Upon hearing the first few haunting notes of “Twin Peaks Theme,” the opening song for the 1990 cult series “Twin Peaks,” the world as you know it changes. No longer are you sitting on the couch in front of a television screen, but you’re transported somewhere cold and cozy, creepy and confusing, a place that feels familiar and terrifying at the same time. This juxtaposing effect is precisely what filmmaker David Lynch aimed to produce when working alongside composer Angelo Badalamenti to create the iconic “Twin Peaks” soundtrack.
In a Youtube video, Badalamenti shares the process which he and Lynch used to create the soundtrack. Badalamenti explains, “David would say, ‘Okay, Angelo, we are in a dark woods now … there is a moon out.’” Lynch was inspired not only by sound, but by the aim of evoking a certain feeling and atmosphere with the record, similar to the specific moods aroused by the television show itself.
“Twin Peaks” centers on the murder of a small-town homecoming queen, but very few events actually occur in the first season. Rather than an action-packed detective story, Lynch creates a slow-burning portrayal of the intertwining lives of characters living in an off-the-grid industrial town.
The show is more about the ambience, which is heavily amplified by the soundtrack. Lynch returns to specific moods throughout the series, which he executes through repeating colors, motifs and perhaps most importantly of all, the repetition of certain songs at certain times. Some main characters have their own theme songs, such as “Laura Palmer’s Theme” and “Audrey’s Dance,” which play not only when the characters make screen appearances, but also when other characters think about or discuss them. Lynch and Badalamenti use these motifs to highlight the atmospheric feelings that specific characters produce simply by their presence, whether it be physical or in someone else’s thoughts. Additionally, there are specific songs that play during repeating tropes throughout the series: “Twin Peaks Theme” during transitions or revelations, “Freshly Squeezed” during mischievous sneaking and “Love Theme” when characters realize they are in love.
Despite matching the perfect tracks to their respective characters and situations, Lynch does not produce expected results with his musical decisions. For example, in “Love Theme” — a song which plays in the background of scenes depicting first kisses, hand-holding and romantic boat rides — a woodwind sings eerie, melancholy notes that end up replicating “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” the song that plays while remembering the murder victim. “Audrey’s Dance” and “The Bookhouse Boys” play consistently through both triumphant and dangerous moments, maintaining a coolly complacent attitude. In combining moments of grief and joy without any drastic musical shifts, Lynch emphasizes the narrow divide, or lack thereof, between “good” and “bad” — a repeating idea throughout the series. This absence of distinction between emotions furthers the mood of the show, creating an edgy, sultry vibe; the characters don’t quiver at their local murder but rather approach it with glamour and cigarettes balancing on their bottom lips. An overall feeling of cool nonchalance is developed by whiny synthesizers and slow-building piano played by Badalamenti over shivery drum kits — compositions that counter themselves, retract into the shadows and build up once again.
With only 11 songs for eight episodes, the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack achieves an impressive effect on the show itself, and the overall mood associated with it. Upon its release, the record achieved top spots in global music charts in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Australia and received an award for the Best Pop Instrumental Performance at the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards. Not only did “Twin Peaks” inspire a new aesthetic of television, but its soundtrack influenced a new idea of how music could affect a story. Whether with or without the television show, take a listen to the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack this Halloween — that is to say, transport yourself to the beautiful and dark world of danger and indifference.
Daily Arts Contributor Bella Greenbacher can be reached at email@example.com.