Peter Strickland

Acclaimed British film director Peter Strickland’s most recent feature ‘Flux Gourmet’ takes inspiration from his own formative experiences manipulating sound recordings of vegetarian cookery. He would also like to thank Bauhaus, Mantovani and, er, owls

illustration: joel benjamin

THE SCOPS OWL

“It’s a tiny owl found in Central and Southern Europe, and it has a very distinctive call – almost like the little ‘ping’ noise that submarines make. I’m half-Greek, so we’d go there for our summer holidays and we’d always hear that call. This sounds very pretentious, but there’s a sense of it inviting you into darkness. It transports you into a nocturnal, very rustic frame of mind. ‘There’s the forest, over there…’

“I use the Scops owl in my films. There’s one in ‘Katalin Varga’, one in ‘The Duke Of Burgundy’ and one in ‘Flux Gourmet’. I go to a guy called Alan Burbidge, who is a wildlife recordist, and he’s great – he’ll give me all the specifications, including the temperature when the recording was made. And weirdly, that call has a history in the world of avant-garde sound. Luc Ferrari used it in ‘Presque Rien’, and there’s also a Danish artist called Knud Viktor, whose ‘Le Petit Duc’ track is all about the life of the Scops owl. There’s a coterie of enthusiasts.”

BAUHAUS

“I had a babysitter who was into Bauhaus, so I heard ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ when I was quite young. I bought their album ‘The Sky’s Gone Out’, but the vinyl didn’t have the track titles on the back sleeve, so I just assumed ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ was on there – and it wasn’t. At the time, I couldn’t get into the rest of the album, but when I was 18 or 19 I gave it another go, and, oh wow. It was extraordinary. Daniel Ash’s guitar-playing, David J’s bass, Kevin Haskins’ drumming – the whole thing… I actually heard Bauhaus covering ‘Ziggy Stardust’ before I heard the Bowie version, so I thought theirs was the original – and I still prefer it. Which I know is sacrilege.

“I also really got into their live album, ‘Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape’, although I kept mishearing ‘Dark Entries’ as ‘Dog Inches’. And there’s a cut-off scream on ‘Hair Of The Dog’ which I’ve tried to mimic in two of my films – ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ and ‘Flux Gourmet’. It’s so effective.”

‘ELEVATOR MUSIC’

“This is a book by Joseph Lanza, which came out in 1995. At that point, there was a boom in easy listening – partly fuelled by Stereolab, and later by the likes of The Mike Flowers Pops. I started collecting a lot of the original albums by artists like Martin Denny, Les Baxter and Esquivel. But I also got into stuff that was more traditional – Ray Conniff and Mantovani, who most people hate. I used to work at Thresher’s off-licence in Reading, and I’d play Martin Denny in there. My boss couldn’t stand it.

“The book is a fascinating history of muzak, and has some crazy anecdotes. There’s a theory that when livestock go to be slaughtered, the fear and the adrenaline toughens their muscles. So, in an Illinois abattoir, they played easy listening music to relax the animals and make the meat more tender. That’s something to think about next time you’re eating a steak and kidney pie.”

THE WATKINS COPICAT

“I first came across one of these in 1996 – it’s a tape delay unit. My friend Colin Fletcher and I formed a group called The Sonic Catering Band, and we did what it says on the tin – we created sounds from the noises made while preparing food. I feel a bit guilty… I basically asked him to join because he had a Copicat. It cost him £60 second-hand, from a shop called Music Man in Reading.

“They’ve become a cult item. Bauhaus used one on ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, and Primal Scream put one on the cover of their ‘Vanishing Point’ album. I’ve used Colin’s actual Copicat in both ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ and ‘Flux Gourmet’. And not just as a prop – we used it for the actual sound. Although Colin has since pointed out that when Toby Jones presses the button for a short delay in ‘Berberian’, you actually hear a long delay. He’s a really polite man, and it took him five or six years to tell me.”

HOLLY WOODLAWN

“She was in Andy Warhol’s ‘Trash’, and I was a huge fan of that film. I owe a lot to her because she also acted in my first film, ‘Bubblegum’, back in 1996. I’d seen a BBC documentary about Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, and I just loved the characters in that song – Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro and Holly.

“I called the production company that had made the programme, and ended up speaking to James Marsh, who later directed ‘The Theory Of Everything’. He put me in touch with Holly’s agent, and I sent her a script. Luckily, she agreed to do it. I only worked with her once, and my film wasn’t very good. But she gave it a lift, certainly in terms of exposure. She wasn’t the easiest person to work with, and could absolutely drive you mad. But she was a really great actor.”

ZOVIET FRANCE

“I discovered Zoviet France in the 1990s through a Virgin compilation album, ‘Ambient 4: Isolationism’. They’re a band from Newcastle, formed in the early 1980s. They sounded so strange, as though they had been recorded in a cave. And they were really mysterious. They were anonymous, and that was a big inspiration for me in forming The Sonic Catering Band. We wanted to be a unit that had no identity. Even though having no identity is actually an identity.

“They weren’t a typical industrial band. The textures were rough and distorted, but very beautiful as well. And they’re still a big influence on me. A few sections from ‘Flux Gourmet’ were inspired by a track of theirs called ‘Frost Smoke’, from their ‘Assault And Mirage’ album. It has a little girl’s voice hidden deep in the mix, and I love moments like that in music – tiny portals that open to another world.”

‘Flux Gourmet’ is available via selected streaming services

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