The use of sound and music has caused several debates in ilmmaking. While one group
of ilm directors assert that the use of sound and music (especially music) increase the
effects of cinema, other group of directors propound that its use decreases the strength of
cinematographic image and pulls it away from reality. Distinctions in views become
especially visible when the use of music is in question. Minimalist ilm directors, including
Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman, opposed the excessive use of music and saw and
used it as the minimal element of their ilm language.
This point of view is shared by the Russian ilmmaker Andre Tarkovsky, who has a
special status in the auteur ilm tradition. His thoughts about the minimalist use of music
and sound in cinema can be found in his seminal work Sculpting in Time which contains
his sincere ideas about life, art, culture and politics. His ilms, within this perspective,
conirm his views in this direction. At this point it must be stressed that while his thoughts
seem to contravene the excessive use of music, the soundtracks in his ilms become the
constitutive parts of the ilmic narration within this minimalist usage. Typical examples
are his Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979).
This study examines the rationality behind the usage of sound and music in
Tarkovsky's ilms. It focuses on the primary sound effects (especially in his science iction
ilms) and the soundtracks of his ilms. In this context, especially his Solaris (1972), Mirror
(1975), Stalker (1979), and Nostalghia (1983) will be analysed and compared.
"Every element in a narrative has a function for narrative" (89) writes French critic Roland
Barthes. We encounter the constitutive elements of sound and music in narrative, in ilm
experience. This experience consists of different elements among which sound and music
play an important role. What are the components of a ilm soundtrack? "Spoken dialogue,
noise, and music –used singularly or in combination‐ are the components of a ilm
soundtrack" (Winter 152).
Sound is another important element in cinema that constitutes cinematographic
image. Cinematographic image cannot be effective without soundtrack completely.1Even
"ilms cannot be understood without consideration of the relations between sound and
image" (Johnson 24). Although it is thought that the sound is inferior to the image, the
interaction between them is actually inseparable. "The basis of a ilm is a continuous
interaction between sound and image" (Johnson 25).
THE FUNCTIONS OF SOUND AND MUSIC IN TARKOVSKY'S FILMS
When we look closely to the history of ilm we might see that the soundtrack came
to the fore in the late 1920s. Therefore, it can be said that cinema was born in the silent
era. For this reason, the irst considerations and theories on cinema focused on the
relations between cinematographic image and reality. In other words image in these views
is superior to other elements. With the 1920s, with the introduction of soundtrack in ilm
production, sound became to be understood as being as important as the image. At this
point, the experience in the irst ilm theatres played an important role. In the silent era,
lone pianists in the ilm theatres were responsible for the emotional index of the ilms.
They accompanied the ilm projections with their simultaneous appropriate musical pieces
that relected rhythm and tension of the ilms. These pieces increase the ilmgoers'
attention and repressed the intensity of noise that the ilm projectors made. As might be
expected, these musical pieces were mechanical and accidental when compared to current
ilm soundtrack experiences. "A functional concept of ilm emerged in this imperative"
However the more interesting side of this imperative was the understanding of
effects of soundtrack on ilm narratives. Who could predict that the solution developing
for repressing the noise of projection machine made an enormous effect on the
development of ilm language! This meant that the ilm language gained a new dimension:
The elimination of the boundaries between image and real life. At this point one of the
basic discussions that interests both professional ilmmakers and scholars in cinema
begins. While one group of ilm directors and writers asserted that the use of sound and
music (especially music) increase the effects of cinema, other groups of directors and
writers propounded that the uses decreases the strength of cinematographic image and
pulls it away from reality.
Distinctions in views become especially visible when the use of music is in question.
Minimalist ilm directors, including Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman, opposed the
excessive use of music and saw and used it as a minimal element of their ilm language.
What really matters for these ilm directors are ilmic narration and the belief that it should
not be degraded by other elements. Sounds are selected meticulously in this direction; it
is seen that they are selected in through a process of elimination. The section of reality
that is related to a narrative is recorded in the soundtrack. Other sounds that are
unnecessary are carefully and particularly excluded. Similarly, music is used in the same
direction by these directors; it is minimized and used as a constitutive part in the ilm
narration. It, as in the other cinematographic components, cannot be upward on narrative.
These types of ilms, although they seem easy at irst, leave behind a strong feeling of
resemblance, resemblance of reality in their minimalist styles. Bresson's A Man Escaped
(1956), Balthazar (1966) and Mouchette (1967), for example, affect us with their
eliminated sounds and develop this feeling of resemblance. Similarly, Bergman's
eclecticism in Winter Light(1962), and the classical music pieces and cello sound between
the parts in Shame (1968) and Funny and Alexander (1983) take part as the formative
elements in the narratives.
This point of view was shared by the Russian ilmmaker Andre Tarkovsky who has
a special status in the auteur ilm tradition. His thoughts about the minimalist use of music
and sound in cinema can be found in his seminal work Sculpting in Time which contains
his profound ideas about life, art, culture and politics. His ilms conirm his views in this
direction. At this point it must be stressed that while his thoughts seem to contravene the
excessive use of music, the soundtracks in his ilms become the constitutive parts of the
ilmic narration within this minimalist usage. . Typical examples, within this perspective,
ATMM 2013 PROCEEDINGS 13
are his Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979). However, before going to the analyses of these
ilms, it would be useful to discuss Tarkovsky's main views on the use of sound and music
to develop further thoughts about the roles of these elements in his ilm aesthetics.
Although image is superior to the other factors in his ilms2, Tarkovsky states that there
must be a natural use of sound and music as there is in reality (158‐159). What is stressed
here is that the ilm image must be composed with the soundtrack after elimination of
unnecessary sounds, rather than recording all sounds in the frames as it is in reality. The
director, moving under the necessity of selection of particular sounds and music, composes
his/her image within a balance. Tarkovsky gives Bergman's Winter Light as an example
within this perspective:
He singles out one sound and excludes all the incidental circumstances of the sound
world that would exist in real life. In Winter Light he has the noise of the water in
the stream where the suicide's body has been found on the bank. Throughout the
entire sequence, all in long and medium shots, nothing can be heard but the
uninterrupted sound of the water—no footsteps, no rustle of clothes, none of the
words exchanged by the people on the bank. That is the way sound is made
expressive in this sequence, that is how he uses it. (162)
This situation should also be applicable for music. Tarkovsky, who writes "the sounds of
this world are so beautiful in themselves that if only we could learn to listen to them
properly" (162), stresses that the world, life, and is musical in its essence:
Music in cinema is for me a natural part of our resonant world, a part of human life.
Nevertheless, it is quite possible that in a sound ilm that is realised with complete
theoretical consistency, there will be no place for music: it will be replaced by
sounds in which cinema constantly discovers new levels of meaning. (159)
After these considerations on sound and music, he explains that music adds a new
dimension to the ilm story, enriching it:
I ind music in ilm most acceptable when it is used like a refrain. When we come
across a refrain in poetry we return, already in possession of what we have read,
to the irst cause which prompted the poet to write the lines originally. The refrain
brings us back to our irst experience of entering that poetic world, making it
immediate and at the same time renewing it. (158)
To Tarkovsky, music not only enriches the interactions between audience and ilm, it also
gives possibilities to the director to put special lyrical notes, metaphors into ilm stories.
He mentions his thoroughly autobiographical ilm, Mirror, within this sense. While the
Mirror relects Tarkovsky's spiritual experience as a whole, the music in this ilm functions
as the mirror that relects the protagonist's life in the modern fragmented world. As will
be explained below, composer Eduard Artemyev's distinctive electronic music was
especially used in some of the scenes within this direction in this ilm. The aim was to
produce a sound,
close to that of an earthly echo, illed with poetic suggestion—to rustling, to
sighing.The notes had to convey the fact that reality is conditional, and at the same
time accurately to reproduce precise states of mind, the sounds of a person's
interior world (Tarkovsky 162).
Tarkosvky's Main Views on the Use of Sound and Music in Cinema
ATMM 2013 PROCEEDINGS 15
According to Tarkovsky, music also functions in another important role for the other side,
the ilm audience:
By using music, it is possible for the director to prompt the emotions of the
audience in a particular direction, by widening the range of their perception of the
visual image. The meaning of the object is not changed, but the object itself takes
on a new colouring. The audience sees it (or at least, is given the opportunity of
seeing it) as part of a new entity, to which the music is integral. Perception is
The director, here, leaves his/her intentional effects on viewers the directions of their
perceptions, feelings and thoughts. At this point, music is an important tool for director.
However, Tarkovsky makes an additional point here. According to him, the use of music in
this direction does not mean that a director insists on his visions for an audience using
this element, rather it should be used to produce different meanings for the audience. After
all, ilm image should be constructed by poetical rhythm, and for this reason, according to
Tarkovsky (183) it has contradiction with Sergei Eisenstein's despotic ilm formulas.
Stalker and Nostalghia were produced after a long ilm career starting with the ilm,
Ivan's Childhood (1962). Tarkovsky's ilms have passed several phases until the inal usage
of sound effects and music. Dramatic low and usage of music in his irst ilm, Ivan's
Childhood, were extended to the interference with the image in his last ilms,Solaris, Mirror
The usage of sound and music in Tarkovsky's cinema gained a new dimension especially
in his inal ilms. There is little doubt that this dimension is connected with a journey to
Tarkovsky's inner world. While the Mirror, as a biographical ilm, concentrating on
Tarkovsky's past, the effects of past experiences on his interior, Nostalghia continues this
journey into exile. One (the Mirror) tells the story of a man's fragmented memory in his
homeland, Russia, the other (Nostalghia) takes this story to Italy, while the director is in a
self‐imposed exile. Solaris concentrates on more general themes comparing these two
Solaris and Stalker, made in the science iction genre, establish their ilm discourses
and cinematographic elements on criticism of the rationality of modern science that was
born in the Enlightenment. The sound and music in these ilms has composed on the
nature‐science, human‐nature dichotomies. Both ilms (also the Mirror) are the products
of the collaboration of Tarkovsky and composer Eduard Artemyev. Tarkovsky and
Artemyev developed a special sound, "an idiosyncratic sonic voice in cinema" (Smith 43).
"This is achieved by a complex blend of layers, where sound and music are rarely
descriptive in a literal sense, always retaining the feeling that they are operating as more
than representation" (Smith 43). The three ilms can be read as the stories that focus on a
mankind which introverted the inner world in the fragmented reality of the modern world.
The sound and music were developed especially to relect this situation. Thus ilm images
would reproduce precise states of mind, the sound of a person's interior world in a reality
which is conditional (Tarkovsky 162).
Besides Artemyev's music Tarkovsky used Johann Sebastian Bach's chorale prelude
for organ, Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639), in Solaris which was based on the
The Use of Sound and Music in Solaris, Mirror, Stalker and Nostalghia
science iction writer Stanislaw Lem's story.
Tarkosvky asked Artemyev to mix this sound with the ambient sounds as a musical
score. Artemyev mixed experimental sounds with the natural ambient sounds in the ilm.
While the ilm tells the story of Kris Kelvin on the planet Solaris, it also represents to us
how the scientiic rationality becomes an ideology which externalizes the impossible, the
spiritual in modern societies. When Kelvin encounters his dead wife's replica, Hari, on
Solaris, this strange creature is examined as an impossible happening by the scientists.
Not only did these scientists internalize this scientiic rationality, but also Kelvin, who loves
his dead wife and is very happy to see her replica on the planet, also embraced it. Solaris
makes visible the boundaries of what is human and non‐human.
The sounds in the ilm reinforce these contradictions: While Bach's prelude
reminds us of regaining the essence of life; Artemyev's experimental timbres indicate the
impossibility of this retrieval in the current times. Even Hari's phrase "but I am becoming
human being" cannot change this situation. What is constant is certainly the modern
scientiic rationality and its continuity.3This rationality and knowledge are received by
modern individuals; they have to act in this mode of thinking. This imperative is constantly
reminded to us by the scientists throughout the ilm. Tarkovsky writes "man's unending
quest for knowledge, given him gratuitously, is a source of great tension, for it brings with
it constant anxiety, hardship, grief and disappointment" in Sculpting in Time (198).
Therefore, in this rationality, in the low of scientiic knowledge there has always been
anxiety, hardship, grief and disappointment. The ilm, for this reason, ends with terriic
hopelessness; it is no longer possible to regain, resurrect Kelvin's Hari within this
The characters in Solaris were dogged by disappointments, and the way out we
offered them was illusory enough. It laid in dreams, in the opportunity to recognise their
own roots—those roots which for ever link man to the Earth which bore him. But even
those links had already become unreal for them (199).
Bach's cantus irmus which was used as the subtheme of Hari by Artemyev is heard in the
inal scene where Hari is dying. This usage of music completes Solaris' hopeless inal scene.
This hopeless situation, this pessimistic usage of sound and music continued in
Tarkovsky's next ilm, the Mirror.
In his thoroughly autobiographical ilm, the Mirror, Tarkovsky starts a journey into
his childhood, people whom he saw as important. This journey for Tarkovsky, as King has
correctly noted, "is the attempt through memory to regain what is lost" (67). There are
parallel points about the retrieval of what is lost in both ilms: Kelvin's impossible task to
regain his wife whom he lost in the real world, turned into a struggle, another impossible
task in which the protagonist turns to the past where he lost his secure family atmosphere,
his childhood, his people, his innocence, in the Mirror. The director of the ilms knows this
impossible task lies ahead, but continues with the fragmented.4It can be said that the ilm
was shaped with this fragmentation. Memories play an important role for the director's
journey to the past. They appear disconnected from each other like in a dream. The ilm
leaps from sequence to sequence without regard for chronology, as in a dream. This
fragmentation and disconnected low of images are completed with Artemyev's electronic
Tarkovsky continues his journey to past in Nostalghia. Nostalghia is like a second
chapter after his biographical ilm, the Mirror. The ilm Nostalghia tells the story of a poet,
Andrei Gorchakov who came to Italy to research the life of the Russian serf composer Pavel
Sosnovsky. It seems that Sosnovsky was not a ictional character, he led a normal life.
ATMM 2013 PROCEEDINGS 17
He is known as a talented composer because of his successful musical works. However,
when he got caught up by nostalgia he decided to return to serf‐owing country Russia.
Shortly after his return he hanged himself. Although he knew that there was no way out
for him there he wanted to die in his home country. Gorchakov fragmented inside himself
in the foreign land, Italy. He "watches other people's lives from a distance, crushed by the
recollections of his past, by the faces of those dear to him, which assail his memory
together with the sounds and smells of home" (Tarkovsky 203). In one aspect, he feels the
fate of Sosnovsky, in the other aspect, as a modern individual, he develops an attachment
after the speeches (they criticize the modern world) of Italian mystic Domenico. Sosnovksy
is stuck in his past the modern life lies ahead of him. He dreams throughout the ilm,
returning to his past, his family home. The past seems as if it is an antidote to the present.
This deadlock situation completes with some special sound effects (heard in drops of rain,
steps, low of water, etc) in the ilm. Although Nostalghia uses less music in comparison to
his other ilms, it comes to the fore especially for two sound usages: A sole woman's song
is heard in the opening and inal scenes and part of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is heard
where Domenico puts himself on ire.
In the opening scene a family and their dog seem to be descending a hill. The
countryside vanishes into the rolling fog. The camera dollies in continuously from the
beginning. A sole woman sings at this moment and the starting credits seen over the
screen. When the family and dog stop moving, Verdi's Messa de Requem is heard in the
background. The sole woman also sings in the inal scene where the Russian house appears
in the middle of the Italian cathedral. The sounds with which we are familiar in the West
and the sound that we hear in the East are intertwined, as in the life story it is combined
with what is individual and what is universal. The one relects a poet's fragmented inner
world; the other represents reasons behind this fragmented inner world in modern society.
Another usage of sound and music is observed where Domenico puts himself on
ire. When Domenico realizes despair and lack of freedom in his time, modern society, he,
like Sosnovsky, wants to commit suicide in the same way:
Domenico chooses his own way of martyrdom rather than give in to the accepted,
cynical pursuit of personal material privilege, in an attempt to block, by his own
exertions, by the example of his own sacriice, the path down which mankind is
rushing insanely towards its own destruction (Tarkovsky 208).
At this point, the inal part of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (which later became the
European Union Anthem) is heard in the background in the scene and Italy with its
magniicent ruins is no longer meaningful.
After Solaris, Tarkovsky continued his science iction genre in Stalker. However,
Stalker is not purely a science iction ilm. The ilm uses science iction ilm conventions
to a limited extent. It tells the journey of three people, the Writer, the Professor (of Physics),
and Stalker, and the secrets of the Zone. The ilm, like , is intensely critical about the
rationality of modern science. Stalker problematicises the externalization of what is
spiritual in modern world and scientiic rationality. Stalker, like a prophet in the modern
world, who knows every way, every secret in the Zone, guides the Writer, and the Professor
in the journey to the Zone. However, in the course of the journey, when we, the viewers,
witness the dialogues among the three, we realize what type of reality it is in which we
live, and the deep crisis about creativity (the Writer wants to go the Room in the Zone to
regain his inspiration) we encounter in the current times. The special soundtrack
developed by Artemyev accompanies the dialogues where the ilm message becomes
critical. The music supports the discourses of the dialogue in these scenes. "The
boundaries between music and sound were blurred, as natural sounds and music interact
to the point were they are indistinguishable. In fact, many of the natural sounds were not
production sounds but were created by Artemyev on his synthesizer" (Varaldiev, "Russian
Composer Eduard Artemyev") .
There is an interesting music usage in a distinctive scene where the three travelling to the
Zone on a motorized draisine. Music, the experimental timbres of Artemyev was added to
natural ambient sounds and to the motorized draisine in this scene. The camera is focused
on the characters and we hear sonic voices along with natural ambient sounds, thus "we
are not distracted by their surroundings and as a result the physical journey becomes
transformed into an inner journey" (Smith 45):
In the opening and the inal scene Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was removed and
in the opening scene in Stalker's house ambient sounds were added, changing the
original soundtrack, in which this scene was completely silent except for the sound
of a train (Bielawsky & Tronsden, "The RusCiCo Stalker DVD").
During their journey in the Zone, the sound of water becomes more signiicant. The more
hopeless the situation becomes, after the dialogue among the characters, the more
prominent the sounds of water becomes. Thus the latter depends on the irst; the sound
of water seems to symbolize the beginning, the wish of change and lux.5When Stalker
understands that he cannot change the Professor and Writer's rooted visions, feelings, and
thoughts on the world, humanity, and the spirituality, he notices that he is alone on earth.
He wants to change them, invite them to the mystical, the impossible, like a prophet, until
the inal sequence; but he realizes that he cannot change them.
Image is superior to all other elements in Tarkovsky's ilm aesthetics. Filmic narration, to
Tarkovsky, is produced in the process of poetical images. Thus, according to him, a
ilmmaker must concentrate on the cinematographic image irst. However, although it is
not as important as the image, sound and music are other signiicant components in
ilmmaking. Sound and music give the chance to the director to produce distinctive
Tarkovsky does not resist the use of music. Although he is critical of its use heavily,
he did not altogether avoid the use of music elements in his ilms. The typical examples
are those of the Solaris and Stalker. As explained above, he even did not hesitate to use
experimental sounds in these ilms. Sound and music complete his ilm aesthetics, so that
when we hear or read something about his Stalker, Solaris,Mirror, and Nostalghia we
cannot imagine them without these elements.
ATMM 2013 PROCEEDINGS 19
Barthes, Roland. Image, Music, Text. New York: Fontana Press, 1977. Print.
Bielawsky, Jan, and Trond S. Tronsden. "The RusCiCo Stalker DVD". 20 June 2013. Web.
Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Inquiry into the Origins of Cultural
Change. Oxford & Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1992. Print.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke
University Press, 1991. Print.
Johnson, William. "Sound and Image: A Further Hearing." Film Quarterly 43.1 (1989): 24‐
King, Peter. "Memory and Exile: Time and Place in Tarkovsky's Mirror", Housing,
Theory and Society, 25 (2008): 66‐78. Print.
Lukacs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel; Georg Lukacs, The Meaning of Contemporary
Realism. London: Merlin Press, 1963. Print.
Mitchell, Tony. "Tarkovsky in Italy". 20 June 2013. Web. ‹http://nostalghia.com›.
Smith, Stefan. "The Edge of Perception: Sound in Tarkovsky's Stalker." The Soundtrack 1.1
(2007): 41‐52. Print.
Swensson, Owe. "Sound in Tarkovsky's Sacriice". 12 June 2013. Web.
Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time: Relections on the Cinema. Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1987. Print.
Varaldiev, Anneliese. "Russian Composer Eduard Artemyev". Web. 17 June 2013.
Winter, Marian Hannah. "The Function of Music in Sound Film." The Musical Quarterly 27.2
(1941): 146‐164. Print.
1This can even be said for D.W. Grifith's masterpieces, The Birth of a Nation (1915) and
Intolerence (1916), and even Charlie Chaplin ilms in the silent era. Grifith's ilms, and
Chaplin's style become more perfected and reaches a peak with music used between parts.
2Owe Svensson, the sound mixer of Tarkosvky's Sacriice, also stresses this fact.
3The journey to Solaris was designed not to present this planet to humanity, but to extend
knowledge to its outermost boundaries. This fact is stressed in one of the scenes in the
ilm. This means that knowledge moved away from human beings and reiied in itself in
modern capitalist societies.
4They are fragmented, because they have to construct their inner world, their tastes and
pleasures, thoughts and views under disintegrated experiences in modern society, as
Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs (1963) expresses in a different context. The problem
of disintegrated social experience occurs from mainly time‐space compression in late
capitalist societies, as Jameson (1991) and Harvey (1992) convincingly argue, after
utilizing the main theses of Georg Lukacs and German writer Walter Benjamin, becomes
signiicant in Tarkovsky's ilms, particularly in Mirror and Nostalghia: They are the
complementary chapters of a creative director's unique individual past and terrifying and
unhappy present social experiences. Nostalghia ills the gap the Mirror had created.
5In an interview, on the ilm Nostalghia he said "Water is a mysterious element, a single
molecule of which is very photogenic. It can convey movement and a sense of change and
lux" (Quoted in Mitchell).