David Lynch is not only a TV and movie director and creator. A couple of years ago I went to see his exhibition in London of photographs of industrial landscapes. It turns out, he is also a bit of a music guru. Imagining Twin Peaks without music, or Eraserhead or Lost Highway for that matter, is impossible. Without his panoramic soundscapes, the overall experience would be vastly diminished.
Lynch’s music is very industrial. It calls to mind Joy Division at their most obscure, or Kraftwerk. Yesterday, while researching a piece on Wagnerian Rock Opera, I discovered that he has leaned not only on Nine Inch Nails but also on unknown German industrial specialists, Rammstein. They’re actually quite good.
It’s not at all obvious that Lynch is primarily an artist, who happens to have chosen cult television as his main medium. Once you start to see the man in more detail, his other influences become clear. Why do his stories have virtually no plot? Why do his scenes just look so good, without it being clear exactly how his cinematography differs from others? Why is Eraserhead quite so creepy?
The answers to all of these questions are simple: he is an artist, visually and aurally.
As I write this, I have Trent Reznor’s Driver Down on my cans, from Lost Highway. It is instrumental, as so many Lynch soundtrack tunes are. It is very, very repetitive. It is perfect background music for Lynch, in that it creeps into the foreground. It is best heard on headphones, large ones. It demands attention, from a part of your brain that is not normally used in front of the television. This puts you in a creeped out state, which the weird characters and stories then take advantage of.
Eraserhead, seen on a very small television set a very long number of years ago, is the creepiest thing I have ever seen. If I had been at the movie theatre, I would probably have suffered heart failure. It’s black and white, of course, which immediately draws attention. The main character looks nuts, of course, but then, don’t they all? There is a memorable scene with a dry old over-cooked chicken that almost forced me out of the room. Why? None of this seems frightening as I write it down. In fact, it seems silly.
The answer is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When you put the weird character, the weird scenery and the chicken together with that unbelievable atmospheric background noise, and it is often little more than noise, you get the scariest movie of all time.
I commend all of the David Lynch soundtracks to you, but especially the movie ones. Twin Peaks, the Return, is coming soon, but it has a lot of ‘songs’. Eraserhead is basically the sounds from the entire movie, dialogue included. Lost Highway is just the music, but it is perhaps even creepier without the pictures. Even Mulholland Drive, Lynch’s least creepy and most pointless movie effort, has some fabulously atmospheric music. Go forth and listen.
This piece was inspired by the excellent book about Lynch, “Room to Dream: A Life In Art”, available from all the usual.