The Sonic Set Design of Kimi

Cliff Martinez's new score is killer.

Cliff Martinez, one of the essential soundtrack collaborators of movie director Steven Soderbergh (ever since Sex, Lies, and Videotape back in 1989), has scored Kimi, Soderbergh’s most recent film. In it, Zoë Kravitz plays a remote tech worker who stumbles on what appears to be a violent assault while doing her desk job, which involves listening to audio recorded by domestic digital assistants. Kimi is not the name of Kravitz’ character. She is Angela. Kimi is the feminized brand of devices — à la Alexa, Cortana, and, of course, Siri — that drives the film’s plot.

Kimi is very much inspired by classic Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, notably Rear Window (1954), though rather than a physical injury, it’s a kind of agoraphobia that keeps Angela stuck at home in Seattle. (The name Kimi seems like a nod to Kim Novak, the actress who appeared alongside Rear Window star Jimmy Stewart in 1958’s Vertigo.) Angela’s home is a brick-walled industrial loft from which she keeps a wary eye on the pandemic-era outside world. Soderbergh explores the physicality of the residential space throughout the movie, right up to almost the very last minute. Angela’s loft resembles the workshop of Harry Caul, the investigator played by Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation, which was also obsessed with technological eavesdropping. (It’s almost a joke that a building that felt low-rent in 1974 feels downright enviable today.) The camera guides us through the open plan while Martinez’s music alternates between narrative tool, window into the emotional state of Kravitz’s character, and pure sonic set design.

This is one of Martinez’s best scores. It beautifully merges a chamber orchestral palette (actively engaging with the legacy of Bernard Herrmann’s famed Hitchcock cues) with synthesized lines, making the most of the quietude allowed by modern digital production — the same digital realm that allows a device like Kimi to exist in the first place.

My favorite cue from Kimi is “Watch the Spray,” in which what at first seems to be a violin solo quickly reveals itself as a synthesized melody, one that remains expertly intertwined with the underlying symphonic bed. If there’s something eerie to that combination of strings and synthesizer, it’s arguably because the machine-made sounds of Martinez’s score serve as a parallel to how the Kimi devices are insinuated into people’s everyday lives.

2 thoughts on “The Sonic Set Design of Kimi

  1. I agree with the above re Martinez; equally, as a first impression, I was noticing the mesmerizing score of Shapiro in Stiller’s new show, ‘Severance.’ It reminded me a bit of Barrows/Salisbury’s ‘Devs’ score/soundtrack.

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