I have no idea whether it was the film or the music that came first, for me, with Baraka – but I think, maybe, it was the music. I know I didn’t see the film until about a decade after it was released, and probably I saw it on the back of seeing a few similar films that had arrived both before and after it. Things like Koyaanisqatsi. Things like Microcosmos.
In the early 00s, I worked in a record store, well it was CDs mostly. And one of the great joys – for a time – was going through the import catalogues and bringing in all sorts of stuff. Blue Note jazz, weird and rare soundtracks and ambient music, all sorts of things…
A lot of it I would buy for myself, but I moved a few units. I gathered a few customers that were pleased to see a well-stocked jazz section in a small, mainstream (chain) store. Or that loved the movie soundtracks (we were in a mall that housed a giant cinema complex, made sense to stock up on the OSTs).
And this was all pre-internet shopping really. You could buy a CD or two online but it would take a while to reach you and stock was limited. So people still expected the person behind the counter to just it for them.
Anyway, that’s my memory with both the film and the CD – they probably both arrived in the store and maybe someone told me about the music and I played that first. But I certainly bought a copy of the film on DVD and watched it as soon as I owned it; watched it a few times. Loved it. Still do.
The same is true of the music – and it really feels like its own experience. Which is no mean feat, given it’s a dialogue-free film and the music is its ‘voice’.
Michael Stearns comes from the world of sound design and new age composing; film and installation work too, but my first knowledge of him was this Baraka score. It is sublime. A series of world musics – different pieces for different places – that moves with a meditation flow.
He’s still making wonderful music – just last year I reviewed a new release by him. And it was my favourite new age/ambient record for a time.
But nothing can beat Baraka. Again, because the music is a gateway. Around the same time I discovered the music of Lisa Gerrard – her solo work, her film contributions and her towering work as one half of Dead Can Dance. And I can link that to Baraka; thematically some of it fits. But just the spirit of that time for me links it. And there’s obviously some moods shared.
A while back, I dumped most of my CD collection. A move I wouldn’t ever say I regretted. But there’s a lot of soundtrack albums that either never made it to vinyl (or are just too expensive) and aren’t available on the streaming services; or are in fragmented shape only.
So I’m buying back a lot of CDs I once owned. The money is not a big deal, they’re dirt cheap for the most part.
My house has felt happier since recently buying Baraka back. I can see the images from the film in my mind while I listen to this. I am taken on other journeys with this music too.
It’s that beautiful.
And yes, yes, it’s probably music-as-tourism and someone might now say that the mix of drums of evocation and throat singing and street-noise mixed with deep ambience is all a bit cliff notes. But hey, it was a crucial part of my musical education, taking me places too without ever leaving the couch.