Film scores

Soundtrack review: Ex machina (Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow – 2015)

ex-machina

„Ex machina” is a movie about a CEO who builds a female robot equipped with AI. One of his computer coder employees wins a contest and is able to spend a weekend at his mountain house and interact with the AI. Of course this turns into something bad when Ava, the AI, becomes self-aware and starts causing mayhem. Sounds like an interesting movie for me. The subject is intriguing and opens all sorts of dilemmas. It actually makes me thing of „The outer limits”, one of my favorite TV shows ever. I consider this topic quite current too since we are not too far away from achieving this. The score was written by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow whom I know from Portishead. I love that band.

The opening cue is „The Turing test”. This test (first performed of Alan Turing, the subject of “The imitation game”) establishes whether an AI can behave like a human and actually fool everyone into believing it’s human. Sounds frightening. The cue is dark, laid back and cold. I don’t know what happened in the movie but from the sound of this cue the test didn’t succeed, or didn’t show that Ava can pass as a human. I don’t hear any change of pace or emotion in this cue.

“Watching” is also distant but somehow I like it. I know that darkness, I’ve been there before. “Ava” is very interesting. It has a constant space noise in the background and some bells or chimes coming from time to time and bringing life to the cue. It gives me the sensation of stars sparkling every now and then in the pitch darkness. The lullaby sound of this track makes me connect with the character and care for her.

“Falling” starts with simple synth magic. I always enjoy that. The cue gets more normal then and the light melodicism gets me out for the first time from the dark metallic atmosphere the score created so far. It’s just an exception because “I am become death” returns to the robotic sensation that governs “Ex machina”. Again this cue is nothing more than background noise, sometimes pounding in my ears other time laid back and distant but still I like it. I enjoy the loneliness of the music and the composers give me room to fantasize and reflect.

“Hacking / cutting” gets very uncomfortable. It’s surely played from the AI’s perspective. I feel like I’m in T-1000’s mind if I raise the volume of this cue. It’s nothing more than uncomfortable though, this time the music element lacks and all we get is noise. I imagine it works wonders in the context of the movie.

The hypnotic sound of “Ex machina” works the best in the 9 minutes long “The test worked”. I am immersed in this ambient cue and I follow all its dark turns. It has melodic moments and tense moments and I like all of them. It might be that I am biased towards this type of compositions but I see a lot of layers here. The synth end is great as well. You can’t go wrong with it.

For fans of ambient and dark electronic music, “Ex machina” will definitely work. I enjoyed it and it’s more interesting than many similar scores. It’s very minimalistic sometimes but this also makes me appreciate more moments of simple honesty like “Skin”. I will definitely listen to this one again and I will pay attention to it in the movie.

Cue rating: 78 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 9 / 48

Album excellence: 19%

Highlights:

The test worked

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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