Steven Price’s Gravity strikes a perfect musical balance between terror and wonder, and then uses it to create an expertly-crafted and truly remarkable eighty-minute exploration of the absolute isolationism of outer space.
Ambience is the compositional centrepiece of Gravity, and the album’s introductory track Above Earth does a particularly excellent job of introducing it. The music starts off low, gradually building up with gently pulsing electronics and gloomy vocals before then suddenly expanding in both intensity and volume. In just a few seconds the score moves from wondrous to downright terrifying, and then it’s over just as quickly as it began. As album openings go, the first forty seconds of Gravity are atmospherically incredible. The remainder of the piece then fades back into ambience, with low vocals and deep strings pretty perfectly capturing the sheer awe of outer space.
The electronics then reappear in Debris, continuing in the same intense and daunting manner as their initial debut. While not adhering to the traditional thematic rules of music (i.e. having a specific set of recurring notes) I would liken the various appearances of said electronics throughout the album to that of a theme, as whenever they show up, danger soon follows. About midway through the track they are then joined by rather frantic strings and solemn vocals, and the music starts to creep towards something resembling normal-sounding music before that glimmer of hope is then snatched away by the increasingly loud electronics, and the strings and vocals disappear. Gravity overall is very much not a traditional film score, utilising sound effects and musical distortions far more than say brass or strings, and while that works incredibly well in terms of establishing atmosphere, it is nice to hear orchestra every once in a while. Like I said, it’s almost a beacon of hope in the otherwise complete and utter dark and emptiness of the movie’s setting.
The Void very much lives up to its name, acting ambiently for much of its six minute runtime with low and sometimes distorted electronics usually in combination with the now rather eerie-sounding vocals. At several points the music then deviates, building up in both volume and intensity like water does when a stone is dropped in it; reacting and cascading from some narrative-altering event. Atlantis then continues where it leaves off, bringing forward the danger-screaming electronics and then calming them at about the two-minute mark, with the score then descending into ambience for much of the back half of the cue. It’s here however that we hear another slight flicker of hope, as with quiet strings the composer quietly introduces the album’s wonderful main theme. It doesn’t last for long however, quickly dissipating at the end of the track as the electronics return.
The longest track on the album is up next; a staggeringly eleven-minute-long piece entitled Don’t Let Go. It begins quietly and peacefully, with light electronics and sporadic solemn piano notes. Sixty seconds in things then start to get interesting, as strings play out a particularly saddened rendition of the newly introduced main theme. Before long vocals then join the fray, singing a second and beautifully melancholic thematic rendition before the motif then disappears almost as quickly as it came. In the background the danger-representing electronics start to rise, gradually becoming more intense before then arriving in full dramatic force. After several tense minutes they then subside, allowing the heartfelt strings to return – though this time noticeably sans-theme. A piano then subtly opens Airlock, a track which in combination with ISS brings the score back to its more peaceful and ambient side for a highly enjoyable five minutes of relaxation before unfortunately, disaster then strikes.
Tension opens Fire, as loud electronics and rapid strings do their absolute best to instil terror and dread throughout the first eighty seconds of the cue. After that the drama then almost instantly dissipates as the electronics and strings pretty much entirely vanish, leaving only very quiet background noise for the final minute of the piece. This however was but the calm before the storm, as subsequent track Parachute is where the real danger begins. Frantic strings and intimidating percussion in combination with the ever-present and rather frightening electronics make for a particularly fierce opening, but after two minutes things then settle back down as the hopeful vocals reappear, bringing with them a sense of calm and tranquility that has just a hint of ominousity behind it. This then reveals itself fully in the back half of the cue, as the rapid strings and imposing electronics return for an especially loud and dramatic finish.
In The Blind then returns to the subtler, more solemn side of the score, utilising soft electronics and rather quiet yet apprehensive strings for much of its runtime. As the music continues, occasional deep brassy beats can be heard, perhaps signaling dangers or events to come. The saddened vocals then make another reappearance right towards the end, this time in combination with gently rising electronics that then transverse rather effortlessly into Aurora Borealis, a far more peaceful cue. Quiet and rhythmic electronics work together with a pensive piano to create this wonderfully tranquil piece of music; one that pretty perfectly captures how beautiful a moment it must be to watch Earth from outer space (which is where this cue plays in the movie). This sense of complete calm then carries over into Aningaaq, a track which adds more electronics and slow, effortless strings into the mix, making for a quiet and very relaxing five minutes of film score.
Ambience is then the focus of Soyuz, a track that much like the previous two utilises sombre electronics and calming vocals to great atmospheric effect. It is however the calm before the storm, as right in its opening few seconds, subsequent cue Tiangong starts to up the ante. The electronics are tenser here, with dark percussive beats almost lying in wait in the background. Solemn strings then play a particularly apprehensive rendition of the main theme at about the two minute mark, before then building up in tandem with the increasingly loud electronics and then bursting with an epic and near hopeful thematic explosion before the danger takes over, with the dark electronics returning for quite an action-packed back half.
Rapid electronics and frantic strings then open Shenzou, a track that at first sounds like it’s going to continue the same gloomy tone as previous cues, but at the ninety second mark; things change. Hopeful vocals sing a rather confident rendition of the main theme, dramatic strings arrive in the background, brass starts to build and the score then simply just goes for it. The standout cue award was pretty much immediately given to this track, so that should give you a pretty good idea of just how utterly incredible it is. The album then rather masterfully concludes with Gravity, a track that much like Shenzou begins with a few quiet main theme reprises before then exploding into hope, with the vocals in particular giving their best performance yet to close the album. Personally I’d say it doesn’t quite reach the same heights of the previous cue, but that doesn’t stop it from being a truly fantastic piece of music.
Overall, Steven Price’s score for Gravity is…out of this world. It’s beautiful, it’s sad, it’s terrifying, and it’s epic. The composer expertly captures the feeling of the complete isolation of outer space that the movie gets across so well, and that’s just the more ambient cues. The more action-oriented side of the score is downright petrifying at points, and you can truly feel the magnitude of the film’s events and the toll they have on the main character. The main theme is subtly introduced near the start of the album and then seeded rather masterfully throughout, then culminating in one of the most epic and satisfying musical conclusions to a film score that I have honestly ever heard. The final three cues in particular are breathtaking, and Shenzou remains one of my favourite pieces of music of all time.
In conclusion; Perfect Score Award.
Drop everything you’re doing for the next eighty minutes, and listen to this.
Standout Cue: 15. Shenzou