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Angelo Badalamenti
Twin Peaks Original Score Brian Coney , September 10th, 2016 08:28

Mariah Carey, Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt, Roy Orbison and Angelo Badalamenti. No, not the unwitting cast of a singularly soundtracked acid trip gone awry but winners in each of the five divisions in the Pop category at the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards. Fifteen years prior to leaving New York’s Radio City Hall that night in February 1991 with the award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for the main theme to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s phenomenon-turned-flop-turned-cult-classic TV series Twin Peaks, Badalamenti was a small-time composer in his forties operating as Andy Badale (“You had to use a pen name, especially if you were Jewish or Italian…”), keeping his head down before a revelatory late-career boom.

With its juxtaposition of vintage pop ballads and Shostakovich-inspired orchestration striking a keen balance between threatening and exalted noir, Badalamenti first met elusive auteur Lynch whilst scoring the soundtrack for the director and writer’s Oscar-nominated 1986 mystery crime classic Blue Velvet. Although it might feel pre-destined today, it was a chance union (“Make it cosmic!” Lynch reportedly enthused) that saw a creative relationship in the mould of Hitchcock/Hermann, Truffaut/Delrue and Spielberg/Williams forged, paving the way for a nigh on telepathic collaborative partnership that has spanned four decades, six films and easily one of the most impossibly influential television series ever to be commissioned.

Arguably more mutual conspirator than muse, the catalyst for what would seal Lynch and Badalamenti’s intuitive rapport was fledgling dream-pop musician Julee Cruise. An Iowan native, Cruise – having made a strong impression in a workshop Badalamenti had produced – was recommended and selected for vocals on Blue Velvet soundtrack peak ‘Mysteries of Love’. Handing Badalamenti a piece of paper with six unrhyming lines, Lynch feigned faith in the composer in channelling This Mortal Coil’s timeless yet unobtainable cover of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’ only to have his expectations exceeded. “I fell in love with [it],” Lynch later remarked. “I didn’t think I would. I thought, there’s a million songs, how can Angelo write something that is going to take the place of this? It was strange.”

Bonds formed and fate compelled, a crucial project bridging that first collaboration with what would soon be realised as the soundtrack to Twin Peaks was Cruise’s stellar 1989 debut album, Floating Into The Night, a ten-track release entirely co-written and produced by Lynch and Badalamenti. With its bold marriage of lounge music with narcotic, modern ambience, the record – not least ‘Falling’, the instrumental of which would become its aforementioned Grammy-winning main theme – all but served as a precursory soundtrack of sorts to Twin Peaks. When its pilot premiered seven months following the release of Floating Into The Night, the alchemical hit-rate of Lynch and Badalmenti’s working relationship was already potent.

Where Toto’s lavish soundtrack for Dune fared better than the film, Peter Iver’s industrial soundscapes largely defined the leering menace of Eraserhead and John Morris’ haunting score for Elephant Man proved inspired, Badalamenti flourished in the realms of subtlety, subversion and dichotomy on Twin Peaks. Evoking an arcane netherworld where mirages of moody jazz, macabre synths and mawkish laments fed into each other in uncanny, perfectly unsettling fashion, Badalamenti weaved calm with malevolence and melancholy with bliss, ensuring that – contrary to how it might read on paper – pastiche and gravity danced rather brilliantly back-to-back. Subverting notions of what defined pop and parody, particularly in a small-town world that Lynch insisted was a soap opera, rather than a highbrow send-up of one, music operated on an elemental scale in what proved Twin Peaks’ unique success.

Describing his approach as “a little bit dark, a little bit off-centre. I think of it as tragically beautiful…” Badalamenti shared a natural penchant for the lure of contrasting moods and shifting sentiment in non-diegetic music with Lynch. Setting a cassette player on top of the former’s beat-up Fender Rhodes, the Montana-born filmmaker would sit to the right of Badalamenti when composing much of Twin Peaks’ main themes, quietly verbalising what he envisioned. “Angelo, we’re in a dark woods now. There’s a soft wind blowing through some sycamore trees,” Lynch said as Badalamenti composed the show’s seminal ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’. Encouraging the major-key climb from its sinister cadence and back again, Lynch was ecstatic with the outcome. “Don’t change a single note, Angelo. I see Twin Peaks.”

Lending to the almost impenetrable majesty of Badalamenti’s otherworldly compositions, it’s the genre-warping range of music on Twin Peaks that continues to set it apart. Take ‘Audrey’s Dance’ with its slinking bass-line, jarring woodwinds, brushed percussion, finger-clicks and vibraphone: equal parts suggestive and sinister, its woozy lounge sway implies proposition and deceit in unison, each off-kilter stab symbolising the unpredictability of the show’s high-school femme fatale Audrey Horne. Played alongside the likes of Dale Cooper’s ‘Freshly Squeezed’ motif, the droning doomjazz of ‘Night Life In Twin Peaks’, ghostly Cruise ode ‘The Nightingale’ and ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’ – a sinister, hugely influential synth masterstroke in its own right – Badalamenti harnessed an air of innate mystique and melancholy to Lynch’s feature-length fever-dreams.

Few TV shows are borderline inconceivable when you mentally detach their soundtrack; The X-Files, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Gilmore Girls and The Wonder Years all spring to mind. In channelling Lynch’s personal and prophetic vision of a purgatorial America suspended in an almost fetishistic ‘50s, Badalamenti melded dark, obsessive “Cool Jazz”, Cruise’s reverb-soaked vocals and Duane Eddy-esque guitar twang to form a ubiquitous sonic backdrop that is inextricable from the melodrama and lurking sense of impending doom now synonymous with Lynchian otherworlds. In the words of Mark Frost: “If the show was a boat moving along, Angelo’s music was the river that carried it. It helped create and support the mood of the show. It gave you a very specific sense of time and place that outside of realm and place.” It’s that sense of “outside-ness” and the inexplicable escapism it invites that Badalamenti tapped into with both subtlety and authority.

Whilst perhaps not flawless (that mid-S2 lull, anyone?) the sheer rewatchability of Twin Peaks’ has long been inseparable from its generation-leaping, demographic-spanning appeal. Primed to return for a new series on Showtime next year, the foam-mouthed demand for this lovingly-assembled vinyl reissue of its soundtrack – in "damn fine coffee" coloured wax no less – only serves to confirm that, as we collectively bide our time, much of that appeal still firmly resides in the profound and beautiful dreamscapes that brought the original enigma to life. Throw in the fact Angelo Badalamenti is working on new music alongside Lynch for its highly-anticipated return after 26 years and it’s no mystery – none whatsoever – that theirs is a match made in limbo.

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