AN OVERLOOKED GENIUS, COMPOSER JOHN MORRIS.

news-0118-johnmorris-900x600

 

John Morris was in my opinion such an underrated and undervalued composer of film scores. We all and rightly so associate him with the works of film maker Mel Brooks, but because the Brooks films were invariably comedy many seemed to dismiss Morris as a composer who could only work on comedies or satires as produced by Brooks, these being THE PRODUCERS, SILENT MOVIE, BLAZING SADDLES and also YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. But I was always told by various composers that the hardest genre of film to work on was comedy, because the composer had to get the timing exact and also dare not go over the top musically for fear of stealing the verbal and visual punchlines.

PRODUCERS

 

But Morris to coin a cliché was chameleon like when it came to writing for film and I am of the opinion that YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a perfect example of his scoring prowess, his innovative talent and his obvious gift for melody and also his precise and accurate execution of placing music in exactly the right place to either highlight a moment of drama or more often than not to underline and add weight to a punchline within the storyline or in a particular scene. Sadly, the actual score for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN has never received an official release, yes there was the version which included excerpts of the composers score but this release focused mainly on the dialogue from the movie itself. I could never understand why the score was not issued as it is probably one of the composers most accomplished works for cinema and stands alongside more serious efforts such as THE ELEPHANT MAN and THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS.

 

ⓟFrontTheElephantMan(1980)byJohnMorris

 

There was so much more to this composer than the scores he produced for filmmaker Brooks, Born John Leonard Morris on October 18th 1926 in Elizabeth New Jersey, it was evident that Morris would be involved with music because as a three year old he began to take interest in all things musical and also started to learn how to play the piano. His family re-located to Kansas where Morris continued to take an interest in piano, but in the 1940.s Morris moved back to New York City where he studied music at Julliard School and at The New School for social research. From the early 1950’s through till the 1970’s Morris began to work composing incidental music and writing musical numbers for various Broadway shows. In 1966 he wrote his own musical entitled A TIME FOR SINGING, but also worked on other shows which included HAMLET, MACK AND MABEL, DEAR WORLD and BAKER STREET. It was whilst working on Broadway that Morris met Mel Brooks and they collaborated on two shows, SHINBONE ALLEY in 1957 and ALL AMERICAN in 1962.

41Adu3qEO3L._SL500_SY300_

It was these early collaborations that led to Morris working with Brooks on THE PRODUCERS when he penned the number SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER and created the underscore for the production. This was the beginning of a collaboration that was to last many years and include twenty movies. Many people in the world of film and film music mention great composer director collaborations such as Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, Spielberg and Williams and Herrmann and Hitchcock, but maybe they should focus upon the Brooks, Morris partnership also. It is a partnership that has produced numerous moments of excellence within cinema history, where music and film just come together to create stunning and memorable combinations. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is one of those movies where the composer and the director are in tune with each other, Brooks creating his own take on a classic horror film, and Morris scoring the comedy led movie with music that at times is less than comedic, but is melodic and haunting.

 

young-frankenstein-original

 

Brooks filmed YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in black and white, which of course was a direct acknowledgement to those Universal horrors of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Morris too paid his own homage to the Universal years with a score that had many nods to composers such as Hans J Salter and Roy Webb who worked on these monster movies and others. This romantic and melodic approach can be heard within the composition which has become known as THE TRANSYLVANIAN LULLABY, a composition that became the core theme for Morris’s score, the composer introducing the theme within the opening track which played over the films main title credits. It is maybe also the pre-cursor to the theme that John Williams penned for SHCINDLERS LIST.

 

Morris utilised the lilting and melancholy sounding theme performed by a fragile and heartfelt solo violin as the theme for the Monster, which was a masterful way of accompanying Frankenstein’s creation, and gave it heart and actually made the watching audience feel empathy for it. The theme is central to the films storyline and the composer s affecting and beautiful composition becomes not just a background to the story but an important and integral piece of the film and the foundation on which the composer builds the remainder of his score. Morris also scored films for actors such as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman who had starred in a few Brooks movies, these included THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOMES SMARTER BROTHER, THE LAST RE-MAKE OF BUE GESTE, and THE WORLDS GREATEST LOVER among them.


Morris dd not score two Brooks films because he was committed elsewhere according to the filmmaker, these were ROBIN HOOD MEN IN TIGHTS and DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT, both of which had scores by composer Hummie Mann. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was released in 1974, and although on reflection on the occasion of the films 40th Anniversary Brooks said he considered it his finest work, but probably not his funniest.

young_frankenstein_704_6
The score for this gothic laced spoof of the classic Mary Shelly story, starred Gene Wilder as Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Marty Feldman as Igor, Peter Boyle as the Monster, Terri Garr as Inga, Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth and Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher (thunder and lightning effects with a horse neighing wildly). The film also featured Gene Hackman as Harold the Blind man. I think the movie is something of an acquired taste, but then if you have seen anything by Brooks I am sure you know what I mean, and yes I have to agree with the film maker when he said it was not his funniest move, but it is still a good one and also a movie that itself influenced other productions. Considering the film was in essence a comedy or a satire on a classic tale, composer Morris played it straight when it came to the music, and although there were a handful of punchline musical moments, for example when Frankenstein meets Igor and when Wilder declares he is indeed a Frankenstein.

large-young-frankenstein-blu-rayx4.jpg w=1024&h=576amp

For the most part the composer scored away from the comedic content, the score becoming the straight man to the director’s funny man approach which came across wonderfully when the music and image fused and became one as it were. We felt the anguish and the confusion of the Monster within the score, the music purveying a sense of not belonging and also at the same time it underlined the comedy element and probably made that even more prominent because the music was serious and at times over the top dramatically. It is without a doubt the composers Masterpiece, or at least one of them, because we have to consider the brilliance of his score for THE ELEPHANT MAN for example, and also his split second timing on the score for SILENT MOVIE which was key to the gags that were being acted out on screen. And then there is his dark, chilling and atmospheric music for THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, all very different but all superb examples of movie music. Watching the movie YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and focusing upon the actual score is a difficult task as one invariably becomes involved and caught up with the images and the films storyline, but when you do kind of manage to isolate the score and take a listen it is a work of impeccable quality, the composer fashioning this homage to films from days gone by with romantic and dramatic compositions complimenting each other and eloquently underlining and punctuating the proceedings on screen.

There is a romanticism to the work but also an underlying element that suggests madness and unpredictability, the sound and style employed being a million miles away from that of say, SPACEBALLS, BLAZING SADDLES and THE PRODUCERS. The composers central theme becoming mesmerising and strangely attractive. The score was a short one and runs for approximately thirty minutes, but the impact it made was immense. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN without the music of John Morris would be like watching PYSCHO without Herrmann’s shrieking strings and James Bond without his theme.

 

The score itself was made up of a number of relatively short cues, but it was where these brief musical encounters were placed that was so beguiling and affecting. The composer at times providing literally seconds of music to create an atmosphere or add impact to a scene or underline a punchline. One track in particular I think is effective and that is the scene in the graveyard, Frankenstein (Wilder) and Igor (Feldman) go to the graveyard to get a body as they dig up a coffin from its resting place, Frankenstein says, “What a filthy job” spitting the earth from his mouth. “Could be worse” replies Igor. “How”? enquires the doctor. “Could be raining“. says Igor in a matter of fact way, And at that moment there is a flash of lightning and thunder rumbles as the heavens open upon our hap hazard grave robbers. Morris scored the seconds leading up to this moment with a sombre sounding low brass led composition, which created an eerie atmosphere, but as soon as we see who the grave robbers are the music stops and that’s when the gag or the scene takes over. So, Morris sets up the gag and at the last-minute pulls back allowing it to have centre stage.  Let us also not forget the composers work for TV, as in SCARLET, THE SCARLET LETTER etc and his score for DIRTY DANCING. John Morris was an accomplished and highly talented musician, composer and arranger, the like of which we will be hard pressed to discover again. He died on January 25th 2018.

 

JOHN M

FRIDA VIVA LA VIDA.

FRIDA

Released as part of the five CD set, ART FILM MUSIC, FRIDA VIVA LA VIDA is a documentary film directed by Giovanni Troilo and produced by Ballandi Arts and Nexo Digital. And produced in collaboration with the SKY ARTS channel. The musical score is by the highly talented Remo Anzovino, who has in recent times also written to a number of documentaries that focus upon art and the artists who create it. It is quite amazing when listening to the music of Maestro Anzovino just how varied it is, as a composer for film he seems to be able to alter and tailor his style or his sound to each individual project with ease. For FRIDA his music adds a tantalising and enthralling persona to the engrossing film about the life of this Mexican born painter. The music like the artist and her creations is innovative and haunting. Frida Kahlo is probably discussed more now than she was when she was alive, her paintings have made an everlasting impact upon all generations and have also been instrumental in the influencing of many artists that followed her. She has become a figure head or a symbol that stands for freedom and also for emancipation and many say she is entering into the realms of becoming a legend. Remo Anzovino has written a varied score for the documentary, and one which includes vocals as well as instrumental score. There is a presence within the score and an aura that surrounds it that makes it attractive and alluring, the music is delightfully haunting and at times becomes mesmerising and highly emotive. There are darker sections to the score, which are in keeping with the life and experiences of FRIDA, But again the composer has fashioned a soundtrack that not only ingratiates and enhances the film for which it was written, but it also has a life that extends past being film music, it is also a collection of musical themes and passages that will entertain and interest many without seeing the film, such is the style and overall sound that has been realised here by the composer. As I said, the soundtrack is available as part of a five CD set ART FILM MUSIC, but it can also be heard via digital platforms as a stand alone film score, but my advice would be to check out the ART FILM MUSIC compilation, and savour more of the composers elegant and poignant music.

61v0g16rxxqezys45h0uj7xb_269062

POP BLACK POSTA, L’UOMO DEL LABIRINTO, OLIMPIA and LANDSCAPE OF LIES.

 

POP

Marco Werba is a composer who I have followed over the years, and what strikes one straight away about his music is that it is a fusion of styles, it encompasses the melodic and at times quirky and experimental style that has been employed in numerous Italian made movies by the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Francesco de Masi to name but a trio of Maestro’s and it also has to it a solid dramatic and intensely affecting persona which I for one associate with composers from both the Golden age and the Silver age of film music in Hollywood. One can identify little nods of acknowledgement to Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann for example, Werba, being able to fashion tense and dark sounding compositions which still have a glint of a melody or at least a hint of a theme or leitmotiv within them. He also evokes a sound and style that I for one associate with the Golden age of tinsel town as in a sound that references the style of Rozsa and Tiomkin and certainly has to it a film noir aura. One of his latest scores POP BLACK POSTA is a perfect example of the vivid talent and innovative style that this Maestro is capable of. It is an ominous and shadowy sounding work, but as I have already stated the composers at times Herrmann-esque melodies and unsettling compositions still hold the listeners attention simply because they so cleverly written and there is lingering and lurking underneath the darkness a fragment of a melody which manages to shine through the atonal or action fuelled pieces. Listening to Werba’s score for POP BLACK POSTA one can hear all of the different elements that have gone into its creation, the slightly menacing but beautiful piano theme that settles and puts the audience or listener at ease, the swirling sinewy strings that seem to creep up upon you and engulf you in a mist of icy nuances that do I think manage to purvey an air of dread and uncertainty. Then there is the inventive use of percussive elements, that are present within the majority of the cues on the score, the composer combines these with strings that are edgy and driving, and also from time to time hiss and stab. It is a score I will recommend to you, it has so many atmospheres and layers of textures and musical colours, and I have to say probably one of the composers most accomplished works. Piano solos are the work of Rea Bisha and the cello performances are courtesy of Christo Tanev.
Available from Plaza Mayor on all digital platforms.

LUOMO
Staying with more releases from Plaza Mayor that are all available on digital sites such as I Tunes, Apple, Spotify etc. We move to L’UOMO DEL LABIRINTO which has a great score from composer Vito Lo Re. Performed by the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra, this is a tense and a lush theme laden work, with delicate thematic statements and musical interludes that are romantic and fragile. The composer utilises synthetic support to bolster and augment the romantic sound and dramatic atmospheres created by the orchestra and these electronic elements fuse well and seamlessly with the conventional instrumentation to create a score that is filled with an abundance of varied and rich musical moments. There is obviously a dark side to the score, and this is purveyed via both electronic performances and symphonic means, at times the composer utilising a threatening sound created via wood instruments and supported by chilling strings and synthetic sounds. I cannot say that Italian composer LO RE has a style that is akin to any other film music Maestro, because the style and sounds that the composer has fashioned here are all his own, they are inventive and original. I love the way that he employs solo piano, as it creates an uncomfortable mood but weirdly retains a romantic style yet is uneasy and apprehensive at the same time. His score is a perfect fit for the movie and is as unpredictable and as entertaining as the movie it was written for. There is also fleeting but effective use of Soprano which we first encounter in the track BUNNY and later hear it in a more emotive and poignant performance on the track LINDA DIES. This is a score you should own and one you will I am confident return to many times, it is a dramatic work that has to it underlying romantic and at times melancholy sub themes, recommended.

The film which is directed by Donato Corrisi, stars Dustin Hoffman and Tony Servillo and tells the story of Samantha (Valentina Belle) who is abducted on the way to school by a giant rabbit. Some fifteen years later, she awakes in hospital, alive but in a state of shock. A Doctor Green sits with her and attempts to help her remember, to unlock her mind to many things that she seems to have blocked out. Together, they negotiate Samantha’s memories of a labyrinth, which was an underground prison, that seems to have no way out. Where the girl was forced to play games and solve riddles and puzzles. She was rewarded if she was successful but punished if she failed. Also, taking an interest and eager to solve the mystery is Bruno Genko, a private investigator with a surprising talent. He doesn’t have long to live and, as such, Samantha’s mystery could be the last case Bruno work on. A tantalising mystery/horror.

OLIM

Onto another PLAZA MAYOR release, OLIMPIA, which tells us how, among the books in his house, an eight-year-old boy browses La noche de Tlatelolco by Elena Poniatowska. The emblematic book of the Student Movement of 1968 presents in some pages images that were recorded in his memory and forged the social vocation of José Manuel Cravioto, who directs the first fictional film produced by UNAM about such an event. The musical score is composed and also performed by Andres Sanchez – Juan Andres Vergara & Francisco Cravioto, Mexican made movies and also the scores from them have in the past five years or so begun to make their mark and resonate with film music collectors and critics alike. The music for OLIMPIA is no exception, it is a quality soundtrack, well written and orchestrated and contains some stand out cues which are on a parallel with anything that is coming out of the major studios in Hollywood at this time. It is in no way a grandiose sounding work, but the composers make good use of percussion and a sprinkling of varied instrumentation to create a haunting work an d also one that contains so many themes, which is a pleasant change from the drone like soundscapes that we are being served up elsewhere. It purveys tension, hope and has to it an air of comedic attributes, there is a rhythmic and tantalising side to the score also, but in the main it does seem to be drama led and also has an certain amount of intimacy within its overall sound. Another one for your collection. Again, available on most digital platforms.

LIES

 

Composer Lance Warlock is next with the first of three scores he has had released on the PLAZA MAYOR banner. A LANDSCAPE OF LIES is a score that I have to say I liked a lot, for me personally I could hear within it gentle nods of acknowledgement to composer John Barry. Breathy sounding woods or maybe computer-generated woods, that create a tense and slightly nervous mood. The composer also employing a re-occurring theme which is performed on piano, the short piece, which is basically a brief succession of notes, never really seems to develop, thus it remains mysterious and elusive. Warlock underlines this motif with rumbling sounds that also adds a sense of drama to the proceedings. There is a dark and virulent aura within the score, which never erupts or overpowers anything, but it is there in the background, underlining, supporting and punctuating. It is a highly atmospheric work; at times the composer employing just percussive elements and sounds to create an uneasy atmosphere or to establish a mood that is filled with dread and foreboding. However, the composer also manages to lay down some more melodic moments, not in the operatic or grandiose way, but fleetingly there are little gaps within the darkness where the light of a theme or at least a hint of one manages to emerge. Again, I have to say I enjoyed this score and I also would like to recommend his soundtracks from, 24 LITTLE HOURS and THE EVIL both released last year as was A LANDSCAPE OF LIES.

 

https://www.plazamayorcompany.com/ENG

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ELECTRIC THEMES.

thW3HJ4N81

 

As a film music collector, I am aware that this underatted and often neglected art form comes in all shapes, sizes and consists of numerous sounds. We have the symphonic styles as employed by composers such as John Williams and his illustrious predecessors such as Korngold, Steiner, Newman etc, and many others both in the past and in recent years. But movie music has evolved and at times like every other medium has hit its low points and then climbed again to the heady heights of excellence. I think the low for me must have been at the end of the 1970’s and through to the mid-1990.s I say low point, well that’s not exactly true because also during this period we did get wonderful symphonic and lush sounding soundtracks, but it was during this period also that the song score began to take hold, and the age of the music supervisor also came into play. Why they call them music supervisors is beyond me, because most of them cannot read a note of music and to coin a phrase from a good friend THEY WOULD NOT KNOW A SEMI QUAVER FROM A CROTCHET LET ALONE A CHEESE QUAVER. So, a music supervisor (and we will use this title loosely) was basically someone who found songs and got the rights of the songs cleared so that the film company could use them on a soundtrack to a movie, thus cutting out the composer and also the original score. Many of the songs had very little connection with what was going on in the movie, in fact they were at times (well all the time) selected to create more revenue for the film studio, who invariably would release a soundtrack album filled with them, at times it was like, NOW this is what I call bleeding the fans of the film dry vol 1, etc. And these supervisors actually got paid to do this and got a credit on the big screen too. Many films included both original score and songs too, and even in very rare cases original songs as well. In the 1990’s a soundtrack would often be released as being the original soundtrack, and it did not contain one scrap of the films score, it was all songs that were , wait for either in the movie,,,, or,,, are you ready for this inspired by the movie? Then we got a token track at times from the score tacked onto the end of the album or CD, five mins if you were very lucky. But of course, there are also scores for films which are not symphonic and are not song scores. The electronic or synthesised score, was a way of the film company saving money, after all if they had one guy and a synth machine, that’s got to be cheaper than the LSO right? Well not according to award winning composer Maurice Jarre. Who produced some epic sounding soundtracks that were brimming with themes as in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO etc. Jarre told me in an informal chat backstage at the Barbican that an electronic sore sometimes would cost more to produce than a fully symphonic work.


At the time I think he had just scored WITNESS, and when you think about it the amount of work that must go into creating an electronic score as in time etc must be high. When I think of a synthesised or electronic score, BLADE RUNNER by Vangelis comes to mind as does the composer/performers soundtracks to CHARIOTS OF FIRE and THE APOCALYPSE OF THE ANIMALS, then there are movies such as BEVERLY HILLS COP, and TOP GUN both of which were scored by Harold Faltermeyer, and lets not also forget that composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri went down the electronic route on a number of occasions. HOOSIERS, BASIC INSTINCT, GREMLINS and RUNAWAY for example by Goldsmith and DELTA FORCE by Silvestri were entirely synthesised scores.

Composers such as James Newton Howard and James Horner utilised the electronic path too, Horner’s WHERE THE RIVER RUNS BLACK for example and Newton Howards RUSSKIES were completely synthesised. And there are the likes of Jay Chattaway, Brad Fiedel, Craig Safan and their like all of whom, experimented with synths and electronics to achieve some stunning results. Did this make the scores that these composers created any less enjoyable, not for me they didn’t.

clip_image002
ELMER BERNSTEIN WITH CYNTHIA MILLER.

 

Even Elmer Bernstein who is well known for creating iconic theme laden scores for the cinema turned to non-conventional means when it came to scoring GHOSTBUSTERS and BLACK CAULDRON in fact Bernstein in the latter part of his career employed the Ondes Martenot many times, but does it mean a score is any less thematic because of the way in which it is realised? In fact, the Ondes Martenot,s presence within a score or a section of a score is mesmerising and attractive. Also let’s not forget Miklos Rosza with his PARANOIA theme for SPELLBOUND, so electronics have been around for a little while and have made some stunning impacts within film soundtracks, and coming up to date, (well the 1970’s).

 

Giorgio Moroder, was active in the area of scoring movies, his first film work was MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, for which he won an Oscar. Moroder’s disco based synth lines pulsated and meandered around the movie, but they worked and they also enhanced and supported the storyline in the same way that a fully symphonic score would have done, in fact I think that an orchestral score for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS probably would not have been so effective, the composer/producer manged to employ electronic sounds but at the same time purveyed an emotive and dramatic aura throughout, electronic soundtrack can be cold and non-emotional, but Moroder fashioned an effective LOVE THEME for the movie, which although a little more up-tempo than one would expect, is still filled with a delicate and fragile sound the composer utilising keyboard, choral effects and percussion.


Moroder of course had been active on the 1970’s disco scene and had produced massive hits for the likes of Donna Summer (I FEEL LOVE, LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY, BAD GIRLS, and the re-working of McARTHUR PARK etc) and there is little doubt because of his popularity at that time was seen by the producers of MIDNGHT EXPRESS as an already established artist that was not only capable of providing a score that would be serviceable for the film but also his name would generate sales of the soundtrack album, which it actually did. The soundtracks opening track CHASE become a floor filler in many clubs and discos even at the lengthy 9 min duration that it was, it is a track that is still played today and has been sampled by top Dj.s and music producers popping up here there and everywhere. The beat and the recurring 11 note motive creating a haunting and rhythmic musical persona on which Moroder built his hypnotic composition adding sounds and snippets of sub themes to it as it progressed and grew, the composer developing the theme and repeating it to make sure it became fixed in the memory of the watching audience or listeners and dancers in the clubs. Moroder also composed a secondary theme for the movie, which was a slower variation of his CHASE piece, but he added to this a more exotic sound which was perfect for setting the scene and accompanying the location in which the movie was set Turkey.

R-5014381-1382176979-4863.jpeg

 

Combining simple musical lines with percussive elements and adding strings or synth strings to lift the entire passage.

SpacemagicflyFR

 

 

This style of electronica or electronic music spawned many sound a-like tunes such as MAGIC FLY by Space, which is more or less the CHASE theme, with a few minor variations but more commercially viable for being played on the radio. I think it too heavily influenced bands such as TANGERINE DREAM, with Italian born Moroder himself picking up on the creativity of German band KRAFTWERK when he set out to establish his own style and musical identity and of course Jean Michel Jarre’s OXYGENE which was probably one of the most successful sythn inspired works from the early to mid-seventies, alongside TUBULAR BELLS by Mike Oldfield, which was mainly instrumental as in conventional but did contain some electronic support.. It is also worth mentioning that Moroder probably had a hand in influencing numerous other bands, DAFT PUNK for example, who are now active in the film scoring arena.


The sound that Moroder achieved for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS was at the time nothing out of the ordinary, but in later years many have come to not only respect the direction he went in but also revere the sound he managed to create as being something of a milestone in modern film scoring, a game-changer or an innovative and important change in direction and the beginning of what many call the hybrid score. I am surprised that Moroder did not compose more for movies and TV shows, but I was pleased to hear his score for THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH last year, which evoked so many of the themes from MIDNIGHT EXPRESS for me personally. The composer also worked on movies such as THE NEVER ENDING STORY collaborating with singer Limahl on the opening song and composer Klaus Doldinger on the score; I have to admit I preferred Doldinger’s score as it contained more symphonic elements, but the electronic style of Moroder and the symphonic sound of Doldinger complimented each other well. Moroder also was involved on the soundtracks for FLASHDANCE and ELECTRIC DREAMS both of which attained a kind of cult status with songs from both movies entering the pop charts. And let’s not forget he was also composer or a contributor on AMERICAN GIGILO, SUPERMAN lll and SCARFACE and wrote a new score for METROPOLIS the silent classic.

66d7c5ba1c3ab8375da0edf6f89a6849
The electronic score existed many years before Moroder, Faltermeyer, Vangelis and their like. Cast your mind back to THE FORBIDDEN PLANET a futuristic MGM movie, that starred Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and a youthful looking Leslie Nielsen, the music or at least the musical or electronic tonalities and sounds heard on the soundtrack were the work of Bebe and Louis Barron, the score was more of a soundscape when you think about it, as there were few thematic properties present. I remember having the MGM 78 rpm record, which I am sure still resides in my house loft, it contained two tracks from the soundtrack, which I have to say were somewhat difficult to listen to but worked so well in the movie. The strange sounds on the soundtrack were almost continuous, and not only under-scored the storyline but became the sounds of the planet and its inhabitants both human and alien.

MI0001499013

 

THE FORBIDDEN PLANET is credited as being the first fully electronic score. The composers responsible created a sound and also a style that was to influence many other artists which was not restricted to just film composers. Its sound and its presence perfectly enhanced the production, and its influences were also far reaching. It is probably true to say that without this score being conceived and created then other film scores such as those mentioned as in CHARIOTS OF FIRE and BLADE RUNNER might not have come into being.

Forbidden Planet Robby the Robot

But even before FORBIDDEN PLANET electronics were utilised within film scores, not as the sole instrumentation but often to create otherworldly sounds and atmospheres as in the 1951 move THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL which was scored by Bernard Herrmann. The eerie sounds as realised by Herrmann brought much to the production and were an important part of the movie as they created a sound and a persona that was associated with the visitors that came from outer space, Herrmann’s talent at adapting and creating sounds to suit movies was already apparent, but his use of electronic sounds that acted as support to symphonic compositions and vice versa was and still is mind blowingly unique.

The-Day-The-Earth-Stood-Still
This was a fusion of electronic sounds and symphonic music and a combination that worked wonderfully, and a combination that the composer returned to most notably in scores for films such as JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH Herrmann’s dark and powerful work containing growling and foreboding sounds that were intermingled with symphonic parts and an ominous organ performance to create fearful, daunting and uneasy atmospheres which were perfect for the movie and also added another dimension to the unchartered territories of the underworld these rich and unsettling atmospheres created the perfect otherworldly moods that the film required. MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is another great score by Herrmann and although I initially thought that the composer had utilised some form of electronic support I have since re-thought this and listened intently, to discover that this is symphonic, with instruments creating sounds that are jagged and harsh, maybe giving the impression that there are electronic aids included, so maybe in this case we have conventional instruments setting out to imitate electronics rather than the other way around? The combination style of symphonic and synthetic was also employed by composer Franz Waxman within his renowned and ground-breaking score for THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

1077_foto1_product_groot

 

It is probably true to say that the majority of film music collectors would prefer it if electronics were not used within film soundtracks, but today the electronic hardware that is at hand to composers is so sophisticated at times it is difficult to decipher if it is electronic or symphonic and I for one have been fooled many times. Some argue that because of this that a number of scores sound similar to one another, maybe because the composers involved all use the same samples or sounds?

Certain composers do tend to place a drone sound over a sequence or scenes, which is basically a noise rather than actual music, a noise which to be honest has no melody or direction and is at times just a tone which does not alter or deviate at all. But nowadays and because of composers such as Hans Zimmer (sorry I know it’s that name again) this has become something of a regular occurrence within film and TV scores and at times it seems that the art of writing actual original music for film has departed the arena as it were. But, (yes it’s that But word again,) there have been times when you just know if a movie had been scored by any other medium of music or at least the music had been performed by symphonic means it would not have sounded right and certainly would not have worked as well in the context of the movie. BLADE RUNNER for example and also THE APOCALYPSE OF THE ANIMALS both by Vangelis had about them an originality and a creativeness that was rare with synthetic scores, the composer fashioning effective and affecting thematic properties that are innovative and iconic.

 

 

So, electronics have been around for longer than we probably realise and the assumption that it is a new component or for the film music composer is not correct. Composers such as Francis Lai, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Jarre etc are all associated with the silver age of film music, each have their own undeniable style and individual musical identity an identity that was the produced not by symphonic means alone, A MAN AND A WOMEN, WITNESS, ENEMY MINE, THE WORKING CLASS GO TO HEAVEN, are a handful of examples that we look upon as classic film music scores, but all have some elements that are electronically realised.

Classe Operaia Va In Paradiso - Front

 

Sadly there is a down side to the use of electronics and samples within film scoring, and that is in this modern age it becomes quite easy for someone who is competent on a computer to come along and put together a score or a collection of themes or beats that can be expanded upon which might be suitable for a movie, I have always thought that the real talent of scoring a movie is when a composer sits and watches the film and whilst doing so is taking into account the timings the best place for any music to be placed to create maximum affect and also to support the action on screen, and I am also sure that whilst a real composer sits and watches a movie for the first time he or she is hearing the music they will create for it inside their head, which I am told happens every moment of the day for a composer.

 

Randy-Edelman
Randy Edelman.

The computer age has made it easier for one to hit a button, lay down a backing track and then add sounds and repeat these until something that resembles a theme eventually takes shape. But that is another story, synthetics, electronics, samples etc whatever you want to call them are here to stay and have become an everyday occurrence not just in film music but in all genres of music. Popular music too employs synthetics much more openly and widely, artists even having electronic aids to make them sound better when singing. So, are electronics a good thing a bad thing or maybe an ugly thing? Does it depend on the way in which they are used or in the way that a composer writes? That is the question. Listen to GETTYSBURG by Randy Edelman, it is a good score and contains some rousing and epic sounding themes, but is it symphonic, NO, not at all it is an example of electronics or synthetic sounds being formed into inspiring and imposing compositions, and because it is not symphonic is it a lesser work from this composer? Again, No not at all. Let’s, compare two random romantic movie themes, THE ANONYMOUS VENITIAN by Stelvio Cipriani now this is so lush and lavish filled with strings piano and woodwind that are brought together by percussion to create a lilting and haunting piece, orchestral through and through.

1514901985_folder

 

Now to BILITIS by Francis Lai, fully synthetic, but because it is, does it make this piece of elegant music any less effective or indeed affecting, do you see what I am saying? It still does the job it is destined to carry out, but returning to something I mentioned before in this article, if the theme from BILITIS was played by a one-hundred-piece orchestra with the accent on strings would it be as affecting? Probably not, and the same I suppose could be said if ANONYMOUS VENITIAN was performed at a synthesiser, would it sound right? Other composers I should mention that have utilised electronic sounds within their work for the cinema include, Francois De Roubaix, Michel Magne on various scores and Bob Crewe and Charles Fox on BARBARELLA, and that is as they say the tip of the iceberg and for the composers I have forgot to mention and I know there are many, I apologise.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Electronics and samples are not going anywhere, and the film composer as we now know him or her will utilise them as another tool in their musical armoury, and why not, if it works then use it, if it leads to a more creative and innovative film score, it can only be a good thing.

DRACULA 2020-THE SOUNDTRACK

 

DRACA

 

Well the new adaptation of DRACULA has drawn much attention and caused a certain amount of division between old school Dracula fans and followers of the Count in this series of three episodes. Watching all three episodes was something of a task as I became uneasy with the dialogue and the mannerisms that the writers had come up with to update the Stoker novel. Yes there were a number of references to Hammer films and their take on the Vampire Count, and these did not go unnoticed and were appreciated by Hammer devotees. The musical score is by composers David Arnold and Michael Price who collaborated so successfully of SHERLOCK which was a series also penned by Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat. After watching the first two episodes I really could not decide if the music worked or fell short of the mark, and in fact I was hard pressed to even notice the music, but was this because I was focused on the imperfections of the series as it unfolded or was it because the music was just so good in enhancing the various situations on screen that I just did not realise it was there, which is a good thing I suppose because it is film music or TV music in this case and that’s what its there for. So I was pleased when Silva Screen sent out the promo of the score for review, it gave me a chance to actually listen to the score without any images, and I realise this is probably not the best way to hear music for film but in this case it worked for me. Arnold and Price have created a score that is in the main quite lush with romantic properties throughout, and in the music I can hear maybe little nods of acknowledgement to composer Wojciech Kilar as in his haunting love theme from his DRACULA score, which I still hold in high esteem. There is in this new score a sense of fragility and also an underlying atmosphere of apprehension and foreboding. It also contains cues that have a near celestial persona, the melodies being haunting and delicate. In the cue HELLO JOHNNY there is a short phrase which took me back to the Kilar score, as it evoked the theme or at least a fleeting moment from Minas theme from that soundtrack. Arnold and Price have fashioned a grand sounding work, which for the life of me I cannot understand why I never noticed whilst watching the series, it is powerful and commanding, driving and dark, but also it has as many poignant and are romantically laced interludes. The track YOU ARE JOHNATHAN HARKER too is effective, with driving low strings acting as a foundation for more sinewy sounding strings and percussive elements, that are punctuated and further embellished by sharp brass stabs, add to this voices and a disturbing half heard solo violin and you have something that is gripping and just a tad frightening.

 

DRAC1

 

I would say that this score is on a par with the music this composing duo created for SHERLOCK and at times it is probably more of a developed and inventive work, even the atonal material that raises its head at times is thematic in part. So, an entertaining soundtrack, but one that you might not notice when watching the series. It is a combination of conventional instrumentation, musique concrete and also the duo use an array of samples which they utilise imaginatively to create sounds that are perfect for this tale of horror. The music oozes menace and has a fearsome and unsettling aura to it. Certainly, for your collection, with highlight tracks being, THAT IS EVERYTHING, OUTGROWN BEAUTY and THE FEAR, the latter for me evoking James Bernard’s SCARS OF DRACULA at times. Out digitally on January 10th 2020.

composer