Aural Fixation: Talking to Peter Strickland 

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Where are you based these days?
At the moment, it’s a bit weird. Half Hungary, half UK. I’m trying to get back to the UK but financially it’s a killer in that country. I don’t know how anyone can afford it. The beauty of living in Hungary was there was no pressure to do commercial films. A little bit of money can go a long way.

Berberian Sound Studio was originally a short film. What was it like?
We had it on YouTube, but we asked to take it off for marketing reasons because it has the same title. It will come back on again. It was done as a one-minute sketch of two guys doing 10 foley sessions—only the foley sessions—and you pick up this hidden narrative from it. You never see the film. It’s a character called Vincent, and you follow him as he goes through the forest, ends up sinking in mud, a UFO lands, and zombies come—porridge for the sinking mud [sound]. I did it as its own piece back in 2005. Late 2006 I came back to it thinking, “This could make it a bit longer than one minute.”

One thing I found very interesting was the idea of context and association: the innocence of certain sounds. Stabbing a cabbage is completely innocent—kitchen, food—but as soon as you put an image against it of a woman being tortured... I find it really simple but quite disturbing at the same time. If you take out Tobe Hooper’s sound design for Texas Chain Saw Massacre and play it in a concert hall, you’d say it’s like Pierre Schaeffer or something. In the context of that film, it’s really skuzzy hillbilly noise, but actually it’s incredibly meticulous musique concrète. it just sounds like they’ve got a lot of grease on the tape heads.

It’s interesting how soundtrack and sound design can blur. Like in some Gus Van Sant movies.
What I really find interesting with him is he uses Acid Mothers Temple [in Elephant], but at a really low volume. Which you would just never think of, because it’s usually high-volume rock n’ roll. So much of sound is not about effect; it’s all about perspective. And about foregrounding, EQing—these subtle things—and placing it in the mix.

How closely did you work on the sound on this film?
Technically I never man the boards. I’m rubbish. But apart from the foley, I was there. During the mixing, which is the most fundamental part, I was there every day, partly because I enjoy it, partly because it’s a lot harder to fix things if you come once every few days. There was a lot of us. It was all done in different stages, so a lot of people worked independently from their homes, sending in sounds. We recorded a lot of screaming, and then sent that to various people. It was almost like a remix. You send one track off to four different people and they do different versions of it.

Where did the name Gilderoy come from?
That was from a Shirley Collins song. A few things came from that. He’s this kind of garden-shed eccentric, and I guess there was this British tradition of that. British guys who would work on their own, this semiprofessional mode.

We see a little of the documentary Gilderoy was working on back home, about the English countryside. It reminded me of Penda’s Fen by Alan Clarke for some reason. Bucolic yet mystical.
You know, I did actually see that prior to shooting. You’re the first person to pick up on that. That was in the mix. It’s weird because Mulholland Drive comes up—we ripped off a lot of things, but that was just a coincidence. But Penda’s Fen, yeah, was definitely in the mix. It’s got a really good BBC Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack as well. And The Cremator, by Juraj Herz. The way we edited the film followed how he edited The Cremator. And Peter Tscherkassky... I think they were the main film influences. Otherwise I guess it was music.

It all just really draws you into Gilderoy’s world, which then breaks down.
You can think of cinema as a portal to enter into something. Like with Sonic Youth or bands like that, a song would just break down, and suddenly in the middle, everything just deconstructs. And you enter this other zone within that—like a vortex within the song. In film I always thought it would be so interesting to go that road.

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