In 2012, Laurel Halo released her acclaimed debut album, Quarantine, via Hyperdub Records. Eight years down the line, we find ourselves in an apocalyptic yet literal manifestation of her original LP’s title, as the multi-faceted artist releases her latest: Possessed.
The Berlin-based American is lauded for her propensity to conjure redolent and emotive music in a way that not many can. Her end-product has meandered through genres during her career — an early dance with avant-pop was succeeded by a manifesto of minimal techno, and slowly but surely, Laurel Halo’s music soothed over time. The sound waves became less erratic, less restless, and her latest body of work, Possessed, is testament to this correlation.
This record is a score composed by Halo to soundtrack the 2018 experimental documentary Possessed, by Dutch design collective Metahaven. The film serves as a commentary on the misuse of technology, relaying a bleak account of how the contemporary generation’s hopes of a unique life are quashed by a social media autarky.
Fittingly, then, Laurel Halo’s soundtrack to this picture is a delicate journey fraught with fragility, density, elation and despair. What is evident is Halo’s ability to convey key themes from the film in audio form. Opening cut ‘Hyphae’ depicts the tension between the natural and unnatural world through an eerily-mixed combination of acoustic instrumentation and synthetic sound effects.
‘Rome Theme I’ follows, offering a desperately forlorn string melody that echoes the impending doom of the music in Game Of Thrones’ Red Wedding scene. ‘Rome Theme II’ and ‘Rome Theme III’, which appear in the middle of the record, complete a sorrowful three-part sub-trilogy that tells its own story, from Oliver Coates’ mournful cello work through to Laurel Halo’s darting and ecstatic piano bursts. These piano developments are as close as the record gets to a breakthrough of hope.
Perhaps the most poignant cut on this record is ‘Zeljava’. Named after the abandoned Yugoslavian airbase that features in the film, this piece is littered with unnerving and chromatic string patterns that are mothered by a warehouse-like reverb. Laurel Halo expresses her penchant for the industrial here.
If Laurel Halo’s musicianship wasn’t blatant at this point, her rendition of an excerpt of Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater’ dismantles any remaining doubt. Described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau as “the most perfect and touching duet to come from the pen of any composer”, it is Pergolesi’s most celebrated output. Originally penned as a Christian hymn which portrays Mary’s pain during Jesus’ crucifixion, including ‘Stabat Mater’ in the record is an audacious nod to society’s aural history.
As with any film score, its true effectiveness can only be realised through watching the scenes it is married to. Yet, what we can deduce from listening alone is that Laurel Halo’s musical diversity is prodigious. Possessed is an ethereal, gut-wrenching pronouncement that proves the clear relationship between sound and sight.
Photo credit: Camille Blake