A steady pulse of swishing static provides an immersive backdrop for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s recent score for Luca Guadadgnino’s short drama, The Staggering Girl. The film, produced in partnership with Valentino’s creative director, tells a story of a woman haunted by her past. It mostly falls flat, save for a few moments of the type of enveloping dreamworlds Guadagnino is known for. Sakamoto’s score turns the concept of fashion into music by taking the sound of fabrics rubbing against each other as a central inspiration for the soundtrack. Unsettling motifs, sweeping hisses, and reverberating electronics form a subdued and timeless world of mystery.
The Staggering Girl marks a new major collaboration for the two artists. Combining their artistic forces is logical on paper — both create art that is about the all-encompassing, where texture and detail are driving forces for total encapsulation. But The Staggering Girl leaves more to be desired: the film is equally bogged down by unengaging dialogue and the feeling that perhaps it’s more a commercial for a brand than anything else.
Sakamoto’s score as a standalone work, however, yields intrigue. The soundtrack opens with a piercing piano chord, layered above a steady swish that glides beneath a choppy melody. “The Staggering Girl” moves at a glacial pace; time feels as if it’s been suspended in an eternity. But the juxtaposition of grating dissonance with piercing swishes that quickly follows abandons this glossy nightmare realm in favor of limp horror. Creepiness works best on “Roma,” where dissonance is matched by a mesmerising momentum. Electronic sounds emerge and disappear from nowhere as the sound of voices echo like they’re trapped underwater, and loose rhythmic scratching accompanies a descent into a plaintive violin melody.
This type of lush ambience is met by a severely contrasting style on “Toni,” where violins pluck in a precisely syncopated rhythm that’s matched by deafening silence. Fragmented melodies and stilted motifs are central to the score, but here, bluntness takes the center stage. Throughout the soundtrack, violins pick up many of the thematic ideas, most notable the creepy sliding theme of “Night Garden.” This motif is uneven and bogged down in its slow pace, but it’s undeniably memorable. A sense of meditative connectivity between thematic ideas binds the soundtrack together.
Most of the score exists in a state of timeless stasis, blending fragments of melodic ideas with chilling electronics and a dark atmosphere. But “Dance” emerges anew, opening with a rhythmic groove reminiscent of Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians. It’s a jam track that captivates with a newfound animation, eschewing coldness for bubbling energy. Strings play their previously established impressionistic melodies over a pulsating beat with a richness, replacing truncated phrases with a romantic impressionism. The limbo of timelessness is forgone in favor of motion. The Staggering Girl surely lacks in narrative and substance, but its music provides moments of spellbinding sound, finding a groove in its lack of a clear cut sense of time and visceral sonic atmospheres.