Composer Aldo Piga is a Maestro that we very rarely hear about, and it is not often that the music of Piga is discussed, until recently that is, his romantically laced soundtrack for THE SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES (1960) was recently released on LP record, on Contempo records Italy, it was possibly the rarest unreleased Italian film score and one that has remained at the top of many collectors wants lists for years. The film is by todays standards quite tame, but it is an entertaining Italian horror, having to it some Bava influenced moments, made in black and white, which adds to the atmosphere and the mood of the film,
I have always enjoyed the movie, the opening sequence is in many ways like THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE musically at least, with a moment of horror, as we see the Female vampire, set upon and attacked by villagers and being killed with pitchforks etc, followed with a vibrant and haunting piano concerto like piece that plays over the opening credits. One maybe would think that Aldo Piga scored but a handful of movies, whereas in fact he was at the height of his career much in demand during the 1960’s and during his career as a composer scored over a hundred feature films. It is however true to say that many of these films were not exactly A features, but the music for each and every one of them is excellent.
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES is possibly Piga’s best score, the composer fusing dramatic interludes with classically slanted pieces and bringing the score together via a beautiful and haunting piano composition. The music at times is near operatic and evokes memories of the works of Puccini in places. Although the movie is essentially a horror, it is also a love story, a tale of mystery that is oozing with drama and overflowing with romanticism.
The score which supports and enhances wonderfully the story that unfolds on screen, is also a work that has a life away from the on-screen action and can easily be savoured and appreciated as just music. The piano composition is lush and lavish, and the composer utilises this romantically stylish theme to great effect.
Aldo Piga (1928–1994) was an Italian-American composer who worked mainly in New York. Aldo Piga’s work for the cinema was predominately composed in the 1950’s and the 1960’s, and although Piga spent the majority of his time in The United States, his film scores were mainly for Italian produced movies. He began his career as a song-writer and this eventually led to him becoming involved in the scoring of feature films. He like so many Italian film music composers was also an important figure in the pop music world in Italy, and it is probably his involvement in popular music that put him in a good position to score movies that had tight deadlines and low budgets, his inventive and at times innovative style of composition was heavily influenced by two varying genres of music, which were classical and also be-bop jazz, which he became involved with in his early career in New York.
After scoring numerous movies, Piga decided to start working as a film producer during the late 1960s. But this was a career path that did not yield many success’s and it led to Piga not only stopping making movies but also put an end to his career as a composer. The composer had a definite affinity with the horror genre, and scored a number of Vampire movies, as well as other horror orientated productions. His music was always supportive, and the Maestro fashioned atmospheric and romantically laced soundtracks, some of which have thankfully been released.
5 TOMBA DELLA MEDIUM, IL MOSTRO DELL OPERA, being two of note, the latter having to it a definite American or Universal horror musical style. The composers work on THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA is also worthy of mention, in which the composer utilises Ondes Martinote type of sound to create a spooky and unnerving atmosphere.
The composer also worked on many other genres and his score for MARK DONEN AGENTE ZENA 7, is a must for any collector who is a fan of the Euro-spy sound, and has a great up-beat title song performed by Peter Tevis. In the early 1990s Piga left Italy to retire and re-settled in New York where he remained until his death in 1994.
Composer, arranger and conductor Bruno Canfora, was born in Milan and began to study piano from a very early age. After being trained in piano the composer moved onto focusing upon the Oboe, During, world war ll, Canfora, performed a number of concerts with his band in Trieste. After the war the composer decided that he would re-locate to Turin where he took up the position of conductor for the CASTELLINO DANCE ORCHESTRA. The composer is well known for his work in the pop music field and also for collaborating with Italian female vocalist Mina. Canfora composed the music for a number of feature films and also worked on television projects.
He composed a number of songs for Mina including a song that was a hit in Japan entitled ANATA TO WATASHI. He also worked with well known vocalists such as Shirley Bassey, for whom he wrote THIS IS MY LIFE. In 1991 he was the musical director for the Eurovision Song Contest which was held in Rome and conducted the orchestra for the Italian entry by Peppino Di Capri.
His film score career began in 1957 with THE MAN WHO WAGGED HIS TAIL and he went onto score some twenty or so movies from the late 1950’s through to the latter part of the 1970’s his last score for a feature film being in 1977 when he worked on DESTRUCTION FORCE.
His last score was for the TV series ONCE UPON A TIME IN ROME which was in 1979.
One of his most entertaining scores was for the 1966 production, IL VOSTRO SUPER AGENTE FLINT 9, which was awash with jazz slanted cues which he fused with big band sounds and dramatic scoring.This is a score that is thankfully available on digital platforms and is an entertaining musical outing.
His score for THE QUEEN OF THE TARTARS too, is an atmospheric work, and again available on digital platforms. The composer on this occasion fashioning a highly dramatic and adventurous work for this low budget Peplum. His music being driving and powerful but remaining thematic. Canfora died on 4 August 2017 in Piegaro, Italy at the age of 92.
Coming on the 6th November from Silva Screen records is the affecting and enticing musical score for LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL by composer, Cho Young Wuk, it is taken from the up and coming BBC series that is based upon the writings of John Le Carre and his 1983 novel of the same name. This is an alluring soundtrack, inventive as well as being original. The composer creating tense and dramatic interludes that are apprehensive yet compelling.
The composer also fashions lilting and mesmeric themes throughout the work, but it is the tense and somewhat understated cues that for me held the attraction. I thought that it evoked the music written for so many shady and intriguing tales such as THE IPCRESS FILE and has to it a haunting, mysterious and sinister style, similar to another John Barry score SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, it is as if the music is actually stalking the listener, it conveys a thick and threatening persona, with the composer weaving a musical web of the uncertain that also manifests an atmosphere that is claustrophobic and alarming in places. But, although the score is a fraught and uneasy one, there are within the work numerous moments of thematic examples, I would also liken the style and sound of this soundtrack to the dark and foreboding music of Bernard Herrmann. It is a brooding and at times sombre sounding score, which although contains lighter moments never really allows itself to become fully melodic. I have said many times before that I am a fan of these types of scores, them being understated, subtle and non-intrusive but at the same time highly supportive of the scenarios on screen. For the most part it is a symphonic work, but there are supporting electronics that help to create the dark and chilling side to the work. Well worth a listen when it is released.
ROBIN HOOD PRINCE OF THIEVES was a rip roaring adventure, or so they told us, but it had so many faults and was filled with some really hammy acting or at least attempts at acting, Costner was totally miscast, and so for that matter were the majority of the cast, maybe with the exception of Alan Rickman. The only saving grace from this Hollywood hatchet job on a noble British legend was the musical score, but even this I had reservations about at the time of the films release. I did feel it was lacking in most areas, but after a while and now years afterwards I feel that maybe I was unfair, and maybe a little inpatient and wanting to hear something more Korngold. But we can’t always have what we want, and Michael Kamen’s score for the movie is I think well written and also suitably noble sounding and filled with drama and adventure. A four disc set is now available from Intrada records of the score and it includes many extras from the work, it beggars belief that there could be so much music written for one movie, but this is a set that I think you must have, it shines new light upon this score and also has made me think of it in a more favourable way.
The rousing theme penned by Kamen still resonates and excites setting the scene for the sweeping, romantic and driving score that is to follow. So, thank you Intrada for this release, and also for waking me up to what I had obviously missed many years ago when I first heard it. On listening to the music through including the extras and formerly unreleased material, I am no of the opinion that this is an epic work, awork that is overflowing with themes and robust sounding compositions, an entertaining soundtrack, which has been given a new lease of life via this four CD set.
John Addison is a composer who I grew up with, his score for THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, was a favourite of mine. He was an abundantly talented composer, and worked on many movies throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1976 he scored the mystery thriller, THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, which was directed by film maker Herbert Ross, it starred Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes, Robert Duvall as Dr Watson, Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud and Sir Laurence Olivier as Holmes’s nemesis James Moriarty. With a strong supporting cast that included Joel Grey, Jeremy Kemp, Samantha Egger and Charles Gray. At last this charming and sweeping soundtrack is available via Spanish label Quartet, who have made a really good job of the re-mastering and the presentation of the release.
Although at times one can identify little quirks of orchestration and stylistic traits of Addison, it is not straight away evident that it a score by this eminent composer. It is probably one of the most rewarding listens that I have heard in recent years, I was familiar with some of the themes via a few cover versions that I have heard, but this original score is most welcomed, it is an entertaining score and also an inventive one, the release contains the original score composed and conducted by Addison plus alternative and additional music. Well done Quartet, maybe more John Addison soon?
I am a little late with news on the next release, coming from Intrada, it contains two scores, one from Bill Conti the other from Dominic Frontiere, THE STUNTMAN is a soundtrack that I have had on my list of wants for many years, I remember seeing the LP record in a local store and passing on buying it, never to see it again, until recently online. Thank goodness for Intrada, and thanks to them for releasing not only Frontiere’s THESTUNTMAN but Bill Conti’s AN UNMARRIED WOMAN on one CD. I had the privilege of meeting Dominic Frontiere many years ago back in around 1977 when he was in London at the Martini rooms, which is an encounter I have never forgotten.
He is or was sadly because he passed away in 2017, a very underatted composer of film scores, he is probably best known for HANG EM HIGH and also THE TRAIN ROBBERS and BRANNIGAN, amongst others, and his music for the television series THE INVADERS and THE OUTER LIMITS is now iconic. His score for THE STUNTMAN is such a varied and entertaining work which also includes a song BITS AND PIECES performed by Dusty Springfield, which I felt had a kind of James Bond title song vibe to it. With the composer providing an orchestral version of the song, which certainly has Barry-esque connotations. The score is luxurious in places, jaunty and also romantically melancholy. The cue IN TRAINING is a vibrant and quirky piece, with a kind of 1920’s sound to it, purveying an atmosphere that is comedic and slightly madcap. The actual central theme of the score or MAIN THEME is beautiful, with the composer employing solo piano that conveys a style and atmosphere that is initially one of solitude, it is then joined by a scattering of strings and breathy woodwind, but the mood alters into a darker and more sombre musical affair, with tense strings being enlisted, this then changes to something more romantically laced and a luxurious theme which is performed by the string section that are supporting piano. I have to say that the only reason I have this compact disc in my collection now is for the Frontiere score, the Conti soundtrack being kind of surplus to my requirements. Certainly, one to look out for as it is now becoming very scarce.
Its Dominic Frontiere I go to next also, for THE QUINN MARTIN COLLECTION VOLUME 2, as I have already said, the music for THE INVADERS is now iconic, and a classic piece of TV scoring, the show was for many essential viewing, and the theme became instantly recognisable, Frontiere’s use of a three note motif striking terror into the hearts of many, but also telling us that the show was about to start, inventive orchestration made the music for the series attractive and also uniquely menacing. This is a collection that is a must have for not only fans of the composer and the series, but also for any self-respecting collector of film and TV music. Thanks to LA LA LAND records we are treated to Seventy-nine tracks of tantalising and vibrant music with a running time of one hundred and forty-nine minutes, well presented and re-mastered to perfection. An essential purchase.
Conrad Pope is a vastly underatted composer in my opinion, why this composer is not right up there with the likes of Williams, Zimmer and others is beyond me. But we as collectors know how talented and versatile, this composer is dont we. Dragons Domain records have released THE CONRAD POPECOLLECTION volume1, which is a compilation of music from four original scores, GHOST SHIP, METAL BEAST, TEMPTATION and UNDER THE MOON, all four scores are excellent, and I mean excellent, they are rich and sumptuous, filled with attractive themes, lush strings and absorbing melodies, this is a perfect introduction to the music of this composer, if you have not already encountered it.
Also from Dragons Domain records comes Pope’s score for LLOYD, again the composer displaying his evident ability within the film music arena, in many ways this sounds so much like a Jerry Goldsmith score, its filled with an inventive use of strings and brass and is just an entertaining listen, so while you are checking out THE CONRAD POPE COLLECTION volume 1, why not pick up a copy of LLOYD as well, you will not be disappointed.
Also, from Dragons Domain comes two scores on one CD from British composer Howard Blake, THE CANTERVILLE GHOST and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR 3D, both of which are excellent, but are both very different stylistically. I think I have to say I prefer THE CANTERVILLE GHOST, it is more of a magical sounding and romantic score, wheres as THE AMITYVILLE soundtrack is rather more atonal and certainly far more sinister and darker. But, to have two scores by Blake on one disc displays perfectly his versatility and his adaptability. THE CANTERVILLE GHOST was a TV movie released in 1986 and directed by Paul Bogart. For me personally there is an almost James Bernard Hammer feel to the soundtrack, I am thinking of scores such as FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN when I state this, rather than the early Hammer productions as scored by Bernard, the music is tense but at the same time has a romantic and wistful air. Fully symphonic and overflowing with a rich sense of the dramatic, it is an appealing work, and one that I know you will return to many times. Blake creates a anthem like theme with bold brass and wistful woods that are underlined and supported by strings and subtle use of percussion.
AMITYVILLE 3D is more dramatic and has to it a menacing and somewhat chilling atmosphere, the composer utilising low woods in combination with female voice to create an eerie and sinister mood. Spikey strings, with underlying percussive elements fashion a powerful and malevolent sound, the composer also utilises a spooky sounding music box effect that is combined with an Ondes Martenot sound, that is most effective. Adding depth and giving the work a sense of dread. Both scores are well worth adding to your collection.
Last but certainly in no way least from Dragons Domain again, we have an excellent work from another underatted composer, Don Davis. SPACE ODYSSEY-VOYAGE TO THE PLANETS has been released as THE DON DAVIS COLLECTION,VOLUME 1, which sounds great because this means that there is going to be a volume 2, we hope. The score for SPACE ODYSSEY VOYAGE TO THE PLANETS has never been released before now, and it is a triumph of a soundtrack, filled to bursting with proud sounding interludes and bristling with patriotic and vibrant themes. All I can say is think THERIGHT STUFF meets CAPRICORN ONE and STAR TREK THE MOTIONPICTURE, what more could you ask for. Highly recommended.
There are in cinema many collaborations as in writers, directors, producers, special effects etc. But there are many important collaborations between directors and composers, of course the obvious ones do tend to leap out at you as in Williams and Spielberg, Jackson and Shore, Leone and Morricone, Edwards and Mancini, Brooks and Morris, Lean and Jarre, Herrmann and Hitchcock, and also Forbes and Barry. Its sometimes annoying because the collaboration between Barry and Forbes, never seems to be discussed at any great length, but Bryan Forbes was responsible for many great British movies and more than a handful of these were scored by the incomparable John Barry. So, I thought I would explore and delve into the area of director/composer collaborations, but as I say let us steer away from the obvious. Michael Reeves was a rising star in the world of film, sadly he left this world far too soon.
But he made his mark upon the world of cinema with movies such as WITCHFINDER GENERAL and THE SORCERERS, both of which were scored by composer Paul Ferris. Reeves made just three movies, the other title being THE SHE BEAST, also scored by Ferris, but the score was removed when the movie was released in the United States and replaced by another by composer Ralph Ferraro. This was something that also happened on WITCHFINDER GENERAL, when the movie was released in the United States not only did they change the title to CONQUERER WORM ? but after a while the film was re-scored for a DVD release with a largely synthetic score, which for me just did not gel with the story on screen, the new score being instantly forgettable when compared with the Ferris original work. Ferris provided a romantic score for the now classic horror and based his central theme upon the traditional tune GREENSLEEVES, Ferris and Reeves were friends, and I suppose this is why the director turned to the musician to write the scores for his movies.
Ferris too appeared in WITCHFINDER, but you probably are aware of this fact, it is a great pity that both Reeves and Ferris died so young. They both had a bright future and Reeves in particular, had been hailed as the genius of British cinema. Out of the three scores for the movies mentioned only WITCHFINDER has been released, and this took over forty years to come to fruition. Hopefully, the music tracks for both THE SORCERERS and THE SHE BEAST will one day be uncovered in some dusty archive and released for all to hear, in the meantime we have to be content with hearing the music within the film.
Composer Paul Ferris was born Richard Paul Ferris on May 2nd, 1941 in Corby, Northamptonshire, England. Ferris had acted previous to beginning to score movies, and was a regular in television shows such as the police series, NO HIDING PLACE and DIXON OF DOCK GREEN as well as a small part in the 1967 James Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE. He also became a regular in THEBARON in which he portrayed David Marlowe, who was John Mannering’s assistant.
During the 1960, s Ferris also penned the hit VISIONS for Cliff Richard, and his theme for MAROC 7, was performed by The Shadows in 1967. His career as a composer continued in 1970, when he scored CLEGG but after this he worked mainly on shorts until 1973 when he wrote the soundtrack for THE CREEPINGFLESH, two years later he worked on PERSECUTION and that is the last movie he scored. I was told by actor Nicky Henson a few years ago, that Ferris, worked as many things after this, at one time he was a sea captain and also drove articulated lorries for a living, he even sold fish and chips, “Paul always worked, and whatever he did he did well” recalled Henson. Ferris became ill and was diagnosed with the debilitating and depressing disease Huntington’s Chorea, which meant in his last few years of life that he was unable to work. On October 30th, 1995 the composer was found dead in his Bristol flat, at an inquest which was held on January 30th 1996, the coroner arrived at a verdict of suicide by drug overdose he was 54.
To attempt to break into the movie making business, Michael Reeves began by carrying out various minor duties for his favourite filmmaker, Don Siegal and then he worked with Jack Cardiff and Henry Levin on films in Europe such as THE LONGSHIPS and GENGHIS KHAN which were both Yugoslavian/UK/GERMAN co-productions and had mild success at the box office. Reeves got his first break onto making films himself when he travelled to Italy to work with Paul Maslansky, firstly on NIGHTMARE CASTLE in 1964 and then two years later on LA SORELLA DI SATANA (THE SHE BEAST) where he not only co-wrote the screenplay but directed the film.
THE SHE BEAST was a low budget horror movie but saying this it was a robust and entertaining production, with an inventive script and Reeves displaying his maturity as a filmmaker for one so young. The films witch hunt scene was particularly impressive and watching it now one can see that this was a precursor or the inspiration for the opening sequence of WITCHFINDER GENERAL as there are marked similarities. He died on February 11th, 1969, he had been asked to direct a movie entitled THE OBLONG BOX for A.I.P.(eventually scored by Scottish composer Harry Robinson) but sadly died before filming begun.
Composer James Bernard is well known to any fan of Hammer Gothic horror, his scores for the studios DRACULA cycle being most prominent and popular. Bernard collaborated with another master of horror many times, Terence Fisher was Hammer’s star director and brought the now classics DRACULA and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN to the screen. Both scored by Bernard, Fisher was also responsible for Hammer films such as THE GORGON, THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, FRANKENSTEIIN CREATED WOMAN, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL and the sublime THE DEVIL RIDES OUT all of course containing the music as penned by James Bernard.
The noted film maker did also make movies that were not scored by Bernard, but it seemed the Fisher/Bernard collaboration worked and worked well. The images on screen being perfectly complimented by the music, the sight of Frankenstein’s monster made even more disturbing and terrible by Bernard’s growling and virulent chords and the sight of the gaunt looking Count Dracula being so much more threatening and foreboding with that familiar DRA-CU-LA motif. I am not sure if Fisher had any say in what composer he actualy got to score his films as they were after all Hammer productions, and the studio did have a music supervisor or supervisors such as John Hollingsworth and then later Phil Martell. But the results in the end when Bernard was on board were always memorable and effective.
Terence Fisher went to sea as a young man, it was thought by his Mother that after the death of his father in 1908 this career would be the making of him and stand him in good stead for what life might throw at him, however Fisher never stayed at sea and after a period of some eight years he decided to return to dry land. He began to work in the textile or clothing industry and became an assistant display manager at Peter Jones. Whilst pursuing this career Fisher began to think of going into films at first he could not decide in what area he wanted to work but eventually became a film editor working his way up the ladder at Shepherds Bush film studios from clapper board operative to the editing room where he began to work on the films of Will Hay. Fisher then changed studios and went to the Teddington Studios which were run by Warner Brothers. In 1947 Fisher was invited to take up a position at the Highbury studios by the rank organisation who were offering an apprenticeship of sorts for aspiring young filmmakers. Fisher made a handful of shorts whilst there and was picked out by Sidney Box, who gave him a chance to try his hand at directing a full-length feature.
The rest as they say is history. Born in Maida vale, London on February 23rd, 1904, Terence Fisher died on June 18th, 1980, I know that we will never see his like again in the British film industry.
James Bernard was born in the Himalayas, the son of a British army officer. He spent much of his early life on the northwest frontier. His career as a film music composer began back in 1955, when he scored the QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, for Hammer. The movie which was re-titled THE CREEPING UNKNOWN in the United States, was a very successful picture for Hammer, and it was this initial encounter with the studio that would lead Bernard into a career as a composer of film scores and an association with the house of horror that was to last some nineteen years. In 1947,
Bernard left the Royal Air Force and enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London. Bernard had met Benjamin Britten during his last term at school in 1943, and Britten had advised him that if he wanted to write music as a career, he would have to get a proper grass roots musical education. To get this, Bernard would be advised to enrol into one of the better music colleges, so when the time of Bernard’s de-mobilisation was approaching, he contacted Britten, who suggested the Royal College of Music,
Comingup to date for the next collaborative partnership and we look to America and the work of both director Stuart Gordon and composer Richard Band. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, CASTLE FREAK, are just a few of the titles that the director and composer worked upon together. Band’s music in my opinion is of a high quality, the composer often creating effective and grandiose sounding musical accompaniments for low budget movies, and not only enhancing and underlining the stories up on the screen but in many cases fashioning music that is appealing, interesting and rewarding away from those stories and at times disturbing or menacing images.
CASTLE FREAK is one such title where this applies, no, not the 2020 remake but the original from 1995 which Stuart Gordon helmed. It’s a creepy tale of a man who attempts to protect his family against an evil that is resident in a castle that he has inherited. The composer did a brilliant job for this fairly low budget movie with an evil and spiky sounding violin solo weaving its way through the score, a dark and mischievous sound that is enhanced and supported by equally devilish sounding strings, malevolent brass and strategically placed percussion.
I always have thought that his music for this production was quite evocative of Jerry Goldsmith’s menacing, unsettling and virulently disturbing score for the MEPHISTO WALTZ. Plus, I am of the opinion it also has to it elements that resemble Carol Anne’s theme from Goldsmiths inventive work on POLTERGEIST. Amongst all the atonal and creepy sounding material Band has created a score that aids the movie greatly, but it is also one that like so many of the composers works for cinema goes further and rewards the listener when heard on its own, it is an accomplished and interesting score, and one of Richard Band’s more accomplished works for the Horror genre. THEPIT AND THE PENDLUM, in my opinion is probably one of the composers most outstanding scores and is certainly in his top five best scores, the film however I did not like, it was a typical cheaply made gruesome and gory tale, but as a horror it was serviceable, having a few moments that might be of interest to some.
Probably one of the best bits was that Oliver Reed made a brief appearance. The score is moody and at times almost epic, with period stylised pieces, and grand symphonic themes that are sweeping and lavish in their sound and construction. The movie went straight to video or DVD but that was no surprise for me personally. But the quality of the music and the scale of the score is magnificent, and it is a work that has endured with many film music collectors marking it as a thrilling and amazingly dramatic soundtrack. So that is a brief look at the Gordon/Band collaboration, a partnership that yielded many a fine moment on screen and also in the music department.
If I were to say Polanski and Komeda what would you think of? I am guessing it might be two movies, THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (aka-THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS) and ROSEMARYS BABY, Am I right? Thought so. Both excellent movies, each having their own brand of horror. Composer Krzysztof Komeda penned a very innovative and original sounding soundtrack to accompany the rather chaotic and madcap adventures of the two vampire hunters which the story focuses upon. Komeda’s score is essentially a serious one but does however contain a few more slightly comedic interludes. After the animated intro the famous MGM lion turns into a green vampire character with its fangs dripping blood as this imagery begins so does Komeda’s wonderful choral main title at first it sounds off key or slightly out of kilter but as the credits roll and the drops of blood fall the music grows and develops establishing the core theme for the score which re-appears at key points within the movie, and is especially effective as we see Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) on his way to claim a victim, it is in my opinion a very modern sounding piece and even today sounds like it was written recently and could be the work of Philip Glass, but it is attractive in a sort of weird way.
The composer supports the lead vocalising with harpsichord and percussion which in turn is enhanced further by guitar and a kind of warbling choral sound. On first seeing the movie I must admit I found it a little hard going, I had after all been weaned on the gothic horrors from Hammer and the old black and white Universal tales of the macabre and the fantastic. Polanski’s approach was totally different from anything I had witnessed before and I have to say that it was not until a few years later when I sat and watched the movie again that I fully appreciated the comic and ironic appeal of the picture and the inventive and highly original score by Komeda. The version of the score I have was released on a Polish label THE FEARLESS VAMPIREHUNTERS or THEDANCE OF THE VAMPIRES which I think is a far better title, being the second Komeda soundtrack on the disc, the other was his triumph of film scoring ROSEMARYS BABY another Polanski horror movie. THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES contains approx.; thirty minutes of music, Komeda and Polanski choosing to score the project sparingly, in fact after the main titles the film has no music for at least the first half an hour.
It is in this opening thirty minutes of the movie that the audience is introduced to most of the leading players. Komeda’s music does not return until the scene where the hunchback who is the Count’s assistant and bodyguard takes the Vampire to attack the innkeepers daughter Sarah played by Sharon Tate, as the beautiful girl sits in a bath tub filled with bubbles she notices that snow is falling indoors and looks up to see the evil Count coming through the skylight to abduct her. All that is left after he has gone is the bubbles that are now tainted with blood. Komeda’s music is highly effective within this scene and gives it a certain chilling atmosphere which is greatly aided by the utilisation of the Japanese bamboo flute called the Shakuhachi. Sarah’s Father played by Alfie Bass is bereft at the abduction of his daughter and chewing handfuls of garlic sets off into the frozen night to rescue her, in the morning he is found frozen and drained of blood. The vampire hunters decide it would be best to stake him there and then, but the innkeeper’s wife won’t have any of it. The vampire hunters decide to go down in the dead of night to finish him off, but they bungle the job and the now vampire innkeeper escapes and makes a b line for the maid, shocked at her once employer being a vampire and wanting to bite her she shows him a crucifix, the innkeeper laughs because being Jewish the crucifix has no power “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG VAMPIRE” he says. Then there is the obviously Gay vampire who is the son of the Count, who chases Alfred the vampire hunters apprentice in the hope of turning him into one of the un-dead. The chase is hilarious and is masterfully scored by the composer who utilises choir, harpsichord and guitar which are all punctuated and supported by timpani. The timing of the music within this scene is crucial and without it the sequence would probably not have worked again we can hear certain similarities to the music of Morricone.
This is a master class in how to score a movie, the music is certainly striking in places but then at other times it is subtle and understated. Komeda was a great talent and his working relationship with Polanski was a fruitful one.
I have vivid memories of seeing ROSEMARY’S BABY. It was a classy movie as far as I was concerned; it dealt with the occult but was an intelligent and informed take about Satanism and devil worship in a contemporary setting. Polanski’s direction, as always, was good and the script etc all stepped right up to the mark and made it an entertaining experience. One vital component of the movie was the music score. Komeda was a highly original composer who sadly died far too early in 1969 after an accident involving a head injury. Komeda was as they say, in advance of his time in the music world. His combination of jazz, dramatic and mood music within the context of a movie was quite breath-taking and for ROSEMARY’S BABY the composer certainly wrote an inspired and highly innovative soundtrack. One cue in particular “What Have You Done?” has always stood out for me and that comes near the end of the movie when Mia Farrow’s character says those immortal words, “What have you done to him? What have you done to his eyes?”
Komeda’s music is chilling and harrowing with a near frantic ambience as he utilizes forceful strings to underscore a mutated sounded trumpet which fades to be overridden by a hypnotic piano solo, backed up by bass and even more hypnotic strings, acting as a backdrop to a chilling soprano saxophone, played in unison with synthesisers. The opening theme or “Lullaby” is also hauntingly beautiful but contains and underlying atmosphere that is warning the listener that maybe all is not right here.; the use of Mia Farrow’s wordless vocal is stunning and almost calming.
This understated rather frail sounding vocal, sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the score and immediately creates the atmospheric style required for the story. We have the innocence of Rosemary but at the same time there is a sense of unease and uncertainty, relayed perfectly to the listener or the watching audience via this cue which tells them that there is evil here. Komeda worked with Polanski on both KNIFE IN THE WATER and CUL DE SAC, but in my humble opinion, the music for the two discussed movies is probably the composers most inventive and appealing.
Reinhold Heil is a German-born musician and film and television composer based in Los Angeles. He initially achieved success in Germany as a member of the post-punk and Neue Deutsche Welle bands Nina Hagen Band and Spliff and later as a music producer. He is known for his frequent collaborations with Australian composer Johnny Klimek and director Tom Tykwer on films such as Run Lola Run and Cloud Atlas.He has scored the TV series DEUTSCHLAND and has just completed the music for DEUTSCHLAND 89. My thanks to the composer for taking time to answer my questions and also many thanks to Andrew Krop of White Bear PR. Without whom this interview would not have happened.
You seem to utilise a mix of both symphonic and synthetic instrumentation within your scores for film and TV, when you are working on a score how do you work out your themes and bring them to fruition, keyboard, computer etcAnd When working on a series like DEUTSCHLAND, do you recycle themes or expand upon ideas that you have previously used in the series and how many times do you like to be able to watch episodes of a series before working out the style and sound plus where the music will be best placed?
I work in Logic with a template that allows for quick import of all my acquired and self-made sound library and that performs in 5.1 surround instantly (mainly for my personal pleasure and inspiration.)
I also sometimes improvise freely on some of my instruments, mainly my Bechstein grand and my Hammond B3 but also various guitars, bass, and percussion. For all the latter instruments I am not claiming to be able to really play them, but I use them as musical sound generators and I can absolutely find themes and riffs on them. Every instrument has a different paradigm of performance and leads to different results.
This last season of the series will certainly recycle motifs and themes from the earlier seasons but mostly in a brand-new arrangement. The main theme comes from episode 101 and used to be brooding, threatening, with hints of air raid sirens signalling the potential nuclear conflict. Then it was super rhythmic for the African section of Deutschland 86 and now it’s an in-your-face dramatic version, performed in part by a string quartet. So, I try to apply the thematic material consistently but give it twists and turns and of course always shoot for fresh material as well.
I have one co-arranger, who is also the music editor on the show: Paul Parker. We both watch the episodes a few times and then exchange our thoughts. There’s also temp that mostly consists of cues from the previous seasons. Sometimes it works so well that we roll with it (always working it to picture) and often we try different avenues. Luckily, I feel that the show runner, Jörg Winger, trusts me with my instincts. He lets me present him with a full episode pass and then – without fail – gives me excellent notes that make the score and the episode better.
Paul Parker takes over all the previously existing cues and sometimes puts his stamp on, not only with his heavy guitars (on one cue) but always finding some good angle that makes perfect sense with the scene.
So how did you become involved with the DEUTSCHLAND series?
I have a reputation for having written and produced a few German classic pop music from the era. So, when the creators started looking for a composer, a friendly music publisher recommended me, because I also had a bunch of movie and TV music on my resume. I asked them if they really wanted a score in Eighties style and they said no. They wanted a contemporary score. And I tried to stay away from the old pop sound. For the most part I think I succeeded. But especially for the romantic themes I slipped. It became a thing… And it culminated in the fact that I even wrote a song, based on the love theme of this season. It’s very romantic and certainly evokes the era but it came too late to make it into the series. Not that there really was any space for a song.
The sound that you achieve for the series is very ominous sounding at times, when you were first offered the assignment, were you given any specific instructions as to how the music should sound and how it should work for the series?
Not really. Jörg and I both lived through the era and he did a lot of amazing research that certainly enhanced my understanding of the historic events. Out of our conversations came some rough material and that is always the best way to figure out the sound of a show. Rather than talk about it, I like to present a variety of demos and get the thumb-up or thumbs-down. That can be accompanied by words but is helpful no matter what.
When starting a collaboration with a new team you always have to learn the specific way these filmmakers talk about music. A word can have vastly different meanings when uttered by different filmmakers. And developing a personal relationship that becomes more and more comfortable is the basis for a good outcome and a pleasant experience along the way, no matter how hard the work might get. The fact that Jörg and Anna were able to come to Los Angeles in December of 2014 and discuss my first layouts in person was extremely helpful. Being in the same room a few times makes the phone- and online-exchanges that follow infinitely easier.
I FRANKENSTEIN is I think a very powerful work, what percentage of electronic instrumentation did you have on the score compared with a more conventional line up of instruments?
This is a big orchestral score and was requested as such. But both Johnny Klimek and I always try to weave in the synths or the organic sample textures. I’d be hard-pressed to give you percentages but it’s orchestral for the biggest part. Maybe 80%?
One note was: no flutes! That’s the personal taste of some producers and to me felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. But on the other hand, style comes out of limitation.
CLOUD ATLAS was collaborative work, did you work with the other composers in the true sense of a collaboration, or were you all asked to score specific sections of the movie?
The partnership between Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and myself happened from 1996 to 2012. We always conceived of everything together but of course you will find quite a few pieces that originate with only one or two of us. Throwing ideas at each other and then even picking up arrangements and having them altered by another team member is certainly the hard way of doing this. Many other teams prefer to rather divvy up the work ahead of time. But that way you dont get that thing that is greater than the sum of its parts. That did happen quite a bit and thats why ultimately it was worth the extra effort.
When any of your music is released onto a recording or made available on digital platforms, do you take an active role in what music will be included on the release?
Absolutely. To be honest, most labels won’t care much and it’s up to me to pick the selection and re-work certain cues so that they become palatable as a stand-alone piece of music rather than underscore. Sometimes there is a camping part that’s good for the suspense of the story but becomes boring or tiring when just listening. I dont like to do that to an audience. So, Paul Parker and I pretty much mix, compile and master this album.
You initially started out in a band and then moved in to producing, was writing music for films something that always attracted you?
I was certainly always fascinated by the thought. But I didn’t have the confidence. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Alien was a moment where I started to think of it more and a big breakthrough was Bladerunner, because I loved the score and was convinced, I could have done this too. I was in possession of a Yamaha CS-80 synth and certainly had the chops for all of these elements. That boosted the confidence. But it took another 10 years of mostly producing pop and thoroughly getting sick of that before I told myself to start re-orienting my career and another 5 years before that really rendered the first results.
What musical education did you receive, and did you focus on any specic area of music whilst studying?
I attended the University of the Arts in Berlin and got a Master’s degree in classical music production, in German: Tonmeister. That to me was only a means to an end and that end was playing in a band and producing eclectic pop music. I was stupid and arrogant and wish I had fully taken advantage of the program. I had great teachers and received piano lessons and music theory and all the technical basics of recording. So it was certainly good that I went through with it. The last two years I had to split my time between my studies and daily rehearsals with the Nina Hagen Band, my first professional gig as a musician. It all came out better than I deserved.
Simon Rattle conducted your score for PERFUME-THE STORY OF A MURDERER, Do, you conduct at all, or do you prefer to be in the recording booth supervising the scoring process?
As a trained producer I feel more at home in the booth. But I feel more compelled now to try my hand in conducting. This might have something to do that I now work by myself and perform my music every step of the way. Conducting is performing, so it would only be natural. There just does not seem to be budgets that allow for the hiring of musicians.
I was really looking forward to working with the string quartet in a studio but that was thwarted by the pandemic. So only two of the musicians recorded at home and played all the parts. Back to the good old pop-approach.
Your music is varied and inventive, what composers or artists would you say have influenced you or had an effect upon the way you write or perform and what is the first music that you recall hearing as a child?
Thank you! I love so many kinds of music and have really dropped my adolescent attitude, maybe starting in my thirties.
There’s Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Bach, Stravinsky as my early idols. And then of course the full gamut of great pop and jazz music and all the other “serious” composers. Of course, Debussy and even Wagner. And amongst the film composers I could pick out Thomas Newman, Johan Johannsen and of course Williams and Goldsmith. Elliott Goldenthal is way under-employee. So many amazing colleagues. Last but certainly not least Ben Salisbury and Jeff Barrow, who always push the boundaries and evoke pure benevolent envy.
Do you like to perform on your film scores?
At this point I am almost the only performer. This is OK for certain things but it’s not my favourite way and more born out of the lack of funding. Good and bad.
Are any of your your family musical at all?
I think my dad was very musical and so are all my siblings. And all our offspring! There is only one nephew who is professionally active and he’s definitely a great guitar player and engineer.
But my parents were working class, not what you’d call “Bildungsbürger“, in Germany. They’re the typical WW-II generation who’s motto was: our children have to be better off than we were. They worked their asses off for us and I think we are all eternally grateful. They enabled us to rise to the next level.
Is there for you any difference between working on a TV series and scoring a feature film?
Not in principle. You write themes and apply them. But on a movie that process of development is limited and then you work out the details. With a series you always add to the material and try to juggle the older and newer themes. For a streaming service or a European producer, you get to finish the whole thing before it goes on air. In a Hollywood-produced TV series they make you chase the broadcast. While that means that there is never a dull moment, there are missed opportunities to make everything coherent. You must guess and anticipate.
What is next after DEUTSCHLAND 89?
I sometimes help my friend Mac Quayle who is blessed with a lot of pretty great work. I worked on Mr Robot seasons 3 and 4 and just finished a documentary series for HBO called “The Vow”.
I also just did two branding films for a company that makes superb architectural lighting. All these smaller jobs widen the horizon. I really enjoy the advertising work, as long as it’s not promoting awful products.
I am also in the process of moving to Hawaii. That in itself is quite a process. During that time, I have my piano overhauled. I have a bunch of fresh equipment and I can’t wait to make sinister sounds in a beautiful environment.