Zone music


Undulating terrain: Stalker (1979).

Marking the boundaries of an obsession, this post follows the discovery last week of the Sine Fiction soundtracks for science fiction novels, one of which was five tracks by Jos Smolders for Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. That album set me wondering what other recordings might have been inspired by that bounded region known as the Zone, whether derived from the Strugatskys’ novel, from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker (for whom the Strugatskys provided a screenplay) or even from the real-life Zone around the irradiated Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine.

The cult status of the book and film can be measured by the following list which I’m sure will have many omissions, not least because searching music sites for “stalker”, “zone” and “roadside picnic” yields multiple results; all three of those terms happen to also be the names of musical artists or groups, as well as the names of labels, albums and individual recordings. (I’ll skip over the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of computer games. All have music but since I’ve not played any of them I can’t say much about them.)


The stalker’s dream from Stalker.

The first release is of course the haunting film theme by Edward Artemyev, a mere five minutes of music which nonetheless adds a great deal to Tarkovsky’s unforgettable images. Artemyev also provided music for Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Mirror (1975) yet nothing else I’ve heard by the composer resembles this piece which wouldn’t be out-of-place on a compilation of German Kosmische music from the 1970s.

While that long camera shot over waterlogged objects is still in mind, there’s the following from Nova Swing (2006) by M. John Harrison, a science fiction novel which riffs on both Stalker and Roadside Picnic:

Upstairs, Emil Bonaventure was propped upright against the pillows like a corpse, his skin yellow in the streetlight from the window, his old ribs slatted with shadows. The energy had drained out of his smart tattoos and he was breathing ever so lightly. Edith watched the pulse in his neck. She could almost see the life through the skin, the thoughts in his head, and what were they but the dreams he couldn’t any longer have? Shallow water over cracked chequerboard tiles and cast-off domestic objects, books, plates, magazines, empty tunnels smelling of chemicals, a black dog trotting aimlessly round him in his sleep on some dirty waterlogged ground neither in nor out of anything you could think of as the world, while a woman’s voice mourned open-throat from a house not far enough in the distance.

Nova Swing will be available in a new edition later this year.


Stalker (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord.

The doomy atmospherics which have become the hallmark of Zone music begin with this album by Robert Rich and B. Lustmord. Seven tracks take Tarkovsky’s film as an inspiration with vaguely allusive titles—Undulating Terrain—and occasional snatches of dialogue buried in the mix. A superb piece of late-night listening even without the associations.


Sine Fiction XIV: Roadside Picnic (2004) by Jos Smolders.

Five very minimal tracks, and a free download at the Notype site.


Zone (2007) by Carsten Nicolai.

A 10″ vinyl-only release for “a sound installation, little objects and the Nicolai’s traces series are combined to a room installation called Zone, which pays tribute to Andrej Tarkovskij’s 1979 film Stalker.”


Exclusion Zone (2009) by Miguel A. Ruiz & Bardoseneticcube.

No idea what this Russian album sounds like but the Chernobyl Zone is the theme, with titles like Contamination I and The Giant Fish Of Pripiat Lake. “Limited edition of 500 copies.”


Artifacts and Anomalies (2010) by Exclusion Zone.

“Dedicated exploration of the Anomalous Fieds of the Zone” (sic) Here we’re evidently back in the Strugatsky Zone with an album that can be heard in full (and purchased) at Bandcamp.


An Abandoned Landscape (2011) by Matthew Atkins.

Also at Bandcamp, and a free download this time, I’m guessing that the first track, Roadside Picnic, is a Zone reference. It certainly sounds like it.


Roadside Picnic (2011) by Johannes Regnier.

SoundCloud has many false trails and a few dead-ends such as this piece which dumps a D&B rhythm onto Artemyev’s theme. Johannes Regnier’s DJ set is more satisfying, a 48-minute mix of moody techno.


The Artifacts of Visitacion (a suite) (2011) by Nux Vomica.

Last and not least, a 23-minute suite based on the novel:

“The Artifacts of Visitacion” is a suite in three parts: – Approaching the Zone in Harmont – First Blind Quarter, Second Blind, and so on – The Golden Sphere, and Departure.

Titles are inspired by the science fiction novel Roadside Picnic written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky published in 1971, upon which Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker was loosely based. This recording serves as a musical offering to accompany the narrative. The Artifacts of Visitacion is a live, improvised performance recorded at The Lab in San Francisco, CA on November 12, 2011. For the realization of this offering Nux Vomica was: Evan Sornstein, Jenny Liang Herrick, Alan Herrick.

A great recording which can also be purchased at Bandcamp or downloaded for free at the Internet Archive. Given the recent proliferation of Zone music I think we can expect a lot more in future. Watch this event site.

Update: Thanks to @JESCIEXVX for alerting me to the undulating terrain that appears in The Knowing by The Weeknd.

Update 2: Chad directs my attention to Sometimes Like a Living Winter by Mark Ashman, another Bandcamp album whose second track is entitled Zone Lens. The third track, Sandra’s Observatorium, and another album, Saudade City, refer to the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy by M. John Harrison, of which Nova Swing is the second book.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Sine Fiction
Chernobyl’s zone of alienation
Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker”
The slow death of modernism
The Stalker meme

5 thoughts on “Zone music”

  1. I believe in some past post or another, you mentioned you weren’t really into video games. If this is the case then I won’t bore you with details, but Roadside Picnic has definitely made a worthy impression in that field because the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are among the most intense, ominous, and atmospheric I’ve ever played.

    I’ve not dug through all your musicians here yet, but I’d say the games’ soundtracks hold their own, not so much for the music itself than for the ambient sound effects.

    Perhaps I’ve mentioned before that a lot of the newer black metal I’ve reveled in lately comes from France. One would think that with the Slavic countries’ abundance of these brooding existential/ metaphysical writers, that this would serve as an influence to bands of such ilk. I mean come on, just in terms of imagery, the Zone virtually screams black metal, for me at least. Unfortunately, more of the extreme metal acts I’ve come across from Russia and Ukraine are more influenced by nationalism (ugh) than by such intriguing anomalies, whether real or fictional.

    It leaves me scratching my head. Perhaps my cowboy mindset lacks the proper frame of reference, but it seems that given the history of some of these countries, such an already notorious subculture would be all the more scathingly apolitical therein.

  2. Wiley: Nothing against games per se–I’ve spent many hours playing through the old Marathon (Mac format) games, various Tomb Raiders, and Quake 3–it’s more a question of how you want to fill your time. I used to find game-playing very time-consuming, not least because I’d get rather obsessive about the whole thing especially if the virtual world was an interesting one. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games were always going to interest me but there was an immediate drawback in that I’ve only ever used Mac machines and there weren’t any Mac versions available. I think there are ported versions now but I’m not desperate enough to work out what needs to be done to get one of those running on the current iMac. Really though, it’s the time thing: I’d rather spend my non-working time reading/watching films, and working on my own things. There’s never enough hours in the day as it is so it makes sense to be using what time there is to create something new.

    I agree the Zone could use a metal treatment, there’s no reason why everything that’s based on the idea has to be sinister electronic stuff.

  3. Yes, it actually irritates me at the same time when an interesting looking game breaks the surface, because I know if it is actually as interesting as it looks then I will spend probably too much time on it.

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