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Broadcast’s James Cargill on Morricone, minidiscs and scoring Berberian Sound Studio

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Broadcast interviewed

 

Enlisting Broadcast to soundtrack his film had to have been Peter Strickland’s easiest call on the job.

A hallucinatory trip through both the mind and the inner life of sound, Berberian Sound Studio tells the tale of a sound engineer, nebbish introvert Gilderoy, who, homesick in rural Italy and increasingly paranoid, is struggling to remain sane within the titular and vaguely purgatorial post-production offices while working on The Equestrian Vortex, a fictional 70s Italian horror (also known as giallo, though some film buffs will argue The Equestrian Vortex doesn’t qualify as such).

With shades of Coppola’s dark surveillance classic, The Conversation, Strickland’s film quickly establishes an oppressive and machine-like rhythm of mounting dread and nightmare-loop repetition, reflective of the latching shudder of tape reel and sound-desk slots, while the technology itself is fetishised throughout the film during claustrophobically intense sequences that recall Harry Caul’s procedural craft.

British director Strickland’s meta masterpiece is as much a meditation on the psychotropic properties of sound as it is a paean to 70s Italian horror, making it perfect material for hauntology progenitors Broadcast. Dedicated students of esoteric cultural arcana, the band have for years now explored themes of process, the mechanical nature of making music, and the thin gulf between fact and fiction in postmodern times, via the unnerving subconscious echo of music from a more innocent age. With its nods to recording decay, its artifice devices and its eldritch tones, Berberian Sound Studio is, uncannily so, the film you imagine Broadcast would have made had they ever gotten round to it. It’s their vibe visualised: what Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai was to RZA’s mid-90s work.

“I lost Trish [Keenan] whilst working on this soundtrack,” says James Cargill, the late Keenan’s romantic partner and now sole remaining member of Broadcast. “She was my partner in life and music and the creative force behind Broadcast. She wrote most of the melodies that appear in the film, which I then arranged as the edit progressed. I miss her very much.”

 

“Although the themes were written for the ‘film within the film’, the audience are watching Gilderoy most of the time, not The Equestrian Vortex. So we had to make sure the music worked on that level too.”

 

 

Was your remit to do a straight ’70s giallo soundtrack or a soundtrack for a film about the making of giallo film in the ’70s? The boundaries seemed blurred on the soundtrack.

“To give the album the effect I wanted I did play with that idea a little, by including sounds from the Berberian studio and Gilderoy’s sound effects from home, not just the giallo he’s working on. We did talk about doing the soundtrack as the soundtrack to the film within Strickland’s film (called The Equestrian Vortex) and just include the music from Santini’s film with his sleevenotes etc. But we decided against it.”

A lot of giallo scores employed electric guitar, or more generally speaking a ’70s rock style. Was there a reason you avoided that side of things for Berberian Sound Studio?

“The first pieces we recorded were more like that. But as the editing progressed Peter’s preference was for the mournful themes that now appear on the album. Although the themes were written for the ‘film within the film’, we (the audience) are watching Gilderoy most of the time, not The Equestrian Vortex. So we had to make sure the music worked on that level too, the themes had to resonate with his character and his yearning to be back home in Dorking, as well as providing the score for Santini’s film.”

 

“I was conscious of the pastiche aspect to making a soundtrack like this, but I couldn’t see a way round it in the end…Gilderoy is working in an Italian sound studio in 1976 so I had to be considerate of that.”

 

Did you take influence from any non-giallo horror soundtracks? The organ parts remind me very much of Philip Glass’ Candyman score.

“I’m not sure it qualifies as a giallo, but we were listening to Nicola Piovani’s Le Orme soundtrack and it’s sparse use of organ and flute. And also a little from Valerie, Her Week Of Wonders and Czech New Wave film-making.

What did you do in production and/or post-production to achieve the effect of an ‘old recording’? 

“I used mostly mellotron – its presets are pre-recorded tape loops so it inherently has that sound…I also used a dictaphone to record the autoharp and cymbals. I was conscious of the pastiche aspect to making a soundtrack like this, but I couldn’t see a way round it in the end…Gilderoy is working in an Italian sound studio in 1976 so I had to be considerate of that.”

What aspect of the signature ‘Broadcast sound’ did you bring most to your approach?

“I don’t really know. That might be for others to point out. Perhaps the sentiment in Trish’s melodies.”

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