It would be at best indecorous to exercise in scribing defamatory words concerning the deceased, just as it tends to be pretty tricky to conjure much inspiration of a particularly positive nature when it comes to the appraisal of your average avant-garde soundtrack. Though that accompanying oddball Brit director Peter Strickland’s second feature, Berberian Sound Studio, is as eccentric, and with that engaging as imaginable; the finest of its kind since Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe teamed up with German New Crossover guru Sven Helbig to envisage how Battleship Potemkin may have sounded had there then been any A to Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 V. To all extensive purposes, Berberian Sound Studio is the fourth solo studio full-length from unremittingly unclassifiable Birmingham outfit Broadcast, and the first since the once four-piece’s dear ethereal swoonstress Trish Keenan departed. She died of pneumonia two years ago next week, though her pained intonations here resonate as though sighs once cryogenically frozen thawing. Slowly; surely; horrifically.
Which feels rather fitting, given the subject matter of the film itself: released midway through last year to negligible furore and featuring an Italo-British cast of tens, Strickland depicts the day-to-day of Gilderoy – a sound effect engineer interpreted by Londoner Toby Jones – who, whilst working away on the sounds underlying a typical Italian giallo (the broad term bracketing all unerringly eldritch crime thrillers), is inadvertently entangled in a verisimilitudinous horror show all of his own. The film subsequently went on to sweep up at last year’s British Independent Film Awards, and was indeed nominated for the prestigious Pardo d’Oro at the Locarno Film Festival four months prior to, though far more than a cursory thought ought to be savoured for its alas never so much as nominated soundtrack. For films falling within the horror stylisation can only carry a maximised threat if their musical accompaniment is as intensely eerie as feasible, and in this aspect is where Broadcast here really excel.
The skittering rhythms swathed in heavily manipulated vocals and slathered beneath Morricone plinks of The Sacred Marriage, or the sepia, organ-infused melancholia of Collatina is Coming attest to this quite strikingly. Though the record’s true strength (and it’s a truly muscular one at that) resides in its ability not only to conjure the sense of being perched precariously on the edge of the cinema seat, sofa, or wherever else exclusively via the aural, but in its intimacy with expiration. The effect of portent is so all-pervasive that it nags and niggles away at the listener; reeking of doom, gloom and, ultimately, death itself. Sincerely, I struggle to recall a record quite so finely attuned to quietus and again this seems apposite, for this particular work was primarily compiled by Broadcast’s solitary remaining member, bassist James Cargill, who was in turn abetted only by prerecorded bits and pieces Keenan once sung. Its authors too therefore bridge that uncharted hinterland unknown to all sentient humans which distances the living from the lifeless; the being from the unknowable beyond.
Malleus Maleficarum hinges about an again sinister organ refrain, as a withered voice sneers: “Sono qui. Sono sotto di noi” ad infinitum. Translating to ‘they’re here. They’re under us’ the rapport between those who walk this world and they interred within it is once more paramount to the disturbing grandiosity of the LP, before it is brought to a bloodcurdling halt with a screech seemingly capable of splintering even triple-glazing. Mark of the Devil, Confession Modulation, and Monica’s Fall all then follow – exactly 100 seconds grimly comprising a squelch of wide-pan synth undulation, a creeping piece of pianistic vacuity, and an in-studio transcript of “Bobina due, scena venticinque, ripresa cinque” (or ‘reel two, scene twenty-five, take five’) respectively.
The third of the three is aberrantly disrupted by the crackling of a spacked window (an ineradicable hallmark of the quintessential horror flick) and another of many macabre shrieks. Though it may momentarily recall the static-infested spoken word interludes to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s seminal Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven effort, a qualm here arises as though a skeletal palm arising from the dark, dank earth to which it belongs, and this is thus: that without having seen the film, certain compositions (if they may even be deemed thus) here encapsulated could do with a little more context. This is of course one such example, as is The Goblin which, to all extensive purposes, is nothing other than a frenzied splurge of indecipherable gobbledygook. As such, it fails to fit into the grooves already carved out by Cargill with these snippets of sound clip therefore seemingly inessential in terms of the soundtrack’s overall aesthetic. They appear to have been included for the sake of completism, as opposed to that of cohesion which, all in all, is something of a shame.
Though another, Poultry In Mind, rekindles that cardinal flicker of ominous end as it all comes back to death, as does life itself I suppose: “Sono sicura che questo è il posto in chi sono state seppellite”, or ‘I’m certain that this is the exact spot where they were buried’ are the words snivelled by Teresa – a central protagonist in the unseen film within the film, Il Vortice Equestre. The scene “puzza di pollo” – it stinks of chicken – as the sensorially impactive effect of the fetid takes hold; a carnal reaction to the repulsion of death and decay.
However, elsewhere Cargill plays the concept off of a more supernatural note (however superficial that may be), as is on Teresa’s Song (sorrow) which sounds not dissimilar to Getting There – Flying Lotus’ Niki Randa collab on the Brainfeeder’s latest LP, Until The Quiet Comes. Incidental as it may be, in sounding as though chipped off this fellow Warp release, the title to Ellison’s most recent (and in many corners most revered) once more resuscitates a somewhat morbid association. Found Scalded, Found Drowned too serves as a premonitorily creaky drone reminiscent as much of Daniel Loptain’s Oneohtrix Point Never endeavours as it is of Søren Sveistrup’s Forbrydelsen trilogy. This parallel, though again only subjective, serves to align the dots between the audio and the visual, and undoubtedly Berberian Sound Studio (or rather these, the sounds from) is unmistakably a soundtrack. It is but half the story.
And inevitably, the recording is therefore somehow restrictive in being so inextricably entwined with Strickland’s visual representation. As a result when Broadcast do tend to transmit something which is altogether spectacular, with only two pieces to puncture the two-minute mark it can seem all too concise. And with 39 songs spanning only approximately 38 minutes, there are no illusions nor false pretences at play. What this most innovatory of sonic explorations does elucidate all on its own though, is that posthumously released recordings maybe aren’t always innately outdated industry manoeuvres. For this recording is, in its very essence, and I at this point turn to paraphrase a band that’d perhaps now be best off passing away quietly, a posthumously discovered piece of a person we loved.
Released: January 7th, 2013 [Warp]