for a band that writes such visual music i long wondered why the church had never written soundtracks for film and thus many years ago while wandering aimlessly through the back streets of glebe (inner city sydney) one languid summer afternoon i bumped into the tall ethereal guitar player peter knoppes and asked him about this, to which he mused, 'what film should we write a soundtrack for?'
i thought deeply and replied, 'i'll have to get back to you on that.'
to be honest so many movies fail for me, no matter how good the story or the narrative, the special effects and the cinematic glory they fail sorely due to the soundtrack irritating me. i really do believe that if you spend millions on a films location, effects and wardrobes, lighting and cast then you should consider the soundtrack equally as important.
few directors do, it must be some marketing deal, sell a commercial soundtrack, link a brand with a movie and sell sell sell, package, package, package, the church are not a commercial band and although i've heard 'under the milky way' placed here and there in a number of movies, it's an accessible hit song placed amongst others and possibly the only church song used in movies. yet there are so many brilliant songs that could accompany cinematic imagery.
there are great soundtracks,'trainspotting' has a good soundtrack from a diverse range of bands, 'dead man' has a perfect soundtrack composed by neil young, croninberg uses sound very well as does the wakowskis in 'cloud atlas' so there are exceptions to the rule.
i tend to take a great interest in soundtracks, i appreciate the use of sound with image, i like the way some music contrasts against the narrative of image when it works, i like the clash of juxtaposition, 'nightclubbing' in trainspotting works perfectly, as does the wonderful strauss theme in 2001, yeah these films are only great as their makers have considered the sound equally as important as the vision.
so i went away from glebe and begun thinking about what type of film and story would suit the church and i ended up writing a screenplay. it was a true story based on events i'd experienced but like most things i do, it ended up in some sort of half finished state.
many years later i started reading 'venuss underground' by jeff vandermeer a sort of steam punk, fantasy, intelligent, versatile and imaginative and then the church announced they were recording a soundtrack to a new vandermeer novel, 'shriek an afterwards,' and i realised my half finished screenplay was really inappropriate for the church.
i'd hazard a guess, because shreik is outside the boundaries, it's a completely mind blowing story and the descriptions, situations are fabulously inventive, and in the world of art the church seem to have the same ethos. the music is challenging, experimental and as transgressive to match the story. it's a perfect marriage, a progressive explosion of imagination without definition while exploring the relationship between two siblings, one an elite ex society artist janice and the other her historian brother who has written a document about the mysterious subterranean history of the city of ambergris, and the mysterious grey caps, a mushroom like spore civilisation.
shriek is part of a thematic work vandermeer writes consistently about, a universe if you like but it's so far out of the boundaries of social norms that it's called fantasy by those whom require labels.
lyrically the band use a lot of dialogue from the novel, there's some excellent readings from steve and tim over the music which is as perverse and dextrous as the strange narrative itself, as if hp lovecraft and mervyn peak had decided to form a rock band and write songs about art, sibling rivalry, publishing houses and mushrooms with advanced weaponry capability.
i'd love to actually have a copy of the film for my collection, i'm not certain if it is available in hard copy, but it really is worth a look, i've posted the link at the top of this page.
i love that the church chose to do this project, it's so different from the journey bands take when it comes to recording for a movie, i imagine they didn't get paid a lot for it or even make a fistful of dollars, yet somehow as always the one thing the church always seem to do is remain outside the norms, challenging their listeners, pushing the envelope to the point it becomes a gift wrapped present in a box that has bigger dimensions on the inside than outside, and always remaining vital while holding on to an ever diminishing integrity when it comes to music and films.
as far as a cd goes, there's a lot going on, it's not a collection of radio songs, it's more a travelogue, great for long journeys in the car through strange environments, the landscape shifts and morphs, there's always something in-between, it's the church doing some sort of space jazz, it's free form, spontaneous, surprising and obtuse and it always sounds different each play.
there is some interesting production going on, effective use of effects, guitars turn to a swarm of wasps, the drum beat and percussion punctuates the immersive world of vandermeer and the vocals take on many forms, steve pushing the limits as he takes turn of phrasing and twists and turns it inside out and back again.
just as a post script to my story i started with...
...i asked peter what he was doing in glebe and he said the church were playing a free concert that afternoon on a rooftop of a shop.
it had been many years between church gigs, and i didn't think steve even lived in australia anymore so you can imagine my surprise. later that afternoon i stood and watched in a crowd of people as the church played a few tunes and i remember standing next to a girl from europe, i asked her how she liked australia and she said, 'i love it, where else can you see the church play on a rooftop for free.'
i could have kissed her but her boyfriend was much bigger than me.
as far as film soundtracks go i still am not sure but there's a rich collection of old gothic movies that could use an update of sound, jean cocteau's trilogy of films, perhaps even the russian classic 'stalker' by tarkovsky would be amazing to watch on a beautiful big screen with the church preforming live music composed specially for it, i guess at the end of the day it doesn't matter, it was just a passing whim of mine, a wish perhaps.