Everyone’s talking about Berberian Sound Studio and Broadcast (music review)

Berberian Sound Studio is a film I am yet to see, but if you want an excellent review of the film, check out one of my favourite film sites, Bonjour Tristesse for the low down.  It’s certainly one that is ‘on my list’ as they say.

However, what I do have, is a copy of the amazing sound track by Broadcast, which completely lives up to all the hype.  And there has been a lot of hype in the last couple of weeks.  This is partly due to the fact that Broadcast lost one of their two members in January 2011, Trish Keenan to pneumonia  when they were working on this and one other sound track, and partly due to the fact that it is so good.

Broadcast are labeled as an indie electronic band and hail from Birmingham. Originally there were four band members: Trish Keenan (vocals), Roj Stevens (keyboards), Tim Felton (guitar) and James Cargill (bass), and they sort of switched around their drummers until 2005 when the band boiled down to simply Keenan and Cargill and their famous intense inward focus. Now that Keenan has died, Cargill remains, putting together the final pieces of what he and Keenan were working on last year.

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The band is heavily styled on that great great band, The United States of America, to the degree that Keenan called their self titled 1968 album her bible. The band released three albums as well as the famous collaborative mini Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age. Then they compiled and worked on the sound track for Berberian Sound Studio.

Briefly, Berberian art studio is a film by Peter Strickland about a man who normally works on the sound for BBC nature films. He takes a job with the low-budget Italian outfit Berberian Sound Studio to work on the latest exploitation extravaganza, The Equestian Vortex, a gruesome mix of nuns and witchcraft by famous horror director Giancarlo Santini. The film is set in 1976 and given the history of Broadcast, it must have seemed like a dream job to produce the soundtrack. Drawing influence from avant-garde Italian composers Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono and Cathy Berberian, the duo set to work on a soundscape that would properly complement a film that wanted to properly complement a certain era.

The result is one of those fantastic mythological albums that you can imagine would have appeared on the Nurse With Wound list or inspired a myriad of brilliant artists – both of which may yet still happen. The track is eerily haunting.  Berberian Sound Studio is a film that doesn’t show gratuitous sex or graphic violence, but does reveal the sounds of these extremes, so with a background like that to work from, a deep musically connected outfit like Broadcast can immerse and come up with the most terrifying and surreal aspects of the psyche.

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However they never lose their electronic roots, nor that 1968 psych sound. It remains all the way through but instead of relieving any of the tension, it increases the spooky atmosphere in a way you can imagine tubular bells would have, had it been applied to a horror film.  In a delightfully clever move, the spirit of 1968 has been applied as if the move toward it were back in time, adding to the haunting quality of the soundtrack. It moves out of the realm of schlock and into the strength of an album in its own right because the music is so eerie and unforgettable. The soundtrack is its own journey, not needing the films narrative to push it along. It’s a testament to the broadness of their thinking that Broadcast can come up with a sound track that works as a stand alone. This is an art in itself that goes back the Barons and their brilliant work on Forbidden planet, but one that is all too rarely emulated these days.

You can get a copy of the sound track to Berberian Sound Studio here at Warp Records. 

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