Haunting tunes for a horror remake

At first, the two may seem to be strange bedfellows. Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino is a connoisseur of the senses, revelling in a ravishment of textures. Thom Yorke, frontman of the Oxfordshire rock band Radiohead, spools out twitchy, dystopic dirges for, say, humanoids.

I am being facetious, of course. Still, the strangeness is, well, appropriate for Guadagnino's remake of Dario Argento 1977 horror classic Suspiria, about a dance academy run by a coven of witches.

Based on the trailer for the latest film, it is a radical departure from Guadagnino's previous seduction game. Desaturated to the point of anaemia, the film looks wonderfully spectral, almost drained of life. You could almost smell something rotten in the kingdom, behind the fortress walls.

That is where Yorke comes in. Whether it is his band's discography or his own solo works, there is an elusive quality to his art. His approach is diametrically opposite to the progressive-rock bacchanalia of Goblin, the Italian rockers who threw all sorts of instruments - bouzouki, harpsichord, tabla slathered over with skronked guitars and drums - into the gory mix for the horror classic.

Just as Guadagnino rips apart the seams of the original film to find something more primeval and disturbing, first-time film scorer Yorke is also on an expedition of his own to search for something beyond the horizon.

Taking inspiration from the krautrock scene circa 1977 Berlin, the music seeks resolution or, more accurately, outlets for release. You can say the devil is in the details. It moves through choral chant (Sabbath Incantation), a 14-minute electronic drone (A Choir Of One) and a hypnotic alternation of piano keys serrated by jazzed synths (Olga's Destruction (Volk Tape)).

His voice, too, is serpentine, in the sense that it is modulating, feeling its way around unfamiliar, or inchoate, sentiments. Accordingly, "suspiria" is Latin for "sighs", and if anything, Yorke's purring is a series of sighs, soft rather than hard, which perhaps makes it even creepier.

Suspirium, one of a handful of songs featuring his voice, is a deceptively pretty ballad, a waltz even. "This is a waltz/Thinking about our bodies/What they mean for our salvation," he sings, wistfully, over a filigree of dainty piano. Everything is draped with gauze, emphasising the fragility of the human form.

  • ELECTRONIC/ ROCK

  • SUSPIRIA (MUSIC FROM THE LUCA GUADAGNINO FILM)

    Thom Yorke

    XL Recordings

    4 stars

Similarly, a sense of false comfort pervades Unmade. "I swear that there's nothing up my sleeves," he keens, over lonesome piano and a sea of synths and hums which swell and subside.

Things get ominous in Has Ended, with a slumberous, but insistent, martial march (with drums played by Yorke's 17-year-old son, Noah). A mutating synth line winds its way in and out of consciousness.

Alluding to the rise of the far right on both sides of the Atlantic pond, he paints a vivid, and terribly hopeful, ending: "I woke up in a city/The soldiers had come home/The ego it had ended/His loud mouth was gone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2018, with the headline 'Haunting tunes for a horror remake'. Print Edition | Subscribe