When David Lynch talks, in that naive but demanding surrealist Boy Scout way of his, Angelo Badalamenti listens--and, within moments, usually has the beginning of a melody in mind.
Director Lynch, an admitted layman when it comes to music, has depended on composer Badalamenti (pronounced BAD-a-lamen-tee) to translate his offbeat muse into music for several projects in a row--including the "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart" soundtracks, as well as the eerily seductive music for the TV series "Twin Peaks."
The latter has caught America's attention in a way instrumental scores rarely do. The long-awaited "Twin Peaks" album, just released in advance of the second season premiere Sunday night on ABC, has already soared into the Top 40 on the national Billboard sales chart.
Next up for the pair, when time allows: a Broadway-type musical.
The relationship between Badalamenti, an outgoing, 53-year-old Brooklyn-born Italian, and Lynch--which the composer describes as "my second-best marriage in the world"--is well on its way to becoming the most appreciated ongoing collaboration between a film director and composer since the long reign of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.
"Some of the happiest moments I've ever had have been working with Angelo," Lynch said of his somewhat more effusive, classically trained partner. "He's got a big heart, and he allowed me to come into his world and get involved with music.
"When we started working together, instantly we had a kind of a rapport--me not knowing anything about music, but real interested in sound effects and mood. I realized a lot of things about sound effects and music working with Angelo, how close they are to one another."
Sessions between the two at Badalamenti's office near his home in New Jersey usually commence with Lynch giving the composer only the vaguest suggestion of mood, or, when writing pop songs, coming in with a mere scrap of lyric. Often, Badalamenti is laying down a keyboard line before Lynch finishes describing what he wants.
"It's been an unbelievable joy and it's made life very easy," said Badalamenti, who is married with two grown children, in an interview at his Universal City hotel between last-minute "Twin Peaks" mixing sessions.
"Because David describes the moods. They may appear nebulous; at the same time, they're very specific, because we can relate to each other. For instance, he'll say, 'Make something very cosmic,' or 'Make it like the wind,' or 'Make it slow and dark and beautiful.'
"You can't translate that into music, and yet I have an understanding of David and he has an understanding of me. And when we talk to each other, I listen to him and I start hearing things almost immediately."
The two first got hooked up when Isabella Rossellini needed a vocal coach to help train her to sing the title song of "Blue Velvet," and the film's producer suggested Badalamenti, who had done duty in mostly undistinguished movies since the early '70s as well as New York theater and commercial jingle work.
When Lynch needed a new song for another scene, Badalamenti co-wrote with the director the languid "Mysteries of Love," which was sung by Julee Cruise, who later recorded an entire album of their songs and performed one of them in a roadhouse scene in the "Twin Peaks" pilot.
Badalamenti stayed on to compose the entire orchestral score for "Blue Velvet": "When we were talking about the main title theme, David said, 'It's gotta be like Shostakovich, be very Russian, but make it the most beautiful thing, but make it dark and a little bit scary.' "
The composer took the cool '50s jazz flavor that was an undertone to the classical elements in "Blue Velvet" and made it one of the crucial components of the "Twin Peaks" music--with saxophones, brushes on snare drums, finger-snapping and all-important descending bass lines. The surf guitar-like sounds at other moments also recall an earlier era. "The '50s is a big part of 'Twin Peaks' for me," Lynch offered in a separate interview. "It's like '50s meets the '90s."
Other cues rely heavily on alternately beatific and brooding synthesizers, reinforcing the show's romantic and horrific strains. The show uses an average of 30-plus minutes of music per hour episode, far above average for episodic TV.
The sequence early in "Blue Velvet" in which a bright green lawn is shown to have gruesome insect life underneath is often seen as emblematic of Lynch's themes, and Badalamenti's music complements it in the same way, often setting a gorgeous melody atop a tremendously disturbing, abstract underlay.
"That's the darker side, I guess, of me," said Badalamenti. "I think the music that comes out of that is very beautiful. One of the things I just did for 'Twin Peaks' is 15 minutes long and called 'The Lowest Circle in Hell.' And it's just very low, dark, sustained things that are so beautiful to me. Maybe a little strange to others, but it's transcendent, to me. And I love putting those things as a bed against something maybe a little more palatable.