ON RECORD | Berberian Sound Studio

As the layered realities feedback on each other, the film itself – the one we’re watching – starts to judder and glitch until it freezes and burns away. By Louis Rogers

 

As Berberian Sound Studio reaches its climax, Gilderoy, a sound engineer hired to work on a lurid Italian thriller, is disturbed in the night by an insistent ringing of his doorbell. As he creeps around his rented apartment looking for something to arm himself with, he is suddenly confronted by the improbable, blinding beam of a projector; looking around he finds it showing the scenes he has just been through – getting out of bed, creeping through the flat. As the layered realities feedback on each other, the film itself – the one we’re watching – starts to judder and glitch until it freezes and burns away, like a stuck frame of celluloid.

Peter Strickland’s film revels in the analogue technology Gilderoy uses: sound is recorded – then manipulated – on reels of slippery brown tape that glide through humming, whirring machines. Each press of record, play and rewind is gratifyingly mechanical. These material media are the vehicles for the intensely emotive sounds Gilderoy crafts: they make his art possible, but also have their own effects. The hiss and crackle of tape itself are as expressive as any sounds intentionally captured on it, just as the quirks and corruptions of celluloid film do their own talking.

In Strickland’s film we see characters whose lives (and livelihoods) are dedicated to these material media, who are supposed masters of them – Gilderoy can do things with a cabbage, a few metres of magnetic tape and a Watkins Copicat few others can. But they are also at the mercy of them: vulnerable to the effects of the eerie distortions inherent in documentation, susceptible to the simple, uncanny potency of reproduced reality.

 

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