Composed for a psychological thriller of the same name, the soundtrack plays with the movie’s drift between physical and psychological horror. It also features vocals by the late Trish Keenan, one half of Broadcast who died in 2011 after she and bandmate James Cargill contracted pneumonia following a tour in Australia. After battling the illness for two weeks, Keenan passed on July 14th, leaving Cargill to finish this project that’s two years in the making.
The soundtrack makes an interesting companion piece to the film as it weaves the plot and subplot together. The film follows a British foley artist, or sound effects artist, named Gilderoy who is hired to work on an Italian horror film. Believing the project to be about horses because of the name, The Equestrian Vortex, Gilderoy finds himself bringing to life gruesome stabbings, burnings, and drownings by recording the sounds of vegetables being smashed and frying pans sizzling. As the scenes become more horrific, he loses his touch with reality. He no longer distinguishes between his own work and the mutilation in the movie. Gilderoy becomes unsure of who is the character and who is the person.
The film’s score, however, makes the transition from spaghetti splatters to the dismemberment of bodies all to real, at least in the mind of Gilderoy. In addition to the sound material drawn from the movie action, Broadcast adds simple organ repetitions, minor string melodies and an electronic edge that hints at a modern twist on a classic sound.
Continually moving and shifting through 39 tracks, Berberian Sound Studio draws from old school haunted house themes, spooky growls, howling winds, desperate screams, and bestial snarls in multiple voices to bring the movie to life. Then, suddenly, the listener relaxes in a billowy harpsichord track that wanders gently around seductive Italian voices, beckoning you to let your guard down. At times it can be a cruel and emotional ride.
Because the audience doesn’t see any of the footage for The Equestrian Vortex, we rely on the sound to help us picture it. Similarly, the listener of the soundtrack can visualize the torment of Gilderoy through the highs and lows in pitch and tone. It’s a little weird but the cohesiveness and synesthetic nature of the soundtrack is beautiful to hear in or out of the movie. As NPR’s Otis Hart puts it, “If anything, the album works best when the listener’s eyes stay shut.”