Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira stream their lush soundtrack for Peter Strickland’s subversive and sensual new film
In a dreamy, pine-enclosed village inhabited by complex women and zero men, the latest film by Peter Strickland, cult director of Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and Katalin Varga (2009), unspools from pastoral quietude (butterfly cabinets, quaint bike rides) to artful filth (dom-sub power-play, thinly veiled watersports). The fetishism, resplendent imagery and bubbling-under tension in The Duke of Burgundy (out Feb 20) is perfectly accompanied by a haunting original score by Cat’s Eyes, aka Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan, who Chris Cunningham introduced to Peter after the director had gushed over their debut album.
The duo's major-minor soundtrack cuts an elegantly mournful swath through the script, which smudges the roles of subject and object, master and servant. At times the music illustrates the scene, deepening long slow shots, and although Faris and Rachel hadn’t heard the band until critics started comparing them, there’s no better aesthetic analogue than Broadcast, who, before Trish Keenan’s tragic death, soundtracked Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland’s last film (before his work with Björk on Biophilia Live). On a recent brisk evening near their Camden home, the outcast power-couple spoke on the power of ambiguity and the magnetism of psychopaths – stream the OST below, and read on for more.
How did you approach the soundtrack for The Duke of Burgundy?
Rachel Zeffira: As soon as I finished reading the script, I started thinking of themes on piano for the characters.
Faris Badwan: Did you have any idea what he was going to ask for beforehand?
Rachel Zeffira: No, but we had conversations. He wanted melancholy oboe, and harpsichord and some flute. And he did refer to some soundtracks he really likes – stuff like John Barry (James Bond, Dances with Wolves (1990)), The Wicker Man (2006).
Faris Badwan: Most of them I hadn't heard. He sent some Hungarian stuff...
Rachel Zeffira: These Hungarian lullabies.
Although there are melodies, the textures feel especially important – it’s as if you've spent a long time inside the sounds.
Faris Badwan: For me, the sound is the way I've always expressed myself because I can't play very well, so it's more about taste. And I wouldn't swap that for anything, because I think it's what you need most.
Rachel Zeffira: You're interested in the electronic, the production of the sound, and I'm fascinated by acoustic production of sound.
Faris Badwan: You like the human feeling, and you don't get that with synthetic sounds, unless it's Kraftwerk.
Rachel Zeffira: The songs changed so much from the demo, because you can have something that sounds sweet initially, but by the time it's been processed through (she gestures at Faris) it's dark and sinister. (laughs)
“For me, the sound is the way I’ve always expressed myself because I can’t play very well, so it's more about taste” – Faris Badwan
Something Cat's Eyes and The Duke of Burgundy share is a lush surface that conceals a dark sort of tension...
Rachel Zeffira: That's on purpose for sure.
Faris Badwan: It seems quite bluntly clumsy to do a song that's completely one way. You get bored. You write a major song and you get sick of it very quickly.
Rachel Zeffira: That's why I think classical composers use of lot of dissonance: ugly becomes beautiful.
Faris Badwan: I was watching a Miles Davis thing on YouTube the other day, and even when the music's really inaccessible he's still incredibly magnetic because he just looks like a complete psychopath. His eyes are like two flaming marbles.
Faris, you've talked about ambiguity in The Horrors' music, and it seems like you're working with that here, too.
Faris Badwan: Ambiguity's important for everything, it's more interesting. Music should be relative to the situation you're hearing it in.
Rachel Zeffira: I always come back to Nino Rota, who did The Godfather soundtrack. He said if you're not communicating from the soul, your music will never last. His colleagues were very competitive to get respect and good reviews and they were all trying new things or copying Stockhausen. And Nino Rota just steadfastly stuck to beautiful melodies. He got made fun of for being over-sentimental and saccharine, but today you listen to his stuff and there's an immediate emotional connection. He said if you're not honest when you write there's just no point at all.
And ambiguity is more honest.
Faris Badwan: I can never write songs when I start thinking too much. It becomes a barrier. You start to think of all the ways it won't happen. You become mechanical.
Rachel Zeffira: Yeah. I mean, I'm ambiguous. Under the surface there's so many layers for people – when you're writing it should be the same thing.