Mark Knopfler and Evelyn Glennie’s soundtrack to the film about the life and story of the man who discovered the Altamira Caves is, for the most part, a gorgeous set of soft, stately instrumentals. You’ll not only spot Knopfler’s trademark sound you can link this – directly – to the music he made for films in the 1980s. In the two opening pieces there’s a Storybook Love feel to the way this music unfolds, hints of his work on Cal, Princess Bride and Last Exit To Brooklyn in particular (all wonderful soundtracks). There’s something very special he has where he is able to create space, to never feel like his guitar is dominating and yet to still be the main sound, the main voice.
In that regard his soundtrack work is often similar to Ry Cooder’s and there is some of the Paris, Texas feel to some of these cues (particularly By The Grave) but also in as much as the music is so clearly very scene-setting and yet it’s never quite a definitive statement of place and time; it’s music that unfurls in and of its own time and space – creating, then, a perfect cinematic world, all at once contemporary and otherworldly, reaching way back as well as zooming forward.
There are the Celtic flourishes we’ve come to expect, but here they are placed in an altogether new context.
The playing is sublime, not just from Knopfler. Glennie’s worrying rumbles of percussion are highlights across many of the pieces here (particularly Onward where the claustrophobia, isolation and strange, mercurial magic of being deep down in the cave is so beautifully evoked.
I said this was gorgeous for the most part – because there are two Glennie-composed pieces which are altogether more abrasive. They are amazing pieces of sound collage. But they’re jarring when placed against the romantic waft of Knopfler’s instrumental pieces. That’s the intention of the filmmaker and the musicians, to have this contrast. And these soundsc(r)apes are not only crucial for their place in the film but work on their own too – they just stick out, feel very different to the Knopfler compositions.
Exquisite playing is all across this short set of soundtrack cues, Marcelino’s Despair has a flavour of the build towards Going Home from the famous Local Hero score, the strings (and the arrangement of the strings) is the real magic here. Farewell To The Bison has Glennie remixing Knopfler’s guitar line from the main themes, taking it and placing it inside her composition, collage-like, a piece of sound-design, an aural sculpture, emerges.
Guy Fletcher (keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist who has been with Knopfler since phase two of Dire Straits) is on hand with harmonium and the supremely talented Michael McGoldrick (here playing flute) is another key component.