The recording rooms in the movie Berberian Sound Studio could easily be Broadcast’s rehearsal space – a Formica-panelled Aladdin’s cave littered with hanging cables, whirring reel-to-reel tapes, valve oscillators and chunky dials. The studio looks like a spiritual home for the analogue aesthetes, who’ve always been more about Radiophonic Workshop clutter than Kraftwerk austerity.
It was no surprise then, that director Peter Strickland says the band were his first and only choice to score his 2012 film – a paranoid thriller that charts British sound engineer Gilderoy’s slowly unspooling psyche as he joins a team of Euro misfits on a 1970s Italian giallo horror flick. For two decades, Broadcast’s singular sound has been honed from a bygone collective memory of dog-eared library music LPs, hazy public information films and half-remembered TV themes, so their first soundtrack feels like a vocation that’s finally been realised. It’s also the first Broadcast release since Trish Keenan’s sudden death from pneumonia in 2011, leaving the album unfinished. Her partner James Cargill continued with the soundtrack using Keenan’s themes and wordless dictaphone vocals as a cornerstone, saying he “completed it in her vision”.
Cargill avoids many giallo soundtrack tropes of gaudy bombast and schlock horror cliché, opting for a more pastoral tone – Wicker Man pagan folk with echoes of Morricone, rather than Suspiria prog. The 39 tracks give a tantalising synopsis of The Equestrian Vortex, the film within a film, whose plot centres on a riding school haunted by the vengeful spirits of medieval witches killed by the Inquisition. Some of the gory Foley effects are included here, with marrows, radishes and cabbages filling in for twisted necks, slashed throats and hammered-in heads as the body count rises.
The Equestrian Vortex theme itself draws first blood with its jazzy drum rolls and ragged organ, while other minute-long tracks weave harpsichord and flute with Keenan’s voice – a floating childlike siren’s call, perpetually out of reach. The tangential musical passages are cued and paused with clicking tape recorders and projectors, interrupted by Latin incantations, demonic wails, classic horror screams and a “dangerously aroused goblin”, whose jabbering will give you the fear. This unease is heightened on Mark of the Devil and Found Scaled, Found Drowned, which channel Wendy Carlos’s sick-bag Moog swirls from the Clockwork Orange score. Another unlikely soundtrack nod is the recurring lone church organ on Confession Modulation, Collatina is Coming and Treatise – evoking Philip Glass’s final act of Koyaanisqatsi, just as life’s unbalancing act passes its tipping point.
Instead of a pitfall, these pendulum-like mood swings complement the movie’s themes of disorientation and impending dread, as Gilderoy’s faculties unravel behind the glass wall. The record might be lost on some who haven’t seen the film, but after all, Berberian Sound Studio’s primary conceit is that The Equestrian Vortex film he’s working on remains unseen throughout. The slashes, thumps and splats paint their own gruesome picture behind your eyes. And with titles like The Serpent’s Semen, The Fifth Claw and Our Darkest Sabbath, the soundtrack gives your imagination a hell of a head start.
Originally published in State