Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Music for the film by Werner Herzog


“…untouched musical territories…”

“..a sound so removed from the world, so spherically beautiful, above all as mysterious as the foray into the depths of the underground cave. This music knows to touch deeply…”

“Reijseger no longer discharges genres; he simply renders them irrelevant… 

Reijseger’s music supplied the fourth dimension for Herzog’s 3-D documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” and Herzog’s new video installation, “Hearsay of the Soul,” that opened at the Getty in 2013 – which concerns early 17th-century Dutch landscape etchings of Hercules Segers. The cellist returns to his baroque music roots as refracted through his experimental branches. Fraanje joins him on baroque organ.”
LA Times

It was one of those moments… five minutes before the start of a concert Ernst Reijseger received a phone call from film director Werner Herzog, who spoke enthusiastically about prehistoric caves in Southern France which he had just visited for the first time.

Herzog started telling Reijseger about the magical drawings, the oldest art he had ever seen. He described a rhinoceros with many legs, drawn on a protruding rock, so the drawing was rounded. Flickering light, Herzog imagined, would create movement in the animal. He immediately asked Reijseger to write music for this. Herzog asked Reijseger to think of archaic language.

The story took some time, and Reijseger felt fortunate for the phone call, and at the same time restless, having to go on stage and perform some extremely complex and demanding pieces with Russian master pianist Simon Nabatov…

This was the beginning of one of Reijseger’s best-known film scores, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

To produce the archaic language, Reijseger chose a source close to home. He and his wife started to write down and record the babbling of their 7-month old baby in the early morning. The baby made her own sounds in her crib when she woke up, experimenting with speech and inventing her voice. After two months of collecting, the pronounceable syllables and phrases were combined in the score for the choir to sing.

The penny whistle player on this recording is Sean Bergin, a saxophonist who learned the penny whistle in his home country South Africa. There, it is widely used in kwela music. Sean Bergin came to the Netherlands in 1975 to perform with the Friends Road Show, a theatre group from England. Born and raised in Durban, Bergin spent a lot of time in Cape Town and Johannesburg, learning music. Big Voice Jack from Johannesburg and Robert Sithole from Cape Town taught him the penny whistle. South African jazz legend Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngosi influenced his saxophone playing.

Apartheid was the political system in South-Africa in those days. As a white man, Sean was driven into the township by his black friends, hidden under the seat of the car, to be able to join their music sessions. Once, when invited to play a solo, Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngosi, standing on the side, called out to him: “You must cry Sean, you must cry!” 

When Bergin arrived in Amsterdam, he became a big inspiration to Reijseger. Bergin introduced him to beautiful South African music and shared his life experience. They started playing as a duo in 1976, and made their first vinyl in 1978 called Mistakes.

In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, there is a scene in which a man wearing hides plays a prehistoric flute made of bone, with six holes. This flute is a paleontic discovery. It prompted Reijseger to invite Sean Bergin as a penny whistle player for the recording. This became the piece A Gaga Mwen Bwebwe (by the then producer incorrectly titled Gaga, which does not refer to the term ‘crazy’, but to the archaic language).

Pianist Harmen Fraanje played a vital role in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams film score. His playing gave shape to Childs Footprint Duo, Forgotten Dreams #4 (in which he plays Wurlitzer piano and muted piano at the same time), Carbon Date Piano (on muted piano), Child’s Footprint (on organ), Deep Cave, Homo Spiritualis, Rock Shelter Duo), not to mention Shadow and Forgotten Dreams #2 and Carbon Date (on church organ).

Ironically, to begin with Fraanje was not convinced that he should play organ for this film score.

Some interesting facts in relation to track titles:

Carbon dating is one of the archaeology’s mainstream methods for dating organic objects up to 50,000 years old. This was used to date the findings in the Chauvet Cave.

According to a professor interviewed in the film, Homo Spiritualis is a better name for humans than Homo Sapiens.

Child’s Footprint is about the ancient footsteps of a small child walking alongside a wolf, stretching over 150 feet. The prints were made in soft clay, hardened and left undisturbed for thousands of years. These imprints in the Chauvet Cave have been dated to 26.000 years ago.

During the recording, Herzog filmed the making of, which he titled Ode to the Dawn of Men.

After hearing this score, actor Oscar Isaac and director Sam Gold invited Ernst Reijseger to compose and play live for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a production that took place in the Public Theatre in New York City during the summer of 2017.