Monday, July 1, 2013

Arc of a Journey

The Sonic Adventures of Broadcast
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
 
Broadcast's Trish Keenan: a unique talent tragically cut short.

TAKING the aesthetics of 1960s psychedelia and the avant-garde, West Midlands electronic group Broadcast rejoiced in an exhilarating deluge of musical, literary and cinematic references. Co-founded by partners James Cargill and the late Trish Keenan - who passed away in 2011 aged 42 having contracted the H1N1 flu virus on tour in Australia - Broadcast were key in the development of what the music press would term hauntology. There was a compelling aura that surrounded them from their first gigs, a band detached among hypnotic light-shows akin to Andy Warhol's Factory and The Velvet Underground's psych-outs. Keenan's ethereal vocals - allegedly like the person herself - were heartfelt yet fragile. As Jeanette Leech notes in her capsule critique of the singer in Shindig! #32 (April 2013), Keenan subscribed more to the intensity and bravado of The United States of America's Dorothy Moskowitz than the killer-stares of Grace Slick or Nico.

Broadcast's debut in 2000 - The Noise Made By People - stands as one of the great first albums, a work swathed in references from John Barry to Martin Denny, yet forging a hazily spectral sound of its own. 2003's Haha Sound was a more intricate work, which coincided with Keenan's discovery of the Czech New Wave masterpiece VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS and Cargill's obsession with library music. By the third album released two years later - Tender Buttons, named after Gertrude Stein's 1914 book of verse - Broadcast had stripped back to just the two founders, which consequently produced a more minimal sound. The next album was released in 2009 and would simultaneously frustrate and alienate fans; infused with a trance-like quality, Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age was a record influenced by Cargill and Keenan moving to the countryside and immersing themselves in ancient folklore.

Studio secretary Elena (Tonia Sotiropoulou) in the Lynchian BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO.

The spirit of Broadcast lives on in their soundtrack to Peter Strickland's otherworldly art-house hit BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO. Even though the music is used sparingly, the atmospheric fragments nevertheless bleed into the drama that unfolds. A lonely English sound engineer from Dorking, Gilderoy (Toby Jones), travels to Italy to work on the post-production of the horror film 'The Equestrian Vortex.' Struggling with the language, he attempts to get his airfare reimbursed with a disinterested secretary, and is later disturbed by the hostilities of director Coraggio (Cosimo Fusco) and producer Santini (Antonio Mancino). Repulsed by the violence depicted in the film which requires him to record various witch incantations, torture and an "aroused goblin,"  Gilderoy loses his sanity as reality and fiction merge.

With BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO being a claustrophobic love letter to analogue recording and the world of Italian giallo soundtracks, it exists in a vacuum between academia and exploitation. There is something outlandish with an environment that is visually static yet aurally harrowing: human viscera is replaced by bludgeoned cabbages, slashing kitchen knifes and watermelons spliced with machetes. Jones is superb as the innocent abroad, a character who can only truly express himself within his beloved sonic landscape; the question remains if Jones actually exists on a higher plane, or is being manipulated by magic spells rendered through the fast-forwarding and rewinding of the material. For all its measured build up, it is up to the viewer to judge if the final sequences of Gilderoy's madness are an example of audacious film-making or pretentious self-indulgence.