By Hayley Scott/Paul Stephen Gettings
January 15, 2013
For a film so inspired by musique concrete and a narrative so imbued with gothic idiosyncrasies, it only seems fitting that a band like Broadcast were recruited to compose its soundtrack. When vocalist and founding member Trish Keenan died of Pneumonia in 2011, we not only lost an omnipotent talent, but a truly remarkable band was swiped from our musical landscape, leaving us with an unfillable void. The singularity of Broadcast’s music was one that drew inspiration from esoteric soundscapes of bygone eras: Keenan once referred to The United States Of America’s eponymous 1968 album as her “bible”. Thus, as much as Broadcast’s sound had for itself an occult-like prominence, offering a wonderfully abstruse alternative to the often degenerate sounds of the mid-late ‘90s, they were never shy of affirming the influences that formed their otherworldly sound.
Directed by Peter Strickland and released in August 2012, Berberian Sound Studio appears to be less of a plot driven film and more of a homage to the now-archaic era of analogue filmmaking, whilst also paying tribute to avant-gardists such as Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono and Cathy Berberian. Strickland’s music-literate disposition was perhaps a catalyst for enticing in Broadcast for soundtrack duties; the film is immersed in electronically crafted obscurities and cryptic sound effects that counterfeit the heyday of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. The band’s James Cargill and Trish Keenan started collating and recording the soundtrack shortly before the latter’s passing; Cargill completed the work alone.
While some soundtracks can feel diminished when divorced from their source material, Broadcast’s work has always taken inspiration from a wide variety of soundtrack forms including orchestral scores, musique concrete sound collages and all-but-forgotten BBC radio plays of the ’60s and ’70s. This puts us on familiar ground when listening to the soundtrack album itself; the scratchy samples and looping refrains are very reminiscent of previous adventures, particularly 2009s excellent Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age. However, while that album was often scattershot – the twiddling of a haunted radio dial – the Berberian Sound Studio OST takes a more leisurely approach, contemplating each figure over again and again in different arrangements and moods, giving both the film and the record a hypnotic, satisfying cohesion.
There’s only one disappointment to be had here, and it’s that the Berberian Sound Studio OST is not a Broadcast album. Keenan’s death cemented her place as a beloved and influential icon, and the abruptness of this bereavement had a finality that leaves us looking, hoping to find some kind of last goodbye. It’s true that Keenan still pervades this record; from the esoteric influences that informed it to her spectral choral chants that skulk and swell in the darkness. There’s even a real thrill on the sublime ‘Teresa, Lark of Ascension’ as her voice slides into focus and threatens to break into song. But the second you reach out, she’s gone.
Berberian Sound Studio [Soundtrack] is out now.