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20/06/2014 Barbican Programme Notes

Client: Barbican Guide
website | podcast | David Coulter

In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited

'Every time I hear sounds, I see pictures. Then, I start getting ideas. It just drives me crazy' - the words of film director, visual artist, musician and occasional actor David Lynch. This is no mere ordinary man. This is a maverick magician whose silver-haired quiff (Jimmy Stewart from Mars) has enchanted and disturbed, mystified and amused in equal measure. So let's open the box on this intoxicating, strobe-flicking, dark and eerie night of collective dreaming. There is something in the air.

Another man from another place who has brought us here is musical director David Coulter. He first enthused to me about the director's visual eye, 'there are other directors whose work strikes similar chords in me – Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, even Tarkovsky and Jarman. ' But it's the mixture of visuals AND sound which are truly unique in execution with this director, as we'll uncover.

Lynch's debut full length feature debut, Eraserhead, arrived in 1977 and was a bold statement of what was to come. Here was a (psychologically) video nasty that alongside its black and white universe relied on sound to create mood. Lynch said 'Actually, I think sound effects are music. You can have a feel for things, and you don’t really know where it comes from. And I just have a love for sound effects as music.' David Coulter pointed out that the sound work Lynch and Alan Splet created for the film (itself taking a year to complete) is astonishing. Any tiny moments of melody (Fats Waller) and actual song ('In Heaven') are ultimately reclaimed by the 'clanking and throbbing machine-like industrial noise' of Splet and Lynch’s meticulous field recordings.

You can't get far in an article about Lynch's film music without mentioning Angelo Badalamenti - a composer-director partnership Coulter describes as defining as Leone and Morricone or Rota and Fellini. Badalamenti is someone Lynch considered as a brother in arms. And their flowering musical romance began in Blue Velvet (1986). As Coulter explained to me, Badadalamenti was drafted in to be Isabella Rossellini's vocal coach on the film set but ended up writing songs when producers weren’t able to secure rights to use this Mortal Coil’s cover of Tim Buckley’s 'Song to the Siren'. This is also where singer Julee Cruise fatefully came into the story. Badalamenti said, 'on Blue Velvet he and I would sit at the piano and he would describe moods to me. He would have me on set. I would actually play live while they were filming so the actors could feel the mood.'

Their partnership continued and came to near perfection in the phenomenon that was and is Twin Peaks (1992). 'For the condemned characters of Twin Peaks, the music is not merely a decorative hood, it's the scaffold from which they're hanged' said the Guardian. And it was through Twin Peaks that a nine year old singer Conor O'Brien first got a taste of Lynch's 'sacred chalice of weirdness.' And now when he sings these songs such as those originally sung by Julee Cruise it 'feels like having a little piece of magic coming out of your belly.' Another guest this evening - Mick Harvey - told me it's the director's minimalist approach to music that strikes a chord with him and the musicians he has worked with. Though Savages singer Jenny Beth warned me against being lazy with Lynch's legacy: 'You know the aesthetic of his films has been so copied and is so influential, it becomes almost a joke...if you just just take the surface of it and copy that, it doesn't work'. Her introduction to Lynch came from the industrial LA soundtrack to Lost Highway (1997), alongside some Twin Peaks marathon viewing sessions, tonight's concert will thankfully be less than 30 hours!

Any great film comes with an incredible cast and our musical director has selected voices he loves- those he feels channel a certain theatricality in their work and a sense of presence. We will have 'simply stunning' New York duo Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto), Sophia Brous ('a new discovery to me'), Stealing Sheep ('so fresh and different'), those already mentioned: Mick Harvey, Conor O’Brien from Villagers, Jehnny Beth from Savages, and of course Stuart Staples of Tindersticks, 'who is unique, and his command of a stage is pretty mesmerising.' As far as the band goes, 'well they’re like my family really, the finest players I know'. Listen out for otherworldly sounds of the saw, Cristal Baschet (glass-based instrument) and Ondes Martenot (one of the earliest synthesizers).

So let's rewind the tape in our head and relive some of 'those' moments in music such as Isabella Rossellini’s unforgettable night club hostess Dorothy Vallens and her rendition of Bobby Vinton’s 'Blue Velvet'; Nicolas Cage’s definitive interpretation of Elvis Presley (in Wild at Heart) and Rebekah Del Rio’s heart-stopping Spanish acappela 'Llorando' ('Crying' by Roy Orbison) from Mullholland Drive. And now I've run out of words to mention the giant, the cowboy, the mothers and grandmothers, the mystery man, the bunnies of course dear Bob. As our musical director says 'I am so excited it’s hard to explain. This is the show I’ve had in my head for the longest time...the dream can finally become a twisted and revisited reality.' Perhaps let's consider tonight as a fan convention with members both on the stage and in the audience. Silencio!

Words: Ben Eshmade