Sunday, July 19, 2020

Ennio Morricone 11

Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (AKA Lizard in a Woman's Skin AKA Schizo) 1971, double LP reissue on Death Waltz Recording Company

I kept this for later in this mini-project because I knew it was one of my favorites. Of my vinyl Morricone, I only have a double LP collection left.

Unlike most of the film scores I've described so far, this one I have seen. Well, sort of. I have a DVD copy. In my old college classroom, I had a TV monitor with a blu ray player attached. I'd run DVDs when I had to sit for hours grading. It slowed down my work to be sure, but it made the time less tedious. I've put this movie on twice, but both times I really only half-watched it. I'll give it my full attention some time soon.

And well...Ennio Morricone meets Lucio Fulci. This wasn't their first film working together, which would be the 1964 film I due evasi di Sing Sing (Two Escape from Sing Sing). Fulci is now best remembered for his extremely bloody and (literally) visceral horror films: Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, House by the Cemetery, A Cat in the Brain. Those all came later than this film. Prior to this, he was usually directing comedies and westerns.

I'll confess that Fulci is a bit of a guilty pleasure that's grown for me over the years. His films often don't make a great deal of sense (which he would defend). And even a superfan would have to get a laugh out of the shark vs. zombie scene in Zombie.

The liner notes read that Fulci specifically asked for Morricone for this film, based on his work on Argento's original "animal" giallo trilogy (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O'Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet). The producers wanted the word "lizard" in an attempt to exploit the success of the Argento films.

Morricone is in full-out weirdo freak out mode here, befitting the "is it real" nature of the film. Well, with the variety I've described before: some space lounge (though uncredited, it's doubtlessly Edda Dell'Orso again), groove bass and drums with wah wah/fuzz guitar, as well as some sound that I can't identify. A squirrel call or squeaky toy? Percussion? Also cluster strings, whistling, a couple of pipe organ breaks, improvisation, duo flutes.

There's a harmonic device he uses on a track that I identified while listening to his score for Giornata nera per l'ariete (The Fifth Cord), also of 1971. All the chords have the minor seventh in the bass. The first four chords in that score are C/B, D/C, E/D, B/A. I couldn't put my finger on it the first couple of times, because the harmony that results isn't jarring but it is constantly unsettled. He's permitted to recycle ideas (Jeez, with something like 500 soundtracks under his belt, how could you not?), and I'm sure he didn't consider the possibility that someone would be listening to a big chunk of this work separately from the films as I have.

I wonder if any, or how many, Morricone scores have never been issued on vinyl or digitally? And if so, are they any good? I really like this score, and Autopsy and Veruschka, but there's no question he's mining similar ideas in all three.

I should mention that the liner notes indicate that Morricone refused the chance to score A Clockwork Orange. Can you imagine? But then, that reminds me of how Alex North composed an original score for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Kubrick replaced but didn't tell North, even when he attended the film.

I've written before that I don't like when film directors rely too heavily on pre-existing music. I'll admit it's hard to argue with Kubrick's use of music in 2001. But what of The Shining? Was it really necessary there? Hearing "Koyaanisqatsi" in the middle of Watchmen was entirely too easy to set a particular mood. Scorsese does this sometimes (Taxi Driver beings a notable and excellent exception) and Tarantino is among the worst offenders in this case. And wouldn't you know, the one original score to a film by Tarrantino is by Morricone, he himself borrowing ideas from The Thing and Exorcist II.

I'd like to see Morricone's "The Ecstasy of Gold" permanently retired from all future films and especially commercials.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Not Morricone 2

Steve Moore, The Guest 2014 on Death Waltz Recording Company

Another soundtrack tonight, but a break from the Morricone. One of my favorites is coming, possibly tomorrow.

I remember this popping up on the Death Waltz/Mondo site, and selling out pretty quickly. I can't recall where, but I later found a used copy of it and snagged it.

I don't think I had noticed at the time that this work is by Pittsburgher Steve Moore, also of the band Zombi. I don't know Steve myself but we have mutual friends. I've seen Zombi just once, as the headliner at an old Flux event. They have a way of making a big sound for two guys.

It's my understanding that the name Zombi, and their initial musical inspiration, comes from Italian horror movie soundtrack music. So there is a through-line from some of these films to this band, and this particular work. The film Zombi was scored by Fabio Frizzi, as was several other Lucio Fulci films. I like Frizzi's work and I'll have to put one on again soon. Steve and Zombi's music comes much closer in spirit and sound to Frizzi's music than to Morricone's, to be certain.

With that information in hand, this soundtrack is along the lines of what I'd expect. Lush synth soundscapes, musical minimalism. You can make an argument that sometimes Morricone and Bernard Herrmann wrote film music that could sometimes compete for your attention from the film, rather than complement it. They certain push that line at times, but it also makes for a more interesting listening experience separately from the film. Based on listening to this (without, again, having seen the film) I'd say Steve possibly wants to sit in the background a little more, be more like atmosphere.

It's all synthesized sounds in some way, and he puts energy into choosing his sounds carefully. A list of his gear is on the back of the LP, which I assume is some sort of home studio setup: Arp Axxe. Korg M1, Korg Mono//Poly, Korg Polysix, Korg Wavestation SR, Moog Minitaur, Moog Slim Phatty, Moog Opus 3, Moog the Rogue, Moog the Source, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Roland Compurhythm CR-78, Roland D-50, Roldand Juno-60, Sequential Circuits Drumtracks, Sequential Circuits Pro-One, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, Yamaha DX7II-FD. Whew!

This would be lazy record reviewing, but I'm not a serious reviewer, so here goes. The music sounds less like Fabio Frizzi than maybe Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream. Even that's not fair to write, as TD could be kind of wooly and even a bit sloppy at times. TD of course has done many soundtracks, but the lineup has changed so many times, it's almost not fair to consider it to be the same band. I've never heard it but I'd be most interested in their work on William Friedkin's Sorcerer, with the classic Frose/Franke/Baumann lineup.

Another soundtrack I liked on Death Waltz that's vaguely similar is Sinoia Caves' Beyond the Black Rainbow. I have seen that film, and the soundtrack works not only as supporting mood, but also as literally the soundtrack in a promotional film that appears within the film.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Ennio Morricone 10

Tonight! Exorcist II: The Heretic 1977

Full and not particularly interesting disclosure: I have a vinyl copy of this. I was thrilled to find a $5 copy, and I should have known better. It's warped to the point where, for some reason, only the second side is playable. I'm streaming this through the Hoopla app (which I recommend) but looking at the cover of my physical copy.

I admit it, I love vinyl. I love the physicality of it. I love the graphical presentation, the size of the image on the cover. I love how the medium has been manipulated: colored vinyl, concentric groove records (I was watching a documentary series today on Monty Python, and this came up regarding Matching Tie and Handkerchief), grooves that play from the outside in, or one of the most extreme examples being my friend tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE's "Audio Obstacle Course", which is the audio cut to play outer edge in, AND inner edge out, superimposed. Wow! I had never thought of that. We all know the rpms: 33&1/3, 45, 78; how about 16 rpm? 8rpm? I have at least one of each of those too.

I know I haven't said anything about the music on this record yet. It's coming.

If you want more examples of vinyl and cassette extremes, check out this article on the Conglomerate Records collection I bought. The first item was a composite record glued together from multiple cut-up records.

So....Exorcist II. Among the most maligned of all sequels. I listened to a podcast by The Projection Booth about this film, with several people defending it passionately. I later watched it, and, well...I don't think it's as terrible as its reputation would indicate, but it's definitely not as great as the superfans might have you believe, in my opinion.

What is very clear is that nobody counted on director John Boorman making a film that was so markedly different from its origin work. The superfans speaking in defense of the film in that podcast do make a good point though: Exorcist II is a very controlled film, it's not a train wreck. The color scheme is very limited. The filmmaker knew what he was doing.

I think part of the break from the original film also involved hiring Morricone to score this. I wonder what he thought of it all, but he'd scored trashier films than this before.

There's no sign, as far as I can tell, of Edda Dell'Soro here. There are prominent female vocals a few times, particularly in the strangely-titled "Little Afro-Flemish Mass" and "Night Flight."

There are two primary themes throughout the score: the Regan theme (pretty, minor melody) and the Pazuzu theme (nasally vocals, stranger). The latter theme plays into "Magic and Ecstacy", which was covered by Snakefinger on his debut LP Chewing Hides the Sound.  That's where I heard it first.

You know what's not part of this score? Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. That's the primary theme of The Exorcist. It's an eerie and affecting theme to be sure. But it's not original music, and sometimes I find that to be cheating. I'm looking at you, Quentin Tarrantino! For that matter, Martin Scorsese relies on pre-existing music too often.

From a listening standpoint, the ending of this record is no less of a head scratcher than anything else on this project. The final three tracks: "Night Flight", an intense work for orchestra and voices. Follow that with "Interrupted Melody", possibly the sweetest moment on the soundtrack, and then "Exorcism", orchestra clusters and voice, percussion, almost recalls the Pazuzu theme. It's under a minute and then it's gone. What?

I've just re-ordered an interview book of Morricone, and I wonder if he has anything to say about this one.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Ennio Morricone 9

Even if it's late as I write this, still staying with the daily Morricone theme. Today's vinyl: Moses the Lawgiver, 1974, on RCA Victor. 

I bought this from Jerry's Records on one of his auctions, and no doubt bid the minimum. The score was written for a 1973-74 Italian/British TV miniseries, starring of all people Burt Lancaster in the title role! No weirder than Charlton Heston, I suppose.

My wife is open about her Hollywood crushes, and Burt Lancaster is close to the top of the list. And I can't say I blame her. We tool a vacation in Vancouver once, and the local arthouse theater had a film noir series. We saw two Burt Lancaster films, The Killers and (I think) Desert Fury. The second was shot first but released later. In both cases, the beautiful dame chooses a schlub over Burt, and you have to wonder, why? Hell, I would have chosen him. 

I don't recognize any other actors' names on this project, though Burt's son appears as a young Moses. Notable is that Anthony Burgess co-wrote the screenplay, and once again Bruno Nicolai conducts. No vocals by Edda Dell'Orso this time though. I guess there wasn't any call for panicked or erotic breathy vocals on this score. There is credit given each to a lead female voice, violist, and flutist. Morricone's in orchestra and chorus mode here, little of his unique instrument choices are to be found this time.

So I have to wonder, who would buy and listen to this record? Why would they press it into the vinyl format in the first place? How many copies are sitting in a landfill?

The first two pieces on this album are solid but common-sounding soundtrack cues. Folk-like unison chorus and orchestra, etc. Those are followed by a particularly brutal tone-clustery piece that almost recalls Xenakis. Follow that with a piece of multiple (multitracked?) recorders, and then again a lamentation piece for solo voice and chorus. "In God's Voice", ending side one, recalls Ligeti to me. Is it processed with delays and reverbs or not? I'm not entirely certain. The beginning of side two, "Israel", in a way recalls that Bernstein Mass. Both compelling and dated. I wonder if the conductor's score still exists.

It's all to the service of the visuals. And yet, this is its own separate record album, and as a discrete listening experience, it's disconcerting. I can picture a Jewish person coming across this album, thinking, "Moses! He's our man!" Taking it home, listening, and thinking, "What the fuck is this?"

Maybe. Don't let me put words in anyone's mouth or head.

And that got me thinking, this is some Old Testament shit. Vengeful God. It should sound harsh at times.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Not Morricone 1

Today's soundtrack listening: Bruno Nicolai, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (AKA La notte che Evelyn uschì dalla tomba) 1971, 2X LP reissue, Death Waltz Recording Company

Bruno Nicolai's name came up on two of my Morricone albums, and I'd noticed it before then, for conducting credits. I realized I had a Nicolai soundtrack in my collection, so I thought I'd give it a spin instead of Morricone today. I know I've listened to this before but couldn't recall the music specifically.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is without doubt one of my favorite film titles. How can you not want to see that? The American promotional poster is no less enticing. A woman dressed in a negligee, with a skull for a head (with full hair) holding up a man's decapitated head. Hell yeah!

Unlike the films for the Morricone soundtracks I've been describing, I have seen this one start to finish. It's not terribly memorable, just okay but not as great as either the title or the soundtrack. As trash producer David F. Friedman would say, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." That title and poster is definitely the sizzle.

The real question when re-listening to this album, how does it differ from a Morricone score from the same time? I don't have a solid answer to that question. It sounds a lot like a Morricone score of the same period. At any given moment, drop the needle, I'd say it sounds like a Morricone giallo film score.

If this was Morricone, I'd expect the opening title them to be one of those Serge Gainsbourg-like lounge/pop tunes. It's not. We have to wait until the second cut for that to happen.

There are so many Morricone-like touches, to the orchestration alone. Harp run through delay. Sopranino recorder. Swinging/grooving bass and drums rhythm section with atonal strings. Even an occasional post-60s rock-n-roll instrumental. I was thinking it's probably a lot of the same studio musicians, and wouldn't you know it, Edda Dell'Orso does vocals on this. For all I know, this could have been recorded in the same sessions as The Black Belly of the Tarantula (see my previous post).

I work under the assumption that Morricone was the leader, the innovator, and Nicolai followed in Ennio's footsteps. Truth is, I don't really know. I can speculate that film directors and producers wanted scores that sounded a certain way. I have a general sense from comparing this to Black Belly that Morricone was possibly more open to improvisation in his soundtrack scores of this time. He was an improvisor in addition to being a composer, on trumpet. He was a member of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuovo Consonanzo, founded by composer Franco Evangelisti. I'd love to track down a copy of their album on Cramps Records. Il Gruppo found its way onto a few soundtracks too.

And what of influence? Would Strayhorn would have been the Strayhorn we know without Ellington? Probably not, but that doesn't mean Strayhorn wasn't a great and original artist in his own right.

I like this record, but it suffers from the same fatigue as other soundtrack albums I've listened to. A single LP would have been tight, a great read on the score, but it wouldn't be complete.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Ennio Morricone 8

Tonight's Morricone listening: Black Belly of the Tarantula (AKA La tarantola del ventre nero) 1971, double LP reissue on Death Waltz Recording Company

I've previously mentioned the Crime and Dissonance double-CD collection. (I will at least one more time before I'm done with this series of posts.) To recap, it's all generally the strangest cues from Morricone soundtracks. Most of it is 1970s, and many from giallo films.

This film soundtrack is not represented on that collection, but I knew it would be somewhat similar. 1971, giallo, no question. And to add to the weirdness, the opening title theme is a pop/lounge sounding piece that the text on the obi compares to Serge Gainsbourg. Edda Dell'Orso is back on her breathy, sometimes wordless vocals. Just how many of these projects did she do with Morricone? I was looking at her credits on, and after twenty original soundtrack listings, I stopped counting. Bruno Nicolai is also back conducting, similar to Autopsy. I have one of his soundtracks, I'll have to pull that out soon.

This soundtrack has a lot of what I love about 1970s Morricone. It's thick with atmosphere. While much of it is clearly through-composed, I suspect there are times when there's structured improvisation as well. There's a looseness to some of it that just doesn't sound tightly composed and performed. I would have loved to have asked him about that. I'll have to get his book out from the library.

What are some of the components this time? Harpsichord, muted or prepared piano, out of tune piano, high string clusters, grooving bass/drums rhythm section, pitch-unstable keyboard, fuzz bass, vibes. Sounds like something I'd listen to even if it wasn't an eerie Morricone giallo soundtrack. And then he pulls it back to that poppy opening theme a few times.

I really like the Death Waltz/Mondo label, but it's an expensive habit. Single LPs sometimes go for $30. Waxworks is another similar boutique-level soundtrack vinyl label, and there are a few others. They're beautifully packaged, often with attractive colored vinyl (disc one on this one is yellow splatter, disc two red splatter), heavy (and sometimes gatefold) covers. Some editions sell out quickly, but you never know which ones. I haven't bought anything from them in a while but some of those other Morricone releases look tempting.

I'll admit there are a lot of period Morricone scores that sound similar to this one. But it's a good one nonetheless.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ennio Morricone 7

Morricone vinyl for today: Two Mules for Sister Sara 1970, Kapp Records

I think there's a chance I saw a few minutes of this film once, but that's at most. In 1970 Clint Eastwood was still making westerns, only it's an American production this time. He turned down a role in Giú la Testa, not wanting to be in more Italian westerns. He's second billing this time, with the top billing going to Shirley MacLaine. IMDB notes that it would be the last time he'd receive second billing for over two decades, and likewise appear opposite a bona fide female star even longer.

Knowing a little bit about his history with women, and particularly Sandra Locke, I'll leave that where it is.

The opening theme is signature Morricone. There's a mule braying represented by (what it think is) a piccolo note followed by a bass harmonica. (Later the same idea is played out with a piccolo followed by marimba.) There's some recorder, and it leads also to a church-like choir. He's already telling you something about the film by these various musical events built into the mail title theme.

The score overall is a bit conventional, which is not to say bad. It's acoustic guitar-heavy. There's something about those Leone westerns, and Morricone's contribution to them, that really stands apart from any supposedly similar films/scores.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Ennio Morricone 6

On the turntable this evening: Sacco & Vanzetti 1971 on RCA Victor

This was a recent purchase at Jerry's Records. I noticed it in the racks. My internal monologue: "Hmm, Sacco & Vanzetti? Maybe. 'Lyrics by Joan Baez, Miss Baez sings 'The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti'? I don't know. Credits include Sinket? Sold!"

What's a Sinket? More properly it would be Synket or Syn-ket. It's an early (designed around 1961) voltage-controlled synthesizer. It was never intended for commercial production, and only a limited number of models were produced. To see pictures of the instrument, it's amazingly compact, much more than the later Moog Modular systems. The name most closely associated with the instrument is that of John Eaton, an American composer who composed for it. Walter Bianchi is credited as playing it here. On one track, he's credited with playing "electronic keyboard", which might mean it's more of the same. After buying this LP, I learned the instrument appears on several other period Morricone scores.

I admit that I don't particularly want to listen to Joan Baez. But it's more than that. I don't think they make for a particularly good mix. Morricone's unusual orchestrations, his arranging, doesn't lend itself well to Baez' warbling folk voice. "The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti-Part 3" is a strange and interesting reworking of the song that's already appeared twice in the score. It's beautiful but when Baez enter, she sounds out of place on it. Maybe I miss Edda Dell-Orso's wordless, breathy, erotic or panicked voice.

Ah well, beyond anything else, I'm certain the producers of the film thought Joan Baez' name would help sell more tickets. I can't blame them for that. Nobody's going to rush to the theater because there's a Sinket [sic] on the soundtrack, and few people besides me are going to buy the LP for that reason alone. There's a menacing Synket sound that arises in the middle of "To Die is Duty" that sounds great without being too distracting.

There's a single track, "The Electric Chair", that's all Synket.

I previously mentioned The Untouchables. I'm not a big fan of Morricone's score on that one. He relies a great deal on (I assume FM) synthesizers for much of the content of that movie, which is set during the Prohibition. That is a conflict that grates on me. They go to great lengths to try to recreate the period in costume and setting, but the score relies on far more current technology for the music. Technology that now sounds dated. I bring this up again because, well, I like that there's Synket on this soundtrack, but I wonder if it sounds out of place with respect to this period piece film. I guess it makes sense that it would represent the electric chair, though.

I find things to enjoy on this LP, but unfortunately more than half of the content involved Joan Baez in some way. Another one for the mix tape I guess.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Ennio Morricone 5

Slab of wax tonight: Bluebeard (1972)

I started this last night but didn't get to the second half until today.

I'm sure this movie is garbage. It's an updated telling of the story of Bluebeard, who marries and kills. And who has he killed? Virni Lisi, Marilú Tolo, Agostina Belli, Karin Schubert, Nathalie Delon, Sybil Danning, Raquel Welch, is Joey Heatherton! Whatever what will she do?

If you do a web search on this film, you'd probably come across Roger Ebert's bizarre review of it. It probably wasn't enough for him to say the film was a piece of shit, or that Richard Burton is terrible in it. (He says something about Burton's decline as an actor, even in 1972). He focused on Joey Heatherton's mouth, how it almost never closes. I suspect Pauline Kael's influence, for better or worse.

Richard Burton is a complete ham. I don't care about his pedigree. I really liked him in 1984, his final role, for the same reason a friend didn't like him. I found him understated and menacing, he thought Richard was boring.

In a previous post I mentioned Ronald Stein, how his scores were sometimes of a higher caliber than the films they supported. We're probably in that territory here with Ennio. It's nicely creepy at times, somewhat recalling some early 20th century composers.

Morricone soldiers through on this project. Do I hear some version of a hammered dulcimer in there? Or hammered open piano strings? He's in a more "classical" mode through much of this, even if he still demonstrates his love for unusual instruments. From the standpoint of listening to this album as a discrete work apart from the film it underscores, there's a jarring moment when it goes from moody, somewhat clustery string with minimal a ridiculously upbeat studio orchestra march. I have to wonder about the context.

This is another release by Cerberus Records, in their Ennio Morricone Film Score Society series. It looks as though most, but possibly not all, of the releases in that series have been reissued on CD, and in some cases deluxe new vinyl. Now I wouldn't mind finding copies of the ones that apparently haven't been reissued.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Ennio Morricone 4

Tonight's Morricone vinyl: Autopsy (AKA Macchie Solari) Original film release: 1975. 2018 2LP vinyl reissue, Arrow Records.

There's quite a bit of Morricone that sounds like this score, and I love it all. Dark, atmospheric, atonal strings and winds with a groove bass. This one's especially dark.  There's an opening theme, minor but sweet, lovely oboe melody with wordless vocals (surprise). Closing theme is the same, and then it's entirely horror mood music in between. I have several that are somewhat similar so I'm spacing them out. A good deal of the Crime and Dissonance collection is of the same vein, though this one might be even more extreme in general. There's a cue featuring whistling with high cluster strings that's almost Xenakis-like.

Edda Dell'Orso is once again credited with vocals, as with Veruschka. I suspect this won't be the last time before I'm through with my Morricone collection. Credit is also given to whistler Alessandro Alessandroni, and conductor Bruno Nicolai. Nicolai is a composer in his own right, but I think I've seen his name on other Morricone projects as conductor. I guess Ennio was too busy scoring five other films at the time to conduct this himself.

It's not that important, but I remember specifically where I bought this. Dave's Music Mine on the Southside was going out of business, and I wanted to visit one last time. They were offering a BOGO. I was struggling to choose anything that I wanted. I found this in the RSD section, added a Merzbow record (because I could), and that was my final purchase there.

It's pressed in snazzy orange marbled vinyl. So many things are pressed in colored vinyl now that I try not to be impressed by that, but I still like it.

I'm usually not super-fussy about these things, but the pressing and mastering sound really fine. It probably helps that, as a reviewer wrote, the longest side is just over thirteen and a half minutes in length.

I've been reading that the film is an excellent and very creepy horror/giallo. I hope it's available for streaming.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Morricone 3

Today's platter spin: Giù la testa, AKA Duck, You Sucker! AKA A Fistful of Dynamite AKA Once Upon a Time...The Revolution

One of two Morricone western movie soundtracks in my vinyl collection. I've come to realize that I've seen few of the films associated with the Morricone soundtracks in my personal collection. I haven't seen The Chosen; my friend hipped me to Veruschka-poesia di una donna being on Youtube, but I haven't watched it entirely yet; I've seen just a few minutes of this film. I'm going to have to do better in this case. I know there's more soundtracks coming of which I've not seen the original film.

This one's from another Sergio Leone western. I think like many people, I'm not generally a fan of westerns, but I like those by Leone I've seen. Specifically, the so-called "Man with No Name" trilogy with Clint Eastwood.

Let me make an aside here, since it's only slightly off-topic. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the most epic and lauded of those three films. And it's a great film. But I love how the plot and soundtrack music intermingle in For a Few Dollars More. The character El Indio has a pocketwatch that plays a music box melody. It's a beautiful, simple melody, clearly played on celesta. He gives another character the point when the music stops to draw his gun. Eyes lock, Leone-style. The celesta gives way classical guitar...then organ...than full orchestra with a prominent trumpet solo...then back to the celesta. It's one of the most effective convergences of music and plot I know in cinema.

This is supposed to be part of a trilogy that includes Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America. Well, I question that, considering the latter was made thirteen years after this film.

Morricone is Morricone for sure here. Musical cues vary between lush orchestrations, weird cuteness, and outright bizarreness. Take the "Marcia Degli Accatoni" (I think). It starts with contrabassoon and a male voice uttering "mwah" in a frog-like tone. Enter, a bass recorder or ocarina of some sort. Add some strings and guitar, some sopranino (I'm guessing) recorder, and he even quotes Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik along the way. It would be disappointing if he composed a Leone western score in 1971 without having something this strange in it. Elsewhere in the cues there are also whistling, wordless or other nonsense syllables ("shum, shum, shum"), and some sort of electric or electronic keyboard (wasn't certain if it was a clavinet).

One of my unrealized projects, specifically for OPEK, was a performance of music entirely drawn from film soundtracks. I already had arrangements of cues or themes from Taking of Pelham 123, Last Tango in Paris, Godzilla vs. Mothra. As I'm listening, there's a long track in the second half of the score, "Invenzione per John," that might have made an interesting arrangement for that band. It wouldn't exactly be a representative Morricone work, but then, I'm not sure any other piece is either.

Just after writing that, I read on the Wikipedia page for this film that Elvis Mitchell loved this score and made special mention of that particular cue as well. It is quite beautiful, so of course the next track on the album is the most jarring.

I bought my copy at Jerry's Records, to the surprise of nobody who knows Jerry's. I think it was an unsold auction item that he let me pick out his bins before putting it out on the racks. I could be wrong about that. I remember fewer and fewer circumstances where I bought my records. I still love Jerry's Records but I miss having Jerry himself there!

If I was making my mixtape of Morricone favorites, I'd definitely pull a few selections off of this one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Ennio Morricone 2

Going in no particular order, next up is the album Veruschka (soundtrack to Veruschka-Poetry of a Woman, AKA Veruschka-poesia di una donna), 1971 (original film release). 2LP.

There's little in the way of a description of this film on the IMDB page: "Fashion photographer Franco Rubartelli's visually lush and moody head film about European supermodel Veruschka."

I can't say whether this is a documentary in any true sense of the word. The music must have been important for the film, considering there's as much of it as there is. The instrumentation, as best as I can tell, is piano, strings (possibly string quartet, maybe more, probably not full string orchestra), harp, flute, electric bass, guitar, drums plus various percussion and mallets. Late in the score there's a clearly improvised track including trumpet. That is most likely Ennio himself.

The only thing I can glean from the content of the film is that Veruschka appears in no fewer than four different body paints, based on the front and back covers and B and D side labels.

The back cover sees her in a bird-inspired face paint, which is also the image used for the front cover of the Morricone collection Crime and Dissonance. I highly recommend this double CD. Released on Mike Patton's Ipecac Records, it focused on Morricone's strangest works, rather than his more famous or crowd-pleasing compositions. Actually, not all of it is particularly weird; there's a little (an easy go-to comparison) Phantom of the Opera organ, and a short track of furious Roma-inspired solo violin. The strangeness is emphasized when juxtaposed with some of the more improvisational or atonal tracks. Two tracks from Veruschka are included.

For a film focused on a supermodel, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone the sweetness of some of the score. There's the wordless vocalise again, or lyrics sung in a highly breathy, eroticized voice. The only credits given on the cover go to the producer (Gianni Dell'Orso) and the vocalist (Edda Dell'Orso). I suspect that Ms. Dell'Orso did many vocals for the composer, based on hearing other recordings. I'll have to watch for her name again.

Back when I was working at CAPA High School (Pittsburgh's school for the creative and performing arts), I'd play various CDs before classes began. I'd had on some Morricone, either Crime and Dissonance or Giornata nera per l'ariete, and there was that breathy voice. No notes or lyrics, just a vocalization that could have been interpreted as either sexual arousal or gasping in fear. Another teacher commented that he thought maybe it was good there weren't any students around at the time.

Being a soundtrack, you get to hear the main title theme (as well as several secondary themes) worked over a few times. There's a little of that 70s Morricone atonalism, and even some improvisational phaux-exotica. There's also at times a prominent harp run through a delay. It adds to the spaciness of this "head film," but also dates it. I was thinking of the delay used on portions of Fantastic Voyage, with the same results. The voice is also run through delay a few times.

I looked up Wikipedia-level information on Veruschka, and I'm happy to inform that at 81, she is still alive. I expect another tragic fall-from-grace story after her modeling stardom, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Her young life is interesting and did see tragedy, so I encourage you to look her up yourself.

I've listened to this entire OST. As with many soundtracks, it's all good but as a listening experience could have been pared down to a single LP. No complaints otherwise.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Ennio Morricone 1

Ennio Morricone died yesterday at the age of 91. To say he packed a lot of music into those years is an understatement. Approximately 500 film scores? Plus he did some composing of concert music and conducted his works.

So why not follow up my big Messiaen project with a few words about some Morricone recordings? I count that I have twelve albums on vinyl (one a collection) and also have a few CDs somewhere around here.

Like my Messiaen posts, I'm not offering anything resembling serious musicology or even critical review. Just one person's thoughts as he listens to these things, an excuse to dig into a particular artist's work more deeply and write some thoughts along the way.

As a composer, these is no one Morricone. There are of course those wonderfully colorful scores to the Leone westerns. There's the lushness of The Mission and Cinema Paradiso. There are the crime and horror scores of the 70s, employing grooves, improvisation, and often atonal strings. Yet, if you listen to enough, you can hear his hand on much of it.

I recognize the phenomenon of listening to soundtracks as a separate experience from the visuals of a film. It's how the music stands up that interests me. I know of scores that work beautifully with the film but are not especially interesting when heard separately. I'd put Silence of the Lambs in that category. There are probably scores that outshine the films, or at the very least are at a much higher caliber than the rest of the film. Ronald Stein comes to mind, whose scores for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and It Conquered the World are quite good work.

So I'll dig on some Ennio. First up: The Chosen (AKA Holocaust 2000 AKA Rain of Fire). It's a 1977 film starring Kirk Douglas, an engineer building a nuclear power plant in the Middle East, who discovers his son is the Antichrist. (!!!) It's what I read, folks.

I hate to continually use the words "weird" or "odd" when describing the music. His scores are an odd mix sometimes though. A lush, sweet theme, some atonalism, often quite a bit of vocalise. There's some wordless, female voices a few times here ("Visions of the Holocaust [Main title]") that recall the voices on "Magic and Ecstasy" on the Exorcist II soundtrack. At other moments I find it similar to the score to Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, in my estimation a just-okay film with a lesser Morricone contribution. (The use of synthesizers in that work seems very out of place, and ultimately dated now.)

By the way, I surely can't be alone in considering DePalma one of the most overrated film directors. That will ruffle some people I'm sure, and discussion for another time maybe.

Back to The Chosen, it's very good but is not one of the more interesting things I've heard from the composer that stands up to listening apart from the visual experience. With around 500 scores, many of them are going to sound soundtracky, right? This work was never reissued on CD, and the vinyl cover comes in two colors. It was released on Cerberus Records, with a noting that it's an Ennio Morricone Film Score Society release. I'm not going to bother checking whether it's on anything like Spotify, but my guess would be not.

How many scores did they help release? About twenty of is any true indication, a few of which have since been reissued.

And how many of his scores have seen audio release? Definitely not all of them. And is that such a bad thing?

I might have to hunt down a few more at Jerry's Records, where I bought this.