Hidur Gudnadottir

Chernobyl & Joker

published in The Wire No.432, London, 2020
Chernobyl (2019)



Currently, aural tactility and mediumistic performance seems to be fetishized in proportion to the general reliance on immaterial music consumption and production. But Chernobyl's historiographic sourcing and location veracity can only inform the resulting musical composition if one welcomes anecdotal rhetoric into one's musical experience. Gudnadottir's score is certainly well-crafted, dancing deftly between acerbic passages and sumptuous moments. Yet its mythological baggage weighs it down. Resonating with the realm of 'dark ambient' - admittedly as abominable an attempt of categorization as any - the score trades in overwrought Romanticism. Such stylistics are not to my taste; they waft through multiple musical genres intoxicated with morbid melodics and lurid lyrics, all of which reviewers often tag "cinematic". At the core of this musical leaning is the notion of empathy: once a dismissed, over-emotional device, now a desperate justification for the ethics of representing anything dark and morbid.

Chernobyl - like those computer games often set in underground nuclear facilities - is certainly dark and morbid. Its music sounds as such, forging empathetic sonics which at once respect their environment (a la Pauline Oliveros' laterally connected 'deep listening') as they sensationalise their sourcing (a la the post-notching of heroic 'field recording'). Mostly, the score adheres to this type of irradiated aural detritus (e.g. "Pump Room") enmeshed in pseudo-choral threnodies (e.g. "Vichna Pamyat"). It's beautiful in its Modernist heightening of abstract textures (I especially like "Gallery" as a track and as positioned in the series), but that does not mean the score somehow levitates above all cultural signage - especially considering its service to a HBO mini-series.


Joker (2019)
Text © Philip Brophy. Images © respective copyright holders.