A new album uses sound to imagine if The Shining had been set in a random Dubai hotel.
El Resplandor: The Shining relocated in Dubai
Our writer talks to the musician behind Nettle's new album El Resplandor, which provides a soundtrack to Steven King's The Shining, but reimagines it in Dubai
A child on a pedal tricycle traverses the long hallways and lounges of a crumbling neo-Georgian hotel. The doors of a lift open to reveal a tidal wave of blood that rolls in slow motion down the corridor. Jack Nicholson slowly and methodically hacks at a door with an axe - "Here's Johnny!" - as Shelley Duvall, paralysed with fear, waves a knife impotently in his direction. Stanley Kubrick's cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Shining received a lukewarm critical reception on its release in 1980, but this tale of isolation, cabin fever and insanity set in the Colorado mountains has since come to represent a landmark in a new kind of psychological horror.
The evil in The Shining is supernatural in nature, but this is not a simple ghost story: instead, one is led to feel the antagonist is the hotel itself, and the humans within are merely its pawns, playthings assembled in some infernal design.
Could The Shining be set anywhere other than rural North America? Would it work in - wait for it - Dubai? That's the premise of El Resplandor, the new album by Nettle - a "speculative soundtrack" to The Shining that imagines the story transplanted to a luxury hotel in the UAE. The seed, says Nettle's founder, musician and blogger Jace Clayton, was planted in a conversation with Geoff Manaugh, a contributor to the technology bible Wired, who postulated that Dubai might be the ideal place for a modern Kubrick reboot.
"Structurally, it felt so perfect, from the old, cold, haunted mountains of Colorado to this new desert location," says Clayton, who has visited the UAE numerous times in his record-spinning guise of DJ/rupture. "I started thinking about what that soundtrack might be like, using my experience of Dubai and thinking about how the King-Kubrick story would unfold differently."
Clayton wonders about the implications a location such as Dubai, with its palm-lined highways, mix of skyscrapers, souqs and slums might have on notions of the supernatural.
"Can a Starbucks in the Gulf be haunted?" he wonders. "Can a half-built ultra-modern hotel designed in an ersatz Moroccan style be haunted? How does traditional music fit into our electrified, networked world?"
It is Dubai's fuzzy blend of tradition and hypermodernity, he thinks, that introduces all sorts of unusual sonic possibilities.
"I'm interested in spaces where the traditional or acoustic cohabitate with more accelerated, newer structures, and am very curious about what each can teach the other, or gain from that friction."
As you might imagine, El Resplandor is not your typical horror-movie soundtrack. No stabbing Psycho strings nor simmering John Carpenter synths here. But the idea of a soundtrack throws up all manner of experimental possibilities, and tracks such as Empty Quarters and Radio Flower create a very effective mood of sinister unease, fusing the traditional and modern to create something ancient sounding but curiously unfamiliar. Female choirs, plucked guembri and the sombre tones of the Moroccan violinist Abdelhak Rahal are heavily processed and filtered, or disappear amid a dust storm of granular electronics.
There is a tension and urgency here too, though, one that perhaps betrays the project's improvisatory nature.
"A lot of the synthesis is happening in real-time," says Clayton. "I'm very interested in taking acoustic instruments and doing processing and FX on them so that they bend towards the electronic, just as I'm interested in pushing the electronics to become more flexible and organic."
There is nothing so specific as a narrative in El Resplandor, although Clayton explains how aspects of The Shining appear in musical form. The track Simoom (Wasp Wind), with its wordless voices and chimes obscured by dark clouds of guitar distortion, references the scene in King's original book where the caretaker Torrance is attacked by wasps.
"Elsewhere, we imagine a few scenes, such as air conditioning breaking down during a severe sandstorm," says Clayton. "Mostly, though, it's our vision of the space, the hotel itself."
The album's striking packaging features photographs of vacant or deserted hotels taken by the Emirati artist Lamya Gargash, formerly a featured artist at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
"I explained the project to a good friend from Dubai and he immediately told me about Lamya," says Clayton. "The images come from her series Presence, which deals with the human traces that remain in recently abandoned buildings in the UAE. When I picture the movie, it's more psychological than scary, and Lamya's images have a powerful psychological aspect to them that was quite inspiring." The project also features sleeve notes from Geoff Manaugh, the writer whose idea inspired the project. On his architecture blog, BLDGBLOG, Manaugh wonders if "this could be the first soundtrack optioned by Hollywood for a film it later serves to score".
So, could this imagined film become a reality? Clayton admits it's a possibility, adding that his friend, the filmmaker Jem Cohen, visited the UAE for the recent Sharjah Biennial. "He managed to get some footage of Dubai for us to check out," says Clayton. "I haven't seen it yet, but I'm a big fan of his work."
Even without visuals, though, this record conjures its own images: a snapshot of Dubai caught in limbo between its past and future, somewhere eerily out of time.
El Resplandor: The Shining In Dubai is out now on Sub Rosa