A David Lynch Soundscape

For all the alluring and disturbing images that David Lynch has presented to movie audiences over the last 40 years, the filmmaker has always been just as particular about how his films sound as how they look. This has been obvious to listeners since they were enveloped by the harrowing soundscape that Lynch and Alan Splet created for 1977’s Eraserhead, the two men spending months concocting a mind-bending array of noises and drones in a garage. The same process yielded a catchy, if eerie, ditty called “In Heaven (Everything Is Fine).” As sung by the chipmunk-cheeked figure known as the “Girl in the Radiator,” Lynch’s song provides the film with an even more startling and disorienting bolt of lightning, even with the gloom already surrounding it.

Lynch would toy with the idea of extremes again and again in the soundtracks of his films and TV shows that followed, including Twin Peaks, his landmark work in WTF TV whose reboot has just arrived to the world. The new show finds him teaming up with Angelo Badalamenti again, his go-to composer since 1986’s Blue Velvet, and another master of generating unease by aural means. Together, their musical approach consistently emphasizes themes of flux and decay that start as sumptuous or sickly sweet and disintegrate into doomy ambient passages or something more psychologically assaulting.

Likewise, Lynch’s song choices have been just as daring and confounding. The filmmaker’s fondness for keeping the time periods of his stories ambiguous is reflected in his continual juxtaposition of ‘50s pop, early rock ‘n’ roll, ‘60s girl-group ballads, and lounge music with discordant blasts of industrial and metal. The latter category is especially prominent in his harder-edged films, like 1997’s Lost Highway, for which he enlisted the help of Trent Reznor and used songs by Marilyn Manson and Rammstein for typically nightmarish purposes.

This love of extremes has also been fundamental to Lynch’s own musical projects, which have long been part of his career and have become much more prominent over the last decade as he shifts away from filmmaking to other artistic endeavors. Lynch has released two albums bearing his own name, collaborating with American singer Chrysta Bell, engineer John Neff, Polish composer Marek Zebrowski, and the likes of Karen O and Lykke Li.

Even so, for many fans, it’s the haunting approximation of a sock-hop in hell in Twin Peaks that best represents the director’s aural aesthetic—a sound first developed by Lynch and Badalamenti for Into the Night, a 1990 album for singer Julee Cruise. As such, it makes for a fitting first stop in our tour of Lynch’s sonic world, a place that’s as intoxicating as it is straight-up terrifying.

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