The creator of digital hardcore on how to start a riot.
"Volt" is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name with Benno Führmann, the latest by German-Palestinian director Tarek Ehlail ("Chaostage"), which depicts a dystopian future police state. The creator of the music: Alec Empire, head of Atari Teenage Riot and the ideal artist when it comes to radical, dark electronic sounds.
Both movie and score are based on countless dualities such as day and night, group and individual, all of which Empire has put to leitmotifs. He took minimalistic approach similar to John Carpenter for "Escape from New York". "I like subordinating to the mood and pace of a movie. There was no other way to blend this dynamic music between extremely low passages and loud eruptions into noise with the film scenes. Of course, this means working fast, because as soon as editing the movie is finished, everything else must be done in a rush."
This is maybe why Empire's score for "Volt" sounds so coherent and narrative - just like a symbiotic acoustic accompaniment to Ehlail's movie as well as music that works even when detached from the drastic film scenes.
"Volt" is released on February 3 via Dependent Records on CD and double vinyl (black 180g vinyl, gatefold cover, limited to 500 copies).
Liner Notes von Max Dax
Translation by: Andreas Schiffmann
Making movies takes time. When German-Palestinian director Tarek Ehlail had finished shooting his new motion picture “Volt” in autumn 2015, long hours went by for cutting, audio engineering and score production. This is common for complex productions and would not be worth mentioning but for the subject matter.
For Ehlail, who in recent years has carved his own niche as a director far apart from the mainstream with movies such as “Chaostage” (2009) and “Gegengerade” (2010), chose a near, uncomfortable future as the setting for “Volt”. There are no more borders between states but rather between rich and poor. On the lowest rung of the inter-state class ladder: refugees put in check in their own ghettos – so-called zones – and even harassed by riot police squads.
To talk with Alec Empire about his latest score, we meet up at just on the eve of the news about the attack on Breitscheidplatz Berlin.
“The present catches up with fiction,” says Empire at this incisive moment. “Tarek Ehlail almost despaired of his topic, which had clearly been situated in dystopian science fiction only two years ago, but has long since taken over everyday life. If he had shot it only one year later, maybe he would have referred to the actual situation in Germany and Europe. As it is ‘Volt’ has become a divisive, radical contemporary movie.”
It tells the story of policeman Volt (Benno Führmann), who on routine duty accidentally kills a refugee in the sector. Although the mishap remains unnoticed and he can cover it, his conscience starts to weigh heavy on him. He begins a double life: By day, he beats people up for the police, whereas at night, he roams through the zone, befriends the killed man’s sister and is condemned to lie to both sides.
When “Volt” was premiered at Münchner Filmfestival in July 2016, the audience could not yet foresee that the movie’s aesthetic with respect to police service would, just a few months later in retrospect, remind of the TV scenes from the real eviction of the refugee camp in Calais in October 2016.
„I wrote musical themes for these different dualities — day and night / police and refugees / group and individual / truth and lie —, who keep recurring throughout the movie as leitmotifs and serve as a dour bracket for music and film alike,” explains Alec Empire with respect to his approach to the score: „Thankfully, I got free hand for the music.”
While composing, Empire took John Carpenter’s score to “Escape from New York” as a blueprint – not the melodies, of course, but the way Carpenter underlay his movie almost entirely with specifically written sparsely orchestrated leitmotifs.
Alec Empire: „I always compose live while watching the movie’s scenes. This is very old school. I start at the beginning and finish with the ending sequence. In this way, I get way different ideas as compared to jamming on my synthesisers like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and attributing the results to the respective scenes afterwards. I cannot work differently, as I like subordinating to the mood and pace of a movie. There was no other way to blend this dynamic music between extremely low passages and loud eruptions into noise with the film scenes. Of course, this means working fast, because as soon as editing the movie is finished, everything else must be done in a rush.”
This is maybe why Empire’s score for “Volt” sounds so coherent and narrative. Alec Empire, who keeps releasing albums both as a solo artist and with his band Atari Teenage Riot on a regular basis, hardly ever writes music for movies, and it is an even rarer occasion that these soundtracks become official album releases. “Volt” is the famed exception from the rule – a grandiosely symbiotic acoustic accompaniment to Ehlail’s movie as well as music that works even when detached from the drastic film scenes.