Release Date: Jan 8, 2013
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Soundtrack, Electronica
Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, one of 2012’s finest films, recalled Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Conversation in its vivid, enthralling sound design. Listening to Broadcast’s soundtrack divorced from Strickland’s images, it becomes clear just how vital their music was to the strength and impact of the picture. Strickland’s film concerns Gilderoy, a reticent, eccentric and introverted sound effects engineer who is drawn to work on an Italian horror film called The Equestrian Vortex.
In British pop history the feature film often marks the fatal moment of imperial overreach of a particular scene or band. From Magical Mystery Tour to The Great Rock And Roll Swindle or Absolute Beginners, be they grand follies, works of cynical exploitation or pretentious fiascos, they almost always mark the end of something. Is Peter Strickland’s remarkable Berberian Sound Studio, then, the epitaph of hauntology? From its Julian House poster and title sequence to Toby Jones’ sartorial symphony in tweed, the Box Hill chaffinches and Italian catacombs, its fetishistic celebration of analogue audio and its invocation of the occult power of the horror soundtrack, the film feels less like a moment of cultural dissipation than of culmination: the moment, the gesamtkunstwerk, the movement was always aspiring to.
Morbid as it sounds, posthumous is the only real way in which Berberian Sound Studio could have emerged. The score to the Italian horror film of the same name was released by Broadcast two years after the abrupt death of the band’s throaty lead singer, Trish Keenan. Her death spurred a cult appreciation for Broadcast, the English band with electronic sensibilities so fuzzed-out and melancholy that nothing even comes close to comparison.
A horror movie set in the ’70s is ideal material for Broadcast’s first foray into movie soundtracking. Turns out the Birmingham band’s creepily beautiful style fits the film directed by Peter Strickland like a ghoulish glove. Comprising The Omen-like church organ, classic horror FX and a spot of occult flute playing, the period-precise score captures the claustrophobic dread and paranoia of the fictional film shoot documented in Berberian Sound Studio, on which the body count slowly rises.
Considering the influence cult films and their music had on Broadcast, it's fitting that the band wrote a score of their own. And since sound design -- particularly the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's groundbreaking work -- also played a significant part in their music, it's even more apt that they scored Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio, a film about Gilderoy, a hapless English sound engineer working on an Italian horror movie in 1976. The film in question, The Equestrian Vortex, is never shown, leaving audiences to envision its horrors as Gilderoy stabs watermelons, rips vegetables, and sizzles cooking oil to obtain the perfect terrifying sound.
In 1976, twitchy British sound engineer Gilderoy gets hired to create the audio effects for an Italian art movie. At least that’s what he thinks until he discovers he’s working for Santini, a giallo horror director with a CV like a morgue floor. Locked away in a recording booth surrounded by tape recorders and screaming women, Gilderoy recreates the sounds of dismembered bodies by hacking up watermelons and slowly losing his marbles.
When Broadcast's Trish Keenan died of pneumonia in January 2011, it brought a sudden and shocking end to one of Britain's most singular bands. They emerged in 1996, not so much the height of Britpop as the zenith of its prematurely wizened kid brother, dubbed "Noelrock" by NME: trudging bloke-rock fast-tracked into the charts by the patronage of the then-omnipotent elder Gallagher brother, a man whose music tastes gave every impression of running to "a Saturday night session on a pub jukebox", as John Harris waspishly noted in his book The Last Party. Here it seemed, was proof that what you once might have called indie music had succeeded in taking over the mainstream largely by narrowing its horizons.
Broadcast's output was remarkably meticulous. In their 16 years together as a group, through various lineup changes that saw them ultimately shaved down to the duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill, they released just four full-length studio albums. There was certainly a decent amount of other work that sprung up in the gaps between those records, but often a protracted silence would settle on the band.
If ever there were a band meant to do soundtrack work, it would be Broadcast. Known and admired for its very own brand of retro futurism, Broadcast was always about setting a mood and conjuring up déjà-vu-ish memories of things yet to come. Theirs was music that could be appreciated on multiple tracks at once, either as fully immersive background music that seeped into your unconscious mind or as meticulously crafted mini-symphonies that demanded active listening and careful attention.
For a band known for their unique catalog of psych-pop, composing the soundtrack to a film like Berberian Sound Studio had to be seen as a plum job. Broadcast's Trish Keenan and James Cargill worked together on the project prior to Keenan's tragic passing in January of 2011..
The soundtrack to British director Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio is more than likely the last album you'll ever hear from Broadcast, given Trish Keenan's sad passing in 2011. The film focuses on the work of a British sound engineer named Gilderoy, who travels to Italy to work on the sound for a '70s Giallo flick. This soundtrack of the film, by Broadcast, is imbued with the dramatic and, at times, campy Dario Argento feel you might expect.
Two years before Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan's untimely death in January 2011, the band released their strangest album yet, Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, with psych-weirdo the Focus Group. Much of it was devoid of the English band's eccentric pop sensibilities, instead embracing dark experimentalism. It makes sense, then, that Keenan and sole remaining band member James Cargill's final album together continues that hauntological pursuit.
I’ve never been wholly convinced that film soundtracks work outside their celluloid existence. Broadcast’s soundtrack to Peter Strickland’s art-house psycho-thriller, Berberian Sound Studio, though intriguing enough to challenge that perception, is a case in point. The film plot concerns Gilderoy, a shy British sound effects man with an unlikely assignment to work on an Italian Giallo horror flick, curiously titled The Equestrian Vortex.
The UK band Broadcast (its varying personnel centered around the constants of James Cargill and Trish Keenan) was often lumped in with bands like Stereolab and Pram, whether for its dreamy engagement with forgotten sounds, or its beguiling subversion of European pop. But since Keenan’s death in 2011, the void left feels wholly unique and ultimately unfillable. With “Berberian Sound Studio” — a soundtrack for Peter Strickland’s 2011 psychological thriller, made up of bits recorded prior to Keenan’s passing — Broadcast fans can get a taste (or 39) of what might have been.
A perfect partnership of movie and music, albeit of the creepiest kind. Ian Wade 2013 Berberian Sound Studio was one of the finest films of 2012. Released on a limited cinematic run last summer, it’s a psychological thriller/horror affair starring Toby Jones as a sound effects specialist who begins work in an Italian horror film studio on an amazingly titled (if slightly worrying) film called The Equestrian Vortex.
Most film soundtracks, scores included, stand up as a perfectly listenable albums in their own right. Broadcast’s contribution to the Peter Strickland film Berberian Sound Studio functions more as a museum of grotesque curiosities, as befits the corresponding thematic content. The film, set in an Italian horror film studio during the ’70s, can be most appropriately described as a meta-horror, in that it blurs the line between fiction and a horrible reality.
Dom La Nena Dominique Pinto, who calls herself Dom La Nena (“Dom the little girl”), joins the sorority of whisperers that includes singers like Juana Molina, Hope Sandoval and Jane Birkin, for whom Ms. Pinto played cello on tour before she started her own album, “Ela” (Six Degrees). Born in ….
The undeniable stately dignity of Broadcast’s soundtrack to the giallo homage of Berberian Sound Studio has far more to do with what we have lost rather than what we have. The soundtrack is the last completed work by Broadcast’s duo of James Cargill and Trish Keenan prior to the latter’s sudden death in early 2011. The soundtrack is as beguiling and bewitching as any Broadcast studio album proper yet is incredibly fragmented and seemingly on the verge of merging with the film itself at any given time.