‘The Stars Turn and a Time Presents Itself’: Exploring the Soundtrack of Twin Peaks Season Three
David Lynch has always been deeply connected to music as an art form. You can feel it in landmark films Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and nightmarish debut Eraserhead, the Montana-born auteur’s articulation of the lucid connection between image and audio. To my mind though, that has never been more apparent than in his and Mark Frost’s recent revival of the classic 90’s serial Twin Peaks, a ‘limited event series’ that well into its run has managed to make a significant mark on multiple levels; as a celebration of the original run and also a fearless reinvention of it, feeling as fresh in 2017 as the original must have in 1990 (I wouldn’t know, I didn’t catch it first time around, not being born at that point). In the original two-season run, the score was composed by Angelo Badalamenti alongside Lynch himself, both artists collaboratively creating a synth-drenched collection of pieces that stepped foot in 50’s soap fluff as much as 80’s synth-pop. Ask anyone who has experienced the original serial and they will tell you the music becomes an entity in itself; this familiar recurring acquaintance washes over you in clouds of wistful melancholy, significantly establishing the tone of the show.Fast forward to 2017, and Lynch and Frost have made the decision to expand the geographic scope of their storytelling; the narrative flits from Las Vegas, to New York, to Buckhorn in South Dakota. This means as an audience we’re spending very little time in the town of Twin Peaks itself, rather occasionally returning as a reminder that whatever strange events are taking place are all implicitly connected to the North Washington town. So here is the crux of it from my point of view; this newer, broader narrative approach wouldn’t have succeeded without the stellar soundtracking designed by Lynch and supervising sound editor Dean Hurley. I’m not saying this to seem clickbait-y or to try to undermine Lynch and Frost’s incredible work on this series – far from it. The sound design is developed not as a complement to the show or ‘set dressing’, but as a basis of comprehension and connection. The music and sound design is the show, the key to understanding this wonderful and strange work of art.
The thing most apparent in the opening episodes of ‘The Return’ are the lack of classic Badalamenti motifs; in fact, in the opening two-hour pilot Badalamenti’s music isn’t featured at all, other than a crackling piece titled ‘Frank 2000’, composed by himself and Lynch. The rest of the soundtrack consists of dark ambient soundscapes composed by Lynch and Hurley, and these shadowy scapes are such an essential feature of the opening two hours, brimming with a tangible anxiety. The score evokes the dangerous physicality of electricity, ominously buzzing and increasing in severity as moments on-screen reach near-unbearable tension (I’m thinking particularly about that New York scene with the couch and the glass box). Here is where the genius of the musical construction is revealed however; that electrical buzz begins to dissipate as we fall deeper into the show’s runtime, the soundtrack unfurling alongside the narrative in the wake of new moments of vibrancy and nostalgia. As we all continue through the return of this series, we begin to realise that however much we might be removed from the original location of Twin Peaks, the heart and soul of the story still resides there. A particularly horrendous scene in Part 6 is the first true return of Badalamenti’s composition, a piece titled ‘Accident/Farewell’ that is so ascendant and forlorn. The scene it accompanies is one of the tense, most emotional sequences Lynch has ever constructed, knowing that his long-time collaborator’s composition would hugely elevate the experience of that scene. Aside from connecting with our memory of the original show, the recognisable synth tones also ground the emotional resonance of the show. They recall the first moments of the pilot when Pete Martell finds a girl on the shore wrapped in plastic, or the harrowing reveal of Laura’s killer in season two (no spoilers here!). A collision of horror and beauty, the most Twin Peaks thing of all.
Badalamenti’s composition returns in full force again in Part 9 with a stirring piece titled ‘The Chair’, an original piece yet the melodic progression frustratingly alludes to Laura Palmer’s theme, teasing the audience by suspending a note here or there, before twisting off in an unforeseen direction. If there’s a more fitting microcosm for the new season I’d like to hear it. The decision to hold back these compositions works so well because when they do appear they puncture the new narratives with the melancholic resonance of the original show, hinting to the audience that Laura Palmer is still at the centre of this story. It also gives Lynch license to expand his use of existing music to frame his sequences, and oh boy does he; the true turning point happened in Part 8, one of the bravest hours of television I have ever seen. After seven hours of dark ambience and the occasional song, this episode threw the season into a startling sensory light. Lynch’s decision to frame the swarming through a nuclear explosion with Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima was completely horrifying. I could not take me eyes of the screen, let alone blink throughout the entire sequence. Later, the spectral ‘woodsmen’ appear to a stretched version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, properly necrotic, actually just downright horrifying.Lynch doesn’t solely use pieces of music to establish terror either; utilising Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ as we watch a lost Dale Cooper, tie wrapped around his head and donning a lime green suit, navigating a plate of pancakes and burning his mouth on hot coffee is pure genius. An additional collaboration with Johnny Jewel and Lynch has also continued to rear its head through the mid-point of the season, summoning that anachronistic hazy synth pop that works so well due to its emphatic love for Julee Cruise’s ‘Falling’ from the original series.
Speaking of performances, we haven’t even gotten around to the musical guests yet! Far from limiting himself to only the soundtrack/score, Lynch invited guests to the fictional ‘Bang Bang Bar’ of the show to perform, more often than not using these performances to bring episodes to a close. I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly sold on this structural decision at first – true enough, the bookend of the premiere with The Chromatics’ ‘Shadow’ felt fitting, but a few episodes in it felt as if this was somehow jarring the narrative. I think I get it now though. So far, guests such as Nine Inch Nails, Rebekah Del Rio, Moby and Sharon Van Etten have materialised to once again bring the narrative back around to Twin Peaks, no matter where we might have been geographically moments before. In a similar way to Badalamenti’s compositional hints at Laura Palmer’s Theme, these performances serve as another reminder that the heart and soul of this show lies in the little sleepy town where it all started twenty-five years ago. I think that these decisions really highlight the fun Lynch has had with the return of Twin Peaks. He’s not limited the soundtrack to a singular composer’s aesthetic, instead creating a varied and rich tapestry of music, somehow cohering all of these elements in a way that still feels like Twin Peaks. It’s Twin Peaks, but it’s not, it’s all of life and Twin Peaks.
In this writers’ humble opinion, this season is Lynch’s masterpiece both visually and musically. If you haven’t got lost in it yet, do yourself a favour and go and do it now.