Soundtracks for Nick Cave and Warren Ellis seem to be a post upon which both can scratch creative itches that, for whatever reason, remain unreachable in their other work. This is their latest: La Panthère Des Neiges, accompanying a film by Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier tracking Munier, one of the world’s most renowned wildlife photographers, and the adventurer and novelist Sylvain Tesson as they explore the valleys of Tibet.
Their mission is to try to catch a glimpse of the snow leopard, one of the rarest and most difficult big cats to approach. Although, presumably that’s somewhat grading on a curve. Not being one of the world’s most renowned wildlife photographers does make it hard to speak conclusively, but you’d guess none of the world’s big cats are particularly easy to approach.
It always feels a bit premature to judge a soundtrack minus the visuals it’s supposed to be soundtracking: a bit like extracting all the illustrations from a book, binding them together and then going “well, yeah, they’re pretty, but the character development is somewhat muddy and the narrative thrust is all over the place”. Still, there’s no doubt that Ellis and Cave have created something here which does more than enough to exist on its own terms. Compared to Carnage, or Ghosteen, or any of the more recent Bad Seeds material, this is less skeletal, less bleak and a lot warmer. Which, for a film about snow leopards, is definitely still ok.
But of course you can still connect the dots. The rumbling bassline of Les Yaks, the glittering synths of Des Affects Elliptiques and the jerking electronic backing of Les Princes are entirely in keeping with the sonic landscapes Ellis in particular has been daubing. It’s just that here they’re coloured in a different emotion palette. What has been pondering grief and existence is now overcome with reverence and wonder. There’s a real gaiety in the way the violin gambols through the instrumental field of Les Nomads or intertwines with the piano across La Grotte to beautiful effect, or the delicate blasts of flute that Les Cerfs wafts along on.
Appropriately enough for a film where the stars are “the animals in all their wild glory”, you don’t hear many human voices. When you do, when Cave’s baritone appears, it is with similarly hushed restraint. On Les Ours, it’s just for a few scene-setting lines, before retreating to offer background whispers and usher in a tremendously exciting sweep of violin. On L’apparition: We Are Not Alone, he sings in a way where the title is not the sinister threat it may have appeared, but instead a fact we should be genuinely thankful for. In short, it is yet another triumph for Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.