Finn in discussion with Modyfier on “Twin Peaks” by Angelo Badalamenti (1990).
What was your first encounter with Angelo Badalamenti? Did you notice the music when “Twin Peaks” was originally aired?
It was when the first season debuted in the spring of 1990. I was eleven and used to watch the show regularly with my parents. It made quite an impression on me. It was around that time that I started to become aware of abstractions and my mind wandered into the incredible world of intangible things. The show was the perfect guide, pulling me further into this exploration. I’d like to say that I didn’t notice the music apart from the imagery (because together, I think they make up the show), but I can’t. The first season soundtrack (on cassette) was one of the earliest albums I ever bought. I loved the access the music provided. Listening to it, I’d immediately be transported to Twin Peaks.
Did you have the instant impression that your fascination with the soundtrack would outlast the TV experience as a singular work of art? Can it be held apart from the series?
“Twin Peaks” is best when experienced the way it was meant to be: as a moving picture with sound. While it is possible for each to exist without the other, they lack full form. For example, if you listen to the soundtrack on its own, it is constantly evoking imagery from the show. It reaches out for it, plucking it ripe from the memory branches of your mind. Badalamenti is successful in painting Lynch’s vision precisely with his composition.
As far as my ‘fascination’ with the soundtrack, I’d reiterate that I think it is best when listened to in the context of the show. For that reason, I don’t think it has outlasted the experience of the series. The characters and places have a dark beauty and frank oddity that are created as equally by Badalamenti’s music as they are by Lynch’s imagery and narration. For me, the soundtrack is so much more than merely associative. There is a symbiosis that makes me think cymatics are at play. When things are put into motion in “Twin Peaks” (when characters and places interact in different combinations) events begin to happen that are outside of the rational. A door is opened into an unexplainable dimension that is conveyed through the important combination of picture and sound.
Another of my favorite movies that deals directly with the meaning of sound in film (and its necessity to making the images come alive) is Wim Wender’s “Lisbon Story”. From a description on his website:
“Dear Phil, I cannot continue m.o.s.! — S.O.S.! — Come to Lisbon with all your stuff a.s.a.p.! Big hug, Fritz.”
Who is who? And what do all those abbreviations mean? The SOS of course, is obvious, and a.s.a.p. only strengthens the urgency: come AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. But m.o.s.?
Only if you work in movies you might know that M.O.S. is an old and rather strange word for “silent,” and that the expression came up in the late twenties meaning “mit-out sound.”
Anyway, we soon understand that the postcard was sent by a film director, Friedrich Monroe, to his friend Phillip Winter, a sound engineer. Friedrich has started a movie in Lisbon on a very romantic notion — he wanted to do it “as if the whole history of cinema hadn’t happened, shooting all on his own, a man alone in the streets, with an old hand-cranking camera, just like Buster Keaton in THE CAMERAMAN.”
Well, Friedrich failed, and when he realized he had painted himself into a corner, he called Winter for help, hoping “that your microphones could pull my images out of their darkness, that sound could save the day.”
Are there signature tracks on the album you particularly like, or do you like to listen to it as a whole?
Because I have favorite characters in the show, I also have favorite tracks that help to create who they are. The music is a part of them and also of the things that happen to them. Badalamenti’s score is both a medium for things to move through as well as the thing that is itself moving: a noun and a verb all at once. He grasps the personality of a character as well as he does the feeling of night or of the woods or of eating a piece of cherry pie. His music shows what is important. He strips away the irrelevant and hits you with well placed arrows carrying ideas and sensation.
As a director, Lynch knows this. “Sound is just another tool to ensure that you are following the original idea and being true to it. Sound is so important to the feel of a film. To get the right presence for a room, the right feel from the outside or the right sounding dialogue is like playing a musical instrument. You have to do a lot of experimenting to get it just right.”
David Lynch likes to work with sharp contrasts, and also did so with Twin Peaks, which had very emotional, almost kitschy, sequences, and some very disturbing and even shocking ones. It seems to me that Badalamenti is very good at giving these contrasts a sound, while also balancing different moods. How would you describe the way Badalamenti worked on this? Is this score an essential example for that?
Badalamenti describes his working relationship with Lynch like this, ‘David is very good at verbalizing a mood’. I’d say he is equally good at listening as well as translating what he hears into music. He helps the sequence of events to mature into narration, to transform into something that has meaning. Their work together projects a collective imagination and intuitively ‘dives deep’. What emerges when they creatively breach are the by-product of that experience. I think they get a lot of enjoyment from this kind of experience and that it enlivens their work. Lynch, who has been practicing transcendental meditation for over 30 years, describes it as trusting in an inner knowing that expands awareness and happiness.
Lynch apparently likes a lot of old fashioned music, like early rock and roll ballads and sleazy bar jazz for example. But whenever he applies his musical tastes to his films, the music that comes out of it seems to be some kind of surreal and over the top version of the original sound. This impression may have its cause in the way Lynch uses an image or meaning of original music with contrasting or re-interpreting imagery (Roy Orbison in “Blue Velvet” comes to mind), yet Badalamenti also uses certain elements from jazz and classic pop, and makes them sound strangely different to how they sound in their original style. Is this just the way a good film composer should do his job, by fulfilling the expectations of the film’s director, or does Badalamenti exceed this mere professional level with a certain artistic ability?
Maybe one way to put it is that Lynch draws an ability out of Badalamenti that he might not be able to find on his own. I think, for both of them, that some of their best work is a by-product of the relationship.
“Twin Peaks” was not the first collaboration of Lynch and Badalamenti, they already worked together on “Blue Velvet”, and since then have continued their working relationship for several movies and other projects. Why do you think they both complement each other so well? Which elements of their individual artistic ideas connect?
I am most familiar with Badalamenti through the work he has done with Lynch. I think when they combine creative forces the results are cataclysmic. They share an aesthetic alignment that provides a strong central axis from which they re-contextualize sounds or imagery. They characteristically distort the familiar by tuning it to their own pitch, by disguising the unexpected in recognizable ways. This provides a point of entry that gets re-imagined once you look through the frame of their window. They turn on consciousness by creating sensation that demands a reaction. The experience sparks with life and abstraction.
Are there other of their collaborative efforts that you enjoy as much as “Twin Peaks”?
I love most everything they have done together, but “Blue Velvet” stands out especially.
There are certain elements in “Twin Peaks” that are trademark Badalamenti, especially the string arrangements. What makes his string arrangements so special and recognizable?
According to the man himself, it’s melody. “Number one, I love melody. Melody is a very important part of my world. However, melody has to be nothing that is saccharine or sweet. It’s a melody that has got a little sadness to it. Maybe it’s a melody that is a little bit tragic. A lot of people have said, ‘Tragic is beautiful’.” Because strings have a lot of plasticity and range, I think are a good choice of instrumentation in being able to carry the demands of his vision.
Another leftover from the work on “Blue Velvet” is Julee Cruise, with whom Lynch and Badalamenti also worked on “Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream Of The Broken Hearted” and her solo album “Floating Into The Night”. Is she the perfect voice and muse for their music, like Edda dell’Orso was for Ennio Morricone?
Yes. But I don’t think I knew this or at least thought about it until much later on. She was also included on another one of my favorite soundtracks from around the same time: Wim Wenders Until the End of the World. She sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Summer Kisses, Winter Tears’, which Lynch and Badalamenti co-produced.
All three first collaborated on Blue Velvet. I think their relationship was fortified by the positive results that came out of that effort. They all got in line behind a similar mood with ‘Mysteries of Love’. It set a trajectory for their future work together. With Lynch setting the tone and writing the lyrics, Badalamenti composing the music and Cruise supplying the vocals, they found a creative symbiosis. Industrial Symphony No. 1 provided an opportunity for them to further explore some of the ideas that interested Lynch like atmosphere, dreams, feeling, space other-worldliness, intimacy, etc. Lynch says, “Ideas are, to me, and to all of us I think, the most important things. But we don’t really understand where they come from, but thank goodness they come along every now and again and pop into your mind. And for me, I found out that coffee and sugar and a comfortable seat in well lit, clean place helps these ideas to come along.”
I often think that Angelo Badalamenti’s work as a film composer is misjudged. He’s worked on quite a variety of stylistically diverse films, from comedy to drama, but his impact is mostly limited to the sound he developed for his works with Lynch. Do you think that he is underrated, particularly in contrast to other composers working in the same field?
This cycles back to what I have been emphasizing throughout, which is that I think their best works are the projects they have collaborated on (that being said, I am a bit limited in my opinion as I’m only familiar with a fraction of Badalamenti’s music). The music he has created for Lynch’s films, especially for “Twin Peaks”, is a perfectly balanced complement to the images. When they are paired together, they create a stranger, stronger and more compelling form.
Finally, does Badalamenti’s music for “Twin Peaks” stand the test of time? Does it even have a timeless quality?
I’m going to go there and say that the music he made for “Twin Peaks” goes beyond the fourth dimension. In that regards, you could say that it is ‘timeless’ in that it is unattached to this meaning. The underlying theme of the show is about realizing that there is so much in this world that is unknown and about learning to be comfortable with its existence. Much larger and hidden issues are at play and things are not always what they seem.
Modyfier is a plurality: it’s an idea acting as energy, it’s an experiment in accrual (as a collection), it’s an attitude that rides creativity and freedom and its also become a part of me. It’s how I exist in my peripheral view, where I allow myself to be un-tethered. Maybe most of all, though, Modyfier has become an artist’s platform, developing through an ongoing deferral as people who participate each suggest someone else. I like how the process of participation creates its form, and how it shifts in directions I wouldn’t necessarily know to go myself. Recently I read something Matthew Barney said about his early ‘Drawing Restraint’ work that really struck me: “I was thinking about how the body functions in training – how the muscle breaks down under resistance and then heals larger and stronger. I was trying to use that process of resistance to create form.”