"In nature you are facing yourself" – the clearest and most profound line in the trailer for the upcoming film, La Panthere Des Neiges, its immediately clear why Nick Cave would want to be involved. Following Vincent Murier, one of the worlds most renowned wildlife photographers, the trailer already is full of baby animals with humanised eyes, moody clouds and silencing landscapes. Even as someone that never willingly watches a nature doc and honestly doesn’t really care about David Attenborough, there’s instantly a difference, a connection, something tender.
Singing with the same soft whispering tone that’s filled his recent works, 'La Panthere Des Neiges' undoubably exists within the 'Ghosteen' universe. So sparse in places, this new soundtrack is notably different from their previous scores like The Road. Straying away from traditional scoring by adding lyrics that tell their own story, this is far more of a collaboration between film and music, allowing the album to stand on its own. Listening from start to finish, this could be another Nick and Warren lockdown project, another Bad Seeds narrative piece. But its feeling-led approach and thoughtfulness plants it within 'Ghosteen’s garden, almost as if the animals in its cover found their way into this French film.
As the film tells the story of a photographer and a writer, the conflict between seeing and feeling leads throughout. As We Are Not Alone begins; ‘this world has ears and rocks have eyes’, the feeling of being watched throughout the score is oddly comforting. By track four, 'Antelope', the repeated whispering of ‘where are you?’ isn’t as creepy as you’d expect, instead feeling more like wind in the trees than any kind of hunt. All pieces together with 'Ghosteen’s familiar harmonies and gentle synths, it all feels heavenly, like some kind of circle of life choir if Disney made arty French films.
While Warren Ellis recently spoke about his feeling that 'Ghosteen' may have ended their collaborative relationship, 'Carnage' and this new score make it unbelievable now. Evidenced on their recently tour and heard here, their musical relationship feels tighter than ever as voices, pianos, violins and synths flow in and out with perfect respect for one another. Speaking of the process, Warren said, "I booked five days and asked Nick if he could come in for a day to write a theme song and play some piano. He saw the film and stayed for four days." And the spontaneously shared passion makes this project really special. It’s not overthought or overdone, it doesn’t try to be huge and ground breaking, instead it seemed like a big fun, wide-open playground for them to musically mess about it. I guess like their version of wildlife; it all makes sense.
But their joint focus on an external goal doesn’t stop this from feeling like a strangely personal work for Nick. While 'Carnage' strayed away from 'Ghosteen’s sound, returning to his heavier sound in places and stripping back a lot of the choral harmonies. 'La Panthere Des Neiges' brings them back in full force, filling whole tracks with nothing but haunting hums and ghostly oos and ahhs. Creating almost carbon copies of the sounds in 'Sunforest' or 'Ghosteen Speaks', maybe the film’s vast setting gave him the space to release some more grief. Or maybe there’s something in how the feeling of loss goes far beyond humans, acting as one of the core emotions that connects everything on earth. There’s something so beautiful about how at the opportunity to score a nature documentary, essentially sound tracking the earth, Nick returned to the sounds of his son Arthur and the musical world they built to fill his memory. Harking back to an album that’s all about souls and spirits, of course he found these same melodies and harmonies again when it came to sound tracking the world.
While scores are so often overlooked or forgotten about, this is one to pay attention to. More so than any of their other movie works, 'La Panthere Des Neiges' feels like an essential part of the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis discography, another piece in their incredible partnership and a beautiful piece of the legacy they’re building together year on year.
Words: Lucy Harbron
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