“Listen to the sounds” – On The Expanding Musical Palette Of David Lynch


In which your humble narrator (perhaps in an exercise in procrastination when he should in fact be rehearsing / learning lines etc.) seeks to detail, at least in some relatively superficial way, the soundwork of David Lynch, the burgeoning sonic arsenal thereof, and invites the reader to “taste the rainbow” WITH YOUR EARS.

The sound and music in Lynch’s film work begins, of course, with the looped, piercing sirens of Six Men Getting Sick (1966), before moving on to the Musique concrète sounds of The Alphabet (1968) and The Grandmother (1970).  Though it was with the immense, groundbreaking and vertiginous industrial score to Eraserhead (1977) that Lynch and Alan R. Splet seem to have truly created the first rung on the sonic ladder to the Lynchian sound we all know today.

Some of Lynch’s subsequent work is accompanied by more conventional music, or at least scores that he seems to have had little or no influence on, including the often haunting soundtrack to The Elephant Man by John Morris, and Dune‘s arguably underrated score (a few somewhat cringey guitar solos notwithstanding) by Brian Eno & Toto; additionally The Straight Story‘s more traditional, plaintive score by Lynch stalwart Badalamenti seems a little outside of the director’s usual worlds, as indeed to a large extent does the film itself.

But it was Lynch’s meeting with Angelo Badalamenti while making Blue Velvet that truly catapulted him into the sonic worlds we largely know him for today.

“Angelo [Badalamenti] really brought me into the world of music, right into the middle of it… I never got deep into working with a composer and having that experience of being able to fall into the world of music, and Angelo invited me into that world, and encouraged it, and many great experiences have come out of that.”

The Blue Velvet score is often somewhat traditional and clearly influenced by film noir, but there are Lynchian gems within; the re-purposing of old songs (as in the title track, Ketty Lester’s incredible ‘Love Letters‘, not to mention the memorable  and unsettling use of Orbison’s ‘In Dreams‘). There are some moments of Musique concrète in the sound design, the drones and tones that Lynch would become known for and some of which, interestingly, makes it onto the soundtrack album on ‘Lumberton U.S.A. / Going Down To Lincoln – Sound Effects Suite’.

Lynch’s meeting with Badalamenti lead to their song writing partnership and to the Julee Cruise albums Floating Into The Night and The Voice Of Love, not to mention the now legendary soundtrack to Twin Peaks; but more than that, their partnership seemed set in stone from then on and lo, the Lynchian palette of sounds as we know it today, did begin to grow…

So, what’s in the Lynchian sound palette as things stand, and where did it first make an appearance?

Stepping gingerly over the beautifully rendered industrial rumbles and drones of Eraserhead (clearly the progeny of his early short films) I’d say the next string to his musical bow would be those vintage songs from the 50s and 60s, those songs of heartbreak and/or teenage love that have found their way into everything from Blue Velvet‘s titular track to Mulholland Drive‘s ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star‘; recontextualized by Lynch, these songs gain an added depth and strangeness.

Besides these forlorn ballads of lost love or innocent romance, Rock & Roll clearly had a massive influence on the young Lynch: “I’ve loved music always, and my music fire was lit by Elvis Presley, really, and all that was happening back then” and this love is evident in Wild at Heart‘s inclusion of Gene Vincent’s ‘Be-Bop A Lula‘ and Them’s rendition of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, not to mention Sailor’s obsession with the songs of Elvis. but it is in Wild at Heart that we are slapped in the face with perhaps the first of Lynch’s truly unexpected musical additions, that of speed metal band Powermad’s ‘Slaughterhouse’. I mean, Lynch fans up til then might have been forgiven for asking what in the wide, wide world of sports was going on.

This brash and violent departure from Lynch’s usual sonic M.O. (“modus operandi!“) may have seemed jarring at the time but it is then echoed from time to time throughout the years, with the addition of Rammstein and others to Lost Highway, all the way up to chaotic industrial/noise/metal outfit Uniform’s inclusion, blaring from a bad man’s black car in episode 5 of Twin Peaks: The Return (itself an echo of Chris Isaak’s ‘Gone Ridin’‘ from Blue Velvet) the lesson here seems to be: just when you think you know where he’s going Lynch will inevitably throw you a curve-ball… that may cauterize your auditory nerve.

Even in the world of Twin Peaks, which, (for its first 2 seasons at least -Où est Badalamenti in season 3?) largely sticks to it’s dreamy synth-strings, twangy guitars and dark, jazz stylings, in Fire Walk With Me another curve-ball arrived in the shape of Thought Gang’s Tom Waits-ian stomp ‘A Real Indication‘; in a town like Twin Peaks, no ear is safe.

When Lynch began to make his own music with 2001’s Blue Bob, rock was very much the order of the day, albeit with light industrial stylings sprinkled over the top; however with 2006’s ‘Ghost of Love’ and ‘Walkin’ on the Sky’, Lynch’s gear had shifted into a more dark and dreamy nature, further deepened on his debut solo album Crazy Clown Time, where the order of the day is a kind of pitch-black dream-pop-rock, oddly out of time, like the blues played some reclusive denizen of “another place”.

His collaborations with Chrysta Bell (first heard on ‘Polish Poem‘ in Inland Empire) on albums such as This Train, delve further into dream-pop and in which smatterings of electronica begin to creep in. Which I think leads us pretty much up to date with the synth heavy song used to end the ‘pilot’ (eps. 1&2) of Twin Peaks: The Return, Chromatic’s ‘Shadow‘, a continuation of the dream-pop direction, though also perhaps a reflection of those mournful teenage ballads of the 50s:

“At night I’m driving in your car,
Pretending that we’ll leave this town,
We’re watching all the street lights fade,
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream…”

So. What have we learned from all this jibber-jabber, neighbours? That I’ll do anything to put off learning lines and rehearsing songs? Perhaps. That Lynch’s sonic worlds are ever changing, mutating,  E V O L V I N G ?

EVOLUTION OF THE ARM“I am the arm, and I sound like this”

Yeah, that’ll do.

~ by benjaminlouche on June 6, 2017.

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