There is a very good chance that you haven’t seen the 2010 Canadian cult thriller Beyond The Black Rainbow. And that’s okay. It didn’t exactly break the box office upon its very modest theatrical release. But you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if, after reading this, you don’t log in to Netflix and spend your next 110 minutes watching it. Directed by Vancouver native Panos Cosmatos, the film is a spine-chilling and deeply warped piece of filmmaking. Marketed as a “lost film from the 1980s,” the narrative may be minimal – set in 1983, a pathological new age doctor keeps a young girl with telekinetic powers captive in his compound – but the visually stunning, retro production design makes it impossible not to watch in awe.
Though Cosmatos uses an overpowering blend of chromatic direction and eccentricity in his style, it’s as much the score by Jeremy Schmidt that steers the film. A fellow Vancouverite best known as the analog-happy keyboardist in Black Mountain, Schmidt has a reputation for sculpting hypnotic and vast synth oscillations via his kosmische project Sinoia Caves. And so it seemed like a no-brainer for Cosmatos to offer Schmidt the job of composing a haunting score to match the film’s confounding imagery.
Four years after Beyond The Black Rainbow hit theatres, the original soundtrack finally sees the light of day via a joint release between Jagjaguwar (which released Sinoia Caves’ The Enchanter Persuaded in 2006) and horror soundtrack aficionado imprint Death Waltz Recordings. Noisey spoke with Schmidt about how he got involved with the film, why the “acid trip scene” inspired him most, and why it took him so damn long to put it out.
Noisey: Why release the album four years after the film came out? What took so long?
Jeremy Schmidt: Well, a lot of that, actually, is down to the somewhat glacial pace that I tend to work at with regards to deliberating over getting things finished and out into the world. This one in particular took a little prodding from friends, colleagues and other “interested parties” alike, to all of which I am grateful.
What was it about Beyond the Black Rainbow that interested you in writing the score?
I just saw a few scenes initially, but ones that stood out in terms of art direction and production style, and I liked some of the period details etc. It was nice also to see something that was shot in the 35mm film format with everything done “in camera” as it were. Essentially, Panos, the director, liked the music I'd been making in the past and we were able to connect over some shared sensibilities where the filmmaking was concerned also. So I had, more or less, free reign to just get on with it in the manner that I'd already been accustomed to.
What type of soundtracks do you draw inspiration from?
Oh, there's many, particularly those that were synonymous with the emergence of synthesizers as a popular form in the ’70s and ’80s, when they were carving out their own reputation in contrast with the primarily orchestral scores that had more or less dominated up until then. John Carpenter has always been a favourite. Tangerine Dream and Popul Vuh as well. Also films like The Shining, Blade Runner and Suspiria all have pretty distinctly killer scores that I've admired at length.
The film was marketed as a "lost 1980s film." Did that description influence how you composed the score? What kind of equipment were you using for the music?
Technically speaking, the entire BTBR enterprise probably could have been identically conceived in the year that it actually takes place, in 1983. For the recording, I was using old analogue synthesizer gear that dates from right around then: Prophets, Oberheims and Mellotron choirs all seem to feature prominently. These tend to be the voices that simply won't vacate my psyche, whether they were, in fact, apropos to the endeavour or otherwise!
Obviously Sinoia Caves had previously worked with Jagjaguwar, so how did Death Waltz get involved? Is there a release of theirs that convinced you to work with Spencer Hickman?
Yeah, Death Waltz have done a lot of cool stuff, rescued a lot of VHS-era scores from obscurity. I can barely keep up with them. I should really hit Spencer up for some proper swag! I'm partial to Halloween 3, and I remember hearing Zombi 2, which has some great bits on it. Death Waltz was quite keen on the BTBR soundtrack and I suppose it makes all kinds of sense to do the European release with a UK label that’s specialized in the unique way that they are.
How would you compare Beyond The Black Rainbow to The Enchanter Persuaded as an album?
Even though they're over a decade apart, they probably have more in common than they do differing or otherwise. I suppose I’ve been riffing on some of the same preoccupations for a while now. A lot of the same instruments feature on both albums, and so a similar sonic palette in places. BTBR certainly feels to me more like a soundtrack record, although I did try to sequence it in a way that gives it a kind of album arc that’s hopefully satisfying as a complete listen. On The Enchanter there's the long-form kosmische synthesizer suites, but there’s also some shorter structured songs on there - or at the very least, astral semblances of them. I've been talking with Jag about re-issuing that album for a vinyl release next year.
What was your favourite scene to score?
It’s hard to say, but I enjoyed doing the “acid trip” sequence, “1966 - Let The New Age of Enlightenment Begin” since it ended up being quite a nebulous, free form type of thing. At the time we didn't know how long the scene would be, so I just went with stretching the music cue out to roughly 20 minutes wall-to-wall in the abyss..
Who is the metal band playing at the end with the skids by the fire?
A close up shot of the tape playing in the ghetto blaster has “Notorious Abuser” scrawled across it, but I believe its Venom that’s playing.
Cam Lindsay's favourite movie is Jaws and will always be Jaws - @yasdnilmac