Available on: Warp LP
Entirely befitting to Broadcast’s carefully updated vintage sound, Berberian Sound Studio was a commissioned score for Peter Strickland’s 1970s-set film of the same name, observing the plight of a British foley artist working in Italy on the sound for a giallo film – an Italian genre of film focusing on crime plots, but often veering into subjects of horror and psychological thriller. With Strickland’s wish being to turn the very process of film production into a subject for metafiction, the score is a complimentary blend of instrumentation and musique concréte referencing studio processes, creating moments of context-within-context. These are structured as brief cues, creating a journey that is as fitful as a cinematic thriller in itself.
An exciting point to Berberian Sound Studio is that themes recur equally in both instrumental and foley-based passages, creating an album that balances the two disciplines with as much energy and delighted exploration as the Italian composers cited as guiding influences; Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio and, of course, the latter’s once wife, muse, and namesake of the film, Cathy Berberian herself. However, Broadcast’s score also recalls the classic horror soundtracks of Polish composers Krzysztof Komeda (whose theme to Rosemary’s Baby possibly had some influence on their own main theme for the film) and Andrzej Korzynski.
Musical and non-musical passages balance the score as complimentary variations of particular themes; organ in both powerful blasts and sombre 6/8 melodies, spindly harpsichord and vocals, jazz drum-driven interludes, slowly billowing folk counterpoints, guttural gibbering of both male and female voices, thunderbolts of harsh synth snarls, edit suite incidental noise, frantic whispered passages in Italian, and sounds of nature all revolve in a constant flux, expanding and contracting deftly, ending taut and unresolved. In turn, these are all subject to Broadcast’s unrivalled mastery of vintage effects; valve warmth, spring reverbs, phasers and tape echo saturations creating a richly varying space and depth. The duo’s quite unrivalled production ability and musical prowess is such that Berberian Sound Studio sounds exactly of its era, both sonically and in compositional accomplishment.
Listening solely to Broadcast’s contribution also poses interesting, unanswerable questions for the audience. Having worked closely with both director Strickland and supervising sound editor Joakim Sundström, it is impossible to tell without referencing the film how much of the recording is a soundtrack to Berberian Sound Studio and how much is a soundtrack to its fictional film-within-a-film The Equestrian Vortex. Thus, where music cues contain samples of speech, bursts of analogue buzz, running water, clicks, thumps, tape noise, clock ticks, melancholy song or vocal hysteria, there is an ambiguity as to how far removed or embedded they are within a meta-framework; events on an unseen screen.
Broadcast have suffered a deeply saddening turn of events in the last two years with the death of singer and instrumentalist Trish Keenan. However, involved as she was with Berberian Sound Studios from its conception, and the results having been integrated and completed in her absence by remaining original member James Cargill so well, the results are as accomplished as if she was still there. It will have been said by many writing about this record, but it doesn’t make it any less true – Berberian Sound Studios is a wonderful, intense and darkly beautiful legacy to Keenan’s unique character, and testament to the band’s continuing ability as their world changes.