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Live / stage review

"Things get pretty uncanny": Manchester Camerata Presents Twin Peaks at Firth Hall

The experimental orchestra succeed in delivering an expansive, genre-jumping soundtrack which has more dopplegangers than a Stars in their Eyes night at the Black Lodge.

1 December 2022 at
Manchester Camerata Presents Twin Peaks
Rob Barker

As they softly break into 'Laura Palmer’s Theme' on stage at Firth Hall, you realise the scale of the task the dozen or so people that make up Manchester Camerata have set themselves.

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks skips grooves from melodrama and soap to horror and science fiction as it follows FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation into who or what killed the eponymous town’s beloved prom queen.

Its soundtrack is equally expansive. So while Manchester Camerata come tooled up with everything from electric guitar to woodwind trio for this performance of music from the show, they’re going to have to tackle everything from jazz, dream pop and lounge to classical and chintz.

While soundtrack performances are ‘having a moment’, with everything from Star Wars to Lost expanding TV and movies into orchestra pits, these are generally classical experiences. Twin Peaks is different. The soundtrack has songs, but it also has mood cues, cyclical grooves and drones, sometimes in the course of a single song, as it jumps with the show itself from genre to genre. That’s why Manchester Camerata bring an electric guitar and bass alongside the classical players. And tonight’s show is like watching a single band perform the Top Gun soundtrack.

They succeed, though this was the first time I listened to the soundtrack as a performance and there were some interesting effects. A hypnotic ‘Freshly Squeezed’ conjured an image of Leland Palmer in my mind like it was a magic eye, a crazy piece of synaptic synesthesia that slowly stunned me.

Separated from the show’s visuals, you realise Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack has more dopplegangers than a Stars in their Eyes night at the Black Lodge, from two appearances of ‘Falling’ to the two-finger snap of ‘Audrey’s Dance/Dance of the Dream Man’.

That doubling also prompts questions as to what the Camerata are trying to do, exactly. Is it a facsimile? Things do get pretty uncanny during ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’, which sounds like the Camerata trying to create a soundtrack tulpa. But interpretation – engaging and experimenting with a beloved 30-year old artefact to produce something new – is a dangerous game. You don’t want to piss off a Bjorn Again or Secret Cinema audience that’s here for a nostalgia trip.

The Camerata’s take on ‘Falling’ offers a clue. It drenches the song in strings in a move that pushes the high frequency of emotion already present in the original so far as to achieve a kind of sublime sarcasm that takes the performance into new territory. I think the advice I’d give to Nadine Hurley applies here: don’t worry about being faithful so much…

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