James Holden has created a synth based soundtrack for the documentary A Cambodian Spring. The film follows a group of activists fighting corrupt developers and officials as they try and protect their right to their land. Holden's soundtrack captures the intensity of their fight with tracks that veer between drone, trance and the odd arpeggio.
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It really was only a matter of time before Mr James “modular synth jams” Holden ended up making the soundtrack for something. Ever since his earliest works, but especially since 2013’s The Inheritors, his instrumental productions have had a propulsive quality that suggested some unfolding narrative. And here, he’s chosen a weighty place to start his soundtracking career.
A Cambodian Spring is a 2018 documentary chronicling six years of the Boeung Kak community in Phnom Penh fighting uncaring politicians and greedy developers to save their home from being destroyed. The community become activists and are systematically brutalised and demoralised by the police and the institutions they protect. While much of Holden’s music has had a free and hedonistic quality to it, especially 2017’s Animal Spirits, these moments of release have always tended to follow some dramatic build up. And it’s this capacity to generate and sustain tension that makes the soundtrack such a good fit. He uses drones and brooding synthesiser melodies which ramp up step by step, moment by moment to capture the unsettling minutes before violence is unleashed.
Not everything is pessimistic, and though they are rare, catharsis lies in the two versions of the wonderfully elating ‘Solidarity Theme’. It’s the most recognisable James Holden piece here, all dancing arpeggiated synths that veer towards the forbidden lands of trance. Even amidst the crushing inevitability of defeat (three tracks are called ‘Disintegration Drone’) Holden reminds as that there is strength and there is joy in a community coming together.
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