WASN’T THE FUTURE WONDERFUL?
Jeremy Schmidt talks about his score for psychedelic sci-fi film Beyond the Black Rainbow
Jeremy Schmidt is probably best known as the keyboard player for west-coast space-rockers Black Mountain, but his own solo project Sinoia Caves and previous work with Pipedream, The Battles and Orphan have cemented his reputation as Vancouver’s chief emissary for 70s-inspired progressive synth soundscapes in the vein of Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream and Ashra Tempel – the latter two of which have drawn fitting comparisons to the work of electronic composer Klaus Schulze.
Like Schulze, Schmidt has transformative powers – his work is capable of galvanizing pop/rock axioms with an underlying sense of cosmic intrigue. His music creates experiential pictures of a past dreaming of its future. So it makes sense that he would be called upon to provide the original score for Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), the most conceptually thrilling Canadian sci-fi film since Cronenberg’s Stereo and Crimes of the Future. And while a more accessible film than either of Cronenberg’s predecessors, Beyond the Black Rainbow definitely moves according to its own hermetically-sealed logic. Set in 1983’s latent-future, in a strange institution bathed in red hues and headed up by the sinister Dr. Nyle, the film’s hypnotic pace and lysergic visuals are bolstered by Schmidt’s analog synth score, which calls to mind Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave’s score for Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm as well as the best early work by John Carpenter.
Schmidt spoke to Spectacular Optical about his inspirations, the process of collaborating with director Panos Cosmatos and the continuing appeal of outmoded appliances.
When did you come on to start working on the score – were you able to see the finished film first?
I came on when they were mostly done filming, and on to the editing phase. I met with Panos to have a look at some rough edits of scenes, which was my introduction to the whole project really. at that point I think they were using some music from my previous record as temp tracks etc..
One of the things I really liked about the soundtrack was that it wasn’t just decoration to accompany the images, it was a really integrative experience. In what ways did you collaborate with director Panos Cosmatos to achieve this?
I think mainly there was just some common ground established from the outset in terms of what he was aiming for and where I come from musically anyway. Panos and I are both very particular and details-oriented with how we set about things, and I think he knew that my musical proclivities were in tune with the Black Rainbow.. we were able to converge on some key reference points in terms of his visual sensibility and cinematic history etc. as well as sound design and scores. An innate appreciation of John Carpenter films and scores as well as a mutual fondness of American Gigolo seemed to cement the bond.
The film is set in 1983. In what ways did this have bearing on your compositions for the film?
I seem to remember Panos mentioning at the end of our meeting, almost as an afterthought, that the film is set in 1983, and I think I said something like: well perfect then, because the music I tend to make is set around then also.. which is sort of indicative of how we went about things.
What would you say are the most important influences on the music you composed for the film?
John Carpenter, Risky Business and The Shining.
Were there any pivotal moments in the film that particularly struck your creativity or informed the overall tone of the soundtrack?
A couple of the scenes I saw initially, albeit out of context, really stood out for me and set the tone somewhat in my mind – the Sentionaut scene was one, also the scenes with reflections and the institutional geometry of a lot of the set designs kind of galvanized what I imagined the sonic template for the score might be.. but again also it really just confirmed what I’d hoped the film would resemble to fit with what I would have wanted to do in a lot of ways…
In what ways is do you try to balance the futuristic and the nostalgic in your work?
The ideology and/or projection of ‘the future’ as it becomes part of the past seems infinitely intriguing to me.
Can you tell me a bit about the equipment you used to create the soundtrack?
At least some of it is circa 1983…some of it a little older than that. mostly older analogue synthesizers, organ and Mellotron. the chosen palette of sounds definitely harkens back to ‘The New Age of Enlightenment’.
What do you feel are the benefits of working with analog equipment?
Hands-on idiosyncracy, and bass drones from an unknowable abyss…as well as plenty of pseudo-scientific reasons that I needn’t bore you with!
I’ve always remembered this great quote from film historian Ed Halter, who said that “the limitations of one generation become the aesthetic of the next”. In what ways do you think this applies to your own work?
I can definitely dig on that. I think it applies to visual stuff for me too…like the surface quality of film having a kind of secret life of its own. I think early commercial synthesizers have always had an allure in that regard because at the time a lot of that stuff was being designed to imitate the timbre and envelopes of traditional acoustic instruments, but now are more interesting to most because they more and more resemble themselves in a way, and just sound like synthesizers. I guess the artifice very much becomes the content. Mellotrons are the gloriously uncanny epitome of that notion. I think there’s an awareness of those ideas in Panos’ film to a large degree also.
Will there be a soundtrack release?
I hope to do a vinyl release of some sort eventually, yes.
- Kier-La Janisse