When I first heard about SPV‘s planned release of a five CD collection of Popol Vuh’s early soundtracks for Werner Herzog’s films, I was excited that this might finally feature some of the unreleased work I had heard in some of Herzog’s films but never seen released on record. I was particularly hoping for some of the music from Herzog’s short film “The Great Ecstasy of Sculptor Steiner.” But it was not to be.
What this release includes are all the out of print, but not too hard to find, soundtracks SPV released nearly 10 years ago for Aguirre, Heart of Glass, Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. It looks like they come in the digipaks they were packaged in the first time around. This time, though, they are inside a fancy limited edition box with a 96-page booklet designed by International Double Standards Berlin. The book is supposed to include unseen footage and images capturing both Popol Vuh and Werner Herzog in action through their years of collaboration. Many sources online claim it’s limited to 5,000 copies, though SPV’s site does not note any limit to the production run.
The set seems affordable enough at just under $50 (less than $10 a CD), per Amazon (at the time of this post). However, it is regretful that the label has not dug up some more rare tracks for this reissue.
So I decided if they weren’t giving it to me, I would go hunt down the music composed for “The Great Ecstasy of Sculptor Steiner.” When I first saw this film not too long ago on DVD, which is now quite valuable and out of print, I was in awe at the images Herzog captured in super slow motion of the ski-flier Walter Steiner. The film opens with a montage of some horrific spills that capture the sublime near death experience this man risks for a few seconds of flight. Popol Vuh produced some of the most majestic and melancholy sounds of its career to accompany the images, complimenting the deadly serious tone of this man’s passion.
I needed to hear the sessions that produced this work. Many commentators on-line said they no longer exist, as they were produced and cut for the film, and that is the music’s only existence.
After three hours or so of scouring the ‘net, I did at least come across a comprehensive compilation of mp3s someone culled from the short film. You can download the zip file here. But I realized some flaws upon listening to it. It is a sloppy editing job, as the most beautiful of the pieces is missing its first few sporadic, slow-paced introductory notes and often the music fades away with conversation from the film. Also, I highly doubt the natural sound of an organ on the set is Popol Vuh mastermind Florian Fricke at work.
Also, as interesting as it might be to hear more music from the sessions that produced the pieces used in “Sculptor Steiner,” there is no doubt that some of the impact of the music comes from how it compliments the imagery. Though the DVD might be hard to find at a decent price, the entire film is available on YouTube, albeit with Italian subtitles (the spoken language is in its original German, too). At 3:50 in the video below, the beautiful melody I mentioned earlier begins with the sparse, delicate picking of piano keys that gradually grow as chords and more cohesive rhythm take shape. Herzog offers the image of true natural fliers: the release of a flock of pigeons before cutting to Steiner’s record-breaking flight in super slow motion as the music builds to aural ecstasy.
The theme recurs at 11:55 to take us out of the movie. But I would highly recommend you seek out the entire film for the dramatic accumulation to these scenes. If you understand either Italian or German and want to see he entire movie, here are parts one and two:
Lastly, I am still most curious if the sessions for this music exist in any other form. Please let me know, as I found many other mutual fans on the Internet pining for their release.