‘Musical Hammers for Visual Sickles: Music, Performativity and Presence in the films of Andrey Zvyagintsev’

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


For the past decade and a half, the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev have received widespread attention for their blend of poetic imagery, stark realism, simmering narrative tension and, more recently their perceived political undercurrent prompting the director to be hailed as the most important Russian film-maker of his time.

Sonically, Zvyagintsev’s films are characterized by meticulous sound design coupled with the director’s preference for minimalist orchestral music, in particular that of the composer, Philip Glass (Elena, 2011, Leviathan, 2014). Harnessing the primal, disruptive quality of Glass’s music (Vassileva; 2018) over the passive, meditative soundworld more generally associated with minimalism, extended scored passages impose themselves onto the structural frame of each film, forming heavyweight, often oppressive, musical statements that are as ominous as the austere concrete blocks that characterise the director’s depiction of the urban Russian landscape or as jarring as his often abrupt editorial cuts.

In Zvyagintsev’s most recent film, Loveless (2018), this dynamic is heightened further still. At the heart of the film’s soundtrack are two comparatively raw musical ideas: one based around a relentlessly repeated (initially dampened) minor piano chord that crescendos to the point of aggressive hammering, the other, a dissonant, klaxon-like sustained drone. In each case, stark imbalances in volume, timbre and sonic space result in a physical sensibility that is distinctly performative and in consequence, overtly intrusive, affirming and indeed amplifying Donnelly’s analogy of the musical score as spectre (2005; 20-1); the music is not merely present but a presence.

This paper will discuss to what extent the soundtrack of Zvyagintsev’s most recent film can be seen to challenge both established practices in scoring as well as theories within the broader discourse concerning the diegetic status of film music.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 7 Sept 2019
EventMusic and Sound Design for the Screen - NUI Maynooth, Maynooth, Ireland
Duration: 7 Sept 20198 Sept 2019


ConferenceMusic and Sound Design for the Screen
Internet address


  • Sound
  • Film
  • presence
  • Spectre
  • Zvyagintsev
  • Loveless
  • Performative
  • Music


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