1. Kresty [Кресты (Crosses)]  for cello, piano and electronics
  2. Vintovka/Okno [Винтовка/Окно (Rifle/Window)]  for cello, piano* and filtered bass + electronics
  3. Myatezh pisatelya [Мятеж писателя (The Rebellion of the Writer)]  for cello, piano* and filtered bass + electronics
  4. “Stoy!” [“Стой!” (“Stop!”)]  for cello and live electronics
  5. Kolodets [Колодец (The Well)]  for cello, piano* and filtered bass + electronics
  6. Tunnel/Myatezh professora [Туннель/Мятеж профессора (The Tunnel/The Rebellion of the Professor)]  for cello and piano*
  7. Raskalyonnye ugli [Раскаленные угли (Glowing Embers)]  for snare drum
  8. Ostanovka/Prorochestvo [Остановка/Пророчество (A Stop/A Prophecy)]  for cello, piano* and electronics
  9. Myasorubka [Мясорубка (The Meat Grinder)]  for cello, piano* and electronics 
  10. Dyuny [Дюны (Dunes)]  for cello, piano* and filtered bass + electronics
  11. Stikh [Стих (A Poem)]  for piano*
  12. Telefon [Телефон (Telephone)]  for cello, piano* and filtered bass + electronics
  13. Porog/Bomba [Порог/Бомба (The Threshold/The Bomb)]  for cello, piano* and filtered bass + electronics
  14. Komnata [Комната (The Room)]  for snare drum and live electronics

(*) with the use of live electronics, controlled directly by the player (through analog pedal effects: ring modulator/phaser/overdrive)

Seven years after Solaris, which would have brought him soon to international fame, Andrej Tarkovskij returned for a second time to the science-fiction theme in 1979, inspired by the Strugackij brothers’ story Roadside Picnic (1972), whose content was revised, and title changed to Stalker. In the original story, the stalkers, risking their lives purely for profit, were smugglers or guides, offering their services to sneak inside a mysterious Zone. The Zone was a region of an unknown origin: a meteorite could have impacted it twenty years ago, or aliens might have visited it, leaving traces behind. The Zone’s effects had such an extent that people still never come back from this deadly, isolated, and army-controlled area. The aim of the stalkers was therefore to lead brave and wealthy people safely through the Zone and especially into its internal Room, where it was said that every hidden desire could have been fulfilled. In Tarkovskij’s version, two intellectuals, an alcoholic, almost-failed Writer, and a Professor, likely to become a Nobel Prize recipient, with the help of a Stalker, managed to reach the Room where they both yearned for a change in their lives.

The Stalker/Zone project was conceived to offer an in-depth musical interpretation of the film. Actions, behavioral patterns, feelings and fleeting thoughts of the three main characters are analyzed extensively, in a musical opus consisting of notes and sounds which are an interpretation of images and of their underlying meaning, and of the psychology of the three protagonists, paired with an analysis of the philosophical connotations hidden in the movie. Specifically, this project focuses on the central part of the film, portraying the journey into the Zone through a selection of 14 key scenes; for each of them, a different piece was composed, without necessarily respecting the original length of the scene. Especially for some segments, a sort of “time dilation” effect was generated with the aim of letting music penetrate into the scene itself and dissect its unique features and tone nuances. The basic principle behind the musical composition is the presence, visual or not, in every analyzed scene of the movie, of at least one of the three main characters, to whom a different instrument is associated: to the Writer, the cello; to the Professor, electric/electronic sounds, to the Stalker, the piano. Such a criterion might appear trivial, but it had to be adopted to highlight properly the three different personalities. Additionally, in two compositions, a fourth instrument is used: the snare drum, chosen to symbolize an alleged presence of aliens, suggested and summoned on more than one occasion by the Stalker. This presence can also be seen, in a religious interpretation of the events, as a divine entity, or an inner substance belonging to Nature, watching over the three travellers and interfering with their actions to deliver them from danger.

Furthermore, several explicit references to Christianity are contained in the movie; this is the case of the first selected scene, where, for just a few frames, the three characters lie near, or underneath, “abstract” wooden crosses, fabulously re-imagined by the director in the form of abandoned light poles, so that the protagonists look like Jesus and the thieves. A recursive image, since, as for every circular path, the three characters can be seen again as a three-figure line-up in the end, on the threshold of the Room. Further indications are visible in more scenes, as to confirm the religious connotation of Tarkovskij’s work. All this led, almost incidentally at first, to the choice of having exactly 14 scenes analyzed; as a matter of fact, the journey of the three men inside the Zone can be considered both an initiation and a path of reflection and penance, so the association with the 14 stations of the Via Crucis felt incredibly fitting. 

About the musical techniques utilized, it is worth noting the use of the piano stringboard, already employed in previous works, but here often in combined use with audio effects (live electronics) obtained via pedals. Moreover, in this work, the vast majority of the piano stringboard parts are played using some objects (glass spheres, plectrums, putty knives, brushes of different sizes, bottlenecks, and a rubber hammer); similarly for the two snare drum pieces, where suitable objects have been used (brushes, clappers, laundry brushes and metal spheres above all, in addition to traditional drumsticks). As for the piano, the choice here is linked to the intent to shape a sound that could reveal the Stalker’s mood during the moments in which he does not appear or speak, but his presence, supporting the actions or monologues of the other characters, is nonetheless perceived.

As mentioned above, the work begins with the characters entering into the Zone, at the end of a railway stretch where the image of three crosses (Kresty [Кресты] – Crosses) is recreated. At compositional level, each of the three instruments performs ‘cross-shaped’ parts in a composition having a symmetrical structure: the cello plays two reflected sequences of bichords corresponding to intervals of progressively varying size; the piano makes symmetrical motions by means of cluster-glissandos – performed with gloves on the hands; and the electronic sounds are played by varying continuously their panning through potentiometers.

Then, the three men pass through the site of a guerrilla war, where glimpses of the charred remains of some corpses next to a rifle can be seen through the window of a tank (Vintovka/Okno [Винтовка/Окно] – Rifle/Window).

At one point, the impatient Writer, catching a glimpse from afar of the building where the Room is, bitterly refuses to follow the Stalker’s instructions, according to which proceeding inside the Zone in a straight line is not allowed (Myatezh pisatelya [Мятеж писателя] – The Rebellion of the Writer), and continues on his way alone.

As the Writer heads straight for the Room, suddenly, a voice (an alien voice, the first appearance of the weird guardian entity) orders him to stop (“Stoy!” [“Стой!”] – “Stop!”) and he is forced to return to his companions, who are paralyzed in the anticipation of likely ruinous consequences.

The tortuous path outlined by the Stalker with the help of a dice attached to a ribbon – thrown several times, almost as if he were delegating the task of deciding to chance – proceeds towards a half-demolished building where the guide walks along a cornice over a well (Kolodets [Колодец] – The Well). Here he recites a monologue inspired by St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “[…] Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win”.

Showing signs of impatience is also the Professor, who, after losing his backpack, insists on going back, effectively rebelling against the Stalker’s orders and his recommendation that it is not possible to leave the Zone following the same route as on the way in: at this point, the Stalker and the Writer proceed alone, finally in agreement with each other, through the ‘dry tunnel’ (Tunnel/Myatezh professora [Туннель/Мятеж профессора] – The Tunnel/The Rebellion of the Professor).

Immediately afterwards, the camera lingers on an extreme close-up of some glowing embers, in so deep a way that they can almost be heard “speak”, “breathe” (Raskalyonnye ugli [Раскаленные угли] – Glowing Embers). The aim of this snare drum composition is to reproduce the harmonious jumble of sounds – with all their distinguishable timbres – coming from the embers and the natural space surrounding them, justifying the presence of an alien entity. As a matter of fact, this sudden interruption of action creates a temporal vacuum, as in a sort of black hole which, instead of swallowing the protagonists, restores order. In this way, the Writer and the Stalker join back forces with the Professor, now with his backpack again on him. And since there’s no possible backtracking within the Zone, the impression is given that the Writer and the Stalker have taken a backwards tour, which is certainly possible considering that in the Zone paths are never linear, neither in space nor in time, both merged into a four-dimensional continuum.

The following scene presents the three characters reunited. It is time for a short rest before tackling down the most challenging part of their journey (Ostanovka/Prorochestvo [Остановка/Пророчество] – A Stop/A Prophecy). Now, in his sleep, the Stalker dreams of a voice narrating a prophecy from the Apocalypse.

On their journey again, the three arrive in the terrible ‘meat grinder’ (Myasorubka [Мясорубка] – The Meat Grinder), a long dark tunnel in which, according to the Stalker’s narration, the brother of a colleague, nicknamed Porcupine, had died. Here, the directions given by the guide oblige the Writer alone to act as a ‘pathfinder’, risking his own life. This long scene – of which only essential parts were used for the musical composition – ends with a shocked (but not cowardly at all) Writer crossing the tunnel, followed at a distance by his two companions.

This precedes a very suggestive scene in a large room whose floor is entirely covered with sand dunes (Dyuny [Дюны] – Dunes), where the Writer, through a disillusioned monologue, expresses a violent outburst against those who have allowed for art to dry up, reducing it to an empty provocation or a mere demonstration of skill, and against critics, depicted as ravenous beasts capable only of expressing barren opinions.

Having passed the dunes, the three men walk near a corner where the Stalker stops, alone, just for the time to recite a poem, Summer is Over, written by Andrej’s father, Arsenij Tarkovskij (Stikh [Стих] – A Poem). The composition for solo piano was written in an attempt to give a musical reading of the text; for each of the five stanzas in the poem, a sound segment – split into two parts – was created, to represent the contrast between the spleen, generated from the consciousness of the unrepeatability of the past, and the ideal, linked to the memory, which was eternal. This contrast is achieved musically by the iteration of transitions from a stringboard part to the next keyboard part, followed finally by a short, noisy refrain (“Yet this is not enough”).

In the curious following scene, the three are in a small room, where they hear a telephone ringing. The Writer answers, annoyed – it is a bogus call (Telefon [Телефон] – Telephone); then, with the same device, the Professor calls a colleague/rival to reveal his true intent regarding his trip to the Zone.

He unveils his purpose also to his fellow adventurers in the moment they are near the threshold of the Room: the Professor has brought, in his backpack, a bomb to destroy the Room (Porog/Bomba  [Порог/Бомба] – The Threshold/The Bomb), since he cannot tolerate the existence of something he perceives as irrational, uncontrollable, and therefore threatening – the Room might eventually be visited by powerful figures capable of changing the world. As he is trying to pull the trigger, the Stalker violently hurls himself at him, attempting to take possession of the device. The Writer intervenes, repeatedly driving the Stalker away, and managing to discourage the Professor from his devastating intent. It is he who becomes aware of the fact that the Room only fulfils real, unconscious desires, while the Stalker, despite the Writer’s invective against him, begs for mercy to preserve his only source of livelihood. The Stalker urges his companions to believe, because the lack of faith could prevent them from realizing their desires. This results in the Writer and the Professor being afraid to enter the Room, as they fear the consequences of desires they are not fully aware of.

The journey effectively ends at the threshold, without any revelation accomplished. It is the Room that observes the three characters stuck in the doorway: the inside of the Room is not shown, but is the one watching. The Room is, undoubtedly, the point where the presence of the alien entity is concentrated (Komnata [Комната] – The Room). Once again, in a way similar to scene 7, the aim of the snare composition is to offer a reinterpretation of the natural sounds, observed – and maybe unconsciously produced – by the Room. From a still long shot of the three, the camera moves backwards very slowly, until the scene appears to be similar to the vision of a stage seen from afar in a theatre, with the three men in line like actors. This vision inspired the creation of an artificial track, added to the snare part, by mixing fragments of solo parts, for each instrument, taken from the previous piece. From this perspective, the scene could be a slow-motion subjective shot, as it is taken from the Room, an ironic spectator.

In addition to being a personal tribute to the cinema of Tarkovskij, and, more broadly, to avant-garde cinema, Stalker/Zone is a special rendition of a masterpiece in a musical form, in an attempt to provide new interpretations of of its meaning, following a personal, more modernized approach. Just as the film intended to use images to tell the unfolding of the life of the spirit and its dynamics, so the attempt made here aims at giving sounds this privilege, while keeping the connections with the primordial visual source.


Daniele Sabattani  snare drum
Gianluca Lo Presti  filtered electric bass, sound engineer
Simone Montanari  cello
Saverio Tesolato  grand piano, electronics and live electronics, sampling, field recording, composition

Daniele Sabattani  snare drum
Gianluca Lo Presti  filtered electric bass, sound engineer
Simone Montanari  cello
Saverio Tesolato  grand piano, electronics and live electronics, sampling, field recording, composition