Peter Strickland's remarkable second film Berberian Sound Studio is a psychological thriller which follows the progress of an unassuming sound engineer from Dorking who finds himself submerged in the murky world of 70s giallo cinema. The film’s soundtrack is by influential British outfit Broadcast. James Cargill of Broadcast spoke to The Outer Church about his part in making Berberian Sound Studio one of 2012’s most fascinating films and put together an accompanying mix of his favourite film music.
James, how did you come be involved in Berberian Sound Studio?
"Peter had us in mind from the beginning I think. Trish and I were fond of [Strickland’s 2009 debut] Katalin Varga so it was quite a natural collaboration, we began by sharing our favourite film musics and how certain themes and sentiments could feed into the Berberian soundtrack. The awkward Brit sound recordist working in a claustrophobic Italian studio was a fantastic synopsis and the ideas Peter had for sound and music in the film were fascinating… that we would be creating the soundtrack for the ‘film within the film’ was quite appealing.”
Is the music all brand new or did you make use of existing material?
"It’s new music composed for the film."
How would you describe the general orientation of the music?
"The music Peter wanted from us was for the ‘film within the film’ (The Equestrian Vortex) that the protagonist Gilderoy [played by Toby Jones] is called to Italy to work on. It’s a ‘horror’ about a coven of witches buried underneath a riding academy that enact their bloody revenge on it’s occupants. We, the audience, never actually see any of The Equestrian Vortex other than the title sequence. The music we composed was to be mournful and emotive… almost romantic, with references to the mediaeval, whilst making it sound convincingly 1976, the year Berberian is set in. We also wanted to somehow represent Gilderoy’s yearning for home in Dorking so there is a pastoral element to some of the themes. Julian House [aka The Focus Group] also had a fair amount of input with the music and of course his title sequence was a complete inspiration.”
Did you have any specific reference points in terms of composition for film?
"Yes we referenced a lot of early/mid-70s giallos, the most specific would be the opening sequence for Le Orme (by composer Nicola Pivani ) for it’s sentiment and the solo organs and flutes. Before she passed away, Trish had written several themes for Berberian that I was able to use and expand upon, which was great."
What equipment did you use during the process?
"Circumstances were such that I used laptop and dictaphone mostly… the themes are made of Mellotron organs, flutes, autoharp and Trish’s voice but also some synthesizer drone and harpsichord. I wanted the themes to have a Catholic tone so I tried to use sounds Morricone did when he made scores like Il Sorrisso Del Grande Tentatore and Theoreme plus Trish left some wonderful monastic vocal recordings which were used in the film."
You obviously have a fondness for soundtrack music of various kinds. What do you like about it?
"Speaking specifically about Italian soundtracks I think it’s the sentiment and texture in the work of composers like Morricone, Nicolai, Cipriani, Trovaioli (too many great composers to mention) that I’m fond of… a lot of it crosses over into the pop and psychedelic music of the time and I like the way they develop strong musical themes and then play with the arrangements, which was what we tried to do with Berberian."
How did you find it, making the transition to film composition? Did you enjoy it?
"Yes it was good, I think it was quite natural. Peter wanted the music to sound like Broadcast anyway, just filtered through Morricone’s spectacles. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him on the various themes we eventually used. I suppose what made it feel like soundtrack composition was the process of refining the musical themes to serve the scenes they were to be used in."
How closely did you work with the rest of the sound department?
"Joakim Sundström was the supervising sound editor. I worked closely with Peter and Joakim and attended some of the editing but the other elements like foley and ‘screaming’ were coming from a number of different sources and it was mine and Trish’s job to supply the musical themes."
"Various people started making demos for the film in late 2009: screams, oscillations, feedback and so on. Sounds trickled in from that point until the very last day of the sound mix… Peter had specific musical pieces and effects in mind for certain scenes, he used some existing pieces of sound and music… Roj’s sounds from [his 2009 album for Ghost Box] The Transactional Dharma for example.”
Strickland seems like a remarkably music-literate director…
"Yes, he is very music-literate. Berberian Sound Studio is almost a piece of musique concrete and of course it’s a nod to avant-gardists like Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono and Cathy Berberian. Peter has his own label [Peripheral Conserve] and makes music with the Sonic Catering Band… he just released the Bohman Brothers album too.”
Will the soundtrack be getting an official release?
"Yes, it’s going to coincide with the DVD release in December." [Warp have since set the album release date as early January 2013 - OC]
Does your work on the film perhaps point the way forward for Broadcast? Do you see yourself doing more work of this type in future?
"Yes, hopefully I’ll be working with Peter again on his next project. More than anything though this was for Trish… all my future work will be for her and include her somehow."
Listen to James’s exclusive mix for The Outer Church here:
Ennio Morricone Adonai
Ottawa 76 International Animation Festival
Henry Mancini Salem Came to Dinner
Bernard Parmegiani Suns of Easter Island
Lawrence Crosley The Music Machine
Alessandro Alessandroni Dialogues
Ennio Morricone L’uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo
TV Ontario Ident
University of the Air - CTV
Nicola Pivani Le Orme
Ennio Morricone Canto della Campana Stonata
Eugen Thomass Magic World of the Sea
Ontario Educational Communications Authority
Eugen Thomass Frühling
Angus Maclise Humming in the Night Skull