)
  12. Гоголь (Scroodgee) (4:00)

Running Time: 21:08

TNT-TV Network / First Music Publishing House (2018)

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