Sound and fury
As Gilderoy’s experiences in Berberian Sound Studio turn into a Kafkaesque nightmare, the film turns its strange library of sounds into an increasingly discombobulating musique concrète opera. A lightbulb becomes a spooky makeshift Theremin; cabbages can sound like bats or beheadings. Suffice it to say, the film’s grocery bill was rather high.
“An embarrassing amount of the budget went on vegetables,” notes the Reading-born director. “The smell on set was hideous, almost amusingly hideous. We just put them in these troughs and vats and left them so we could shoot 10 days of decaying vegetables. Lucky it wasn’t meat. Why didn’t we use more celeriac when we had the chance?”
It’s tempting to see Berberian Sound System as part of a larger, post-Stereolab vogue for angular electronica and hauntology. Since 2005, boutique record imprint Trunk Records has gathered together a spectacular collection of creepy cult sounds of the 1970s, sampling music from Deep Throat, Night of the Living Dead, Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Clangers and the humming, seminal frequencies of Irish composer Desmond Leslie. Elsewhere, Julian House and Jim Jupp’s Ghost Box Records have turned BBC stock and public information films into the sci-fi soundscapes of Belbury Poly, The Focus Group and The Advisory Circle.
“A lot of it is coincidence, but there is something in the air,” says Strickland, who collaborated with Julian House on Berberian Sound Studio. “There is a renewed interest in people like Basil Kirchin and Vernon Elliott and Desmond Leslie, who really conform to that idea of the eccentric working away in their garden shed. I started Berberian as a joke back in 2005, but since then there is more awareness of engineers like Joe Meek and the craft involved in analogue sound production. There was a real alchemy about that work. You can see why people like Joe Meek and Graham Bond eventually became involved in black magic and the occult. What they do is like a spell, something experiential. Because I was aware of Ghost Box, I approached Julian House who had ideas for the film I would never have thought of. He suggested that the credit sequence shouldn’t be for our film but for The Equestrian Vortex. Things like that.”
You don’t have to be a Giallo hound or an analogue geek to appreciate Berberian Sound Studio. Hence, Mr Strickland has just been snapped up by Ben Kill List Wheatley’s producers and by Film 4 to develop two separate love stories: “I think I’ve done enough dark stuff to put it aside for a little while.”
* Berberian Sound Studio opens next Friday