When art-house sci-fi director Panos Cosmatos was looking for music to accompany the rough edits of his grim dystopian sci-fi film Beyond the Black Rainbow, he turned to Enchanted Persuaded, the first record Jeremy Schmidt (who also plays in Canadian hard-rock group Black Mountain) recorded as Sinoia Caves. As it turned out, the music was perfect, its unsettling layers of synth recalling the classic ’70s soundtracks of artists like Goblin and Fabio Frizzi. Cosmatos then sent those rough edits of Rainbow to Schmidt, who fell in love with the film’s visual language and art direction and composed a new score to accompany it. The resulting soundtrack (which will be released September 2 on Jagjaguwar) is mesmerizing, full of eerily blinking synths and long, expansive drones.
Today, Wondering Sound premieres the video for opening track “Forever Dilating Eye,” which consists of little more than a loop of a spaceman walking through a hallway, again and again and again. The result is strangely hypnotic, the perfect complement to Schmidt’s mistlike synths.
Katy Henriksen caught up with Schmidt to ask about the song, and about how the soundtrack for the film came together. Watch the video below, then scroll down further for the interview.
Let’s talk about “Forever Dilating Eye.” The song is just layer upon layer. What was the first layer, musically?
The first thing I did was — there’s this sort of one-note sequencer pulse. I recorded that first to get the cadence for [the song]. And then I wanted to do something with a kind of “choral chant” element — like, a cyclical chant sort of thing. The song was meant to accompany the title sequence that literally is a loop of a dilating eye — that’s why I titled it that. So I wanted something that had a sound resembling a loop. There’s this sound on the mellotron that sounds like a boys’ choir. So I played that initial choral riff, and then I ended up changing the speeds and adding an overdubbed choral accompaniment to go with it. Much later, I decided to add drums and I asked Joshua Wells, the drummer for Black Mountain to add some sort of Nick Mason/Pink Floyd-inspired tom-tom heavy drum over it. Then, I added more keyboards to that.
What draws you to the sound of the analog synthesizer?
I guess a lot of the music I grew up with, and that still resonates with me, was made with these archaic instruments, and I was always drawn to that. I liked the fact I could find these things laying around, fire them up and they’d sound like what they sounded like 20 or 30 years ago. It’s a cliché, I guess, but there’s a certain warmth and depth to analog. There are idiosyncrasies to them, and that definitely resonates with me. There’s also an immediacy to them. There’s a lot of “virtual analog” stuff now, where you can switch knobs and parameters in the same way an analog instrument would, but 15 years ago that was not the case. You could just grab a knob and have a result immediately happen. I liked that, and I still like that, and I still work with those tools. It’s a pain sometimes, because they’re higher maintenance and things break down, but I still like to work with those tools and those instruments.
Why synths and not guitar or drums?
When I first really got into the idea of playing music, I was into guitar-oriented music like Spaceman 3, Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division. Then I started getting into early Stereolab, and I noticed they were keen on using old synthesizers. I also liked Pink Floyd and Jean Michel Jarre, and I remember thinking, when I was a kid, that this music was made in outer space. I got into exploring sounds, the depths of sounds; I enjoyed the idea that you could make droning sounds relatively easy with an organ or a synthesizer — you just tape the keys down. One of the first bands I played in, we used to have this old organ, and we’d just tape down keys and have this droning [in the background]. I liked that aspect of keyboards. I liked that you could have them going without even playing them. That’s how it all started. Then I got into various aspects of those keyboards. I loved how malleable they were — with analog keyboards, you could adjust every aspect of the sound or carve out the sound you wanted. That was really appealing to me.
You cite John Carpenter as an influence. I was wondering what you love specifically about Carpenter, and what his was influence on this project?
When he was creating music, it was so different from other soundtracks that were still so orchestra based. The idea of doing it with the synthesizer was relatively new at the time; a lot of people tried to copy orchestral sounds with synthesizer, and I liked how he stripped a lot of that away and created something that’s very direct and very simple and compelling. I love that he has [the sound of] that sequencer pulse in a lot of his soundtracks, and how that very mechanical rhythmic pulse creates a specific tension. It really adds to the vibe of those movies. I’m a fan of the movies too, so that helps. John Carpenter also worked a lot with this guy Alan Howarth, who should get credit as well. They were basically a team. John Carpenter had the musical ideas and Howarth was a tech guy who really knew his way around a synth and drum machine. I think those two together made some pretty great music.