PROM NIGHT, MY BLOODY VALENTINE AND THE BRAIN.

Born in Canada in 1952. Paul Zaza, started to take an interest in music from a very early age. From the age of four years old he started to have piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto which is his birthplace and remained at the Conservatory until he graduated, it was not his performances on piano however that got him noticed, he was also a bass player and was picked out by the band The Fifth Dimension whilst he was performing for the stage show Hair. Which led to him touring with the band. He started to become involved with the scoring of motion pictures after he was approached by filmmaker Les Rose who had at times used Zaza’s studio, the director was looking for a composer to write the music to one of his latest movies and the score he had already he thought was not suitable. So, he asked Zaza to write a few themes for the movie which led to him scoring the picture and collaborating with the filmmaker on three other movies. Since those early days he has been involved with well over a hundred and fifty credits, often the horror genre and one does stand out which was for the Sherlock Holmes movie Murder by Decree, directed by Bob Clark.

The score garnered Zaza and his collaborator Carl Zittrer a Genie award which is the Canadian equivalent to the Oscar. The score was a worthy winner being a tense and highly fraught work, it was also symphonic through and through, with interesting orchestrations and a wonderfully lyrical pastoral theme which oozes a rich and lush persona that can be likened to something that Vaughn Williams might have penned.

But, it is three other horrors we turn our attention too now The Brain (1988), My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Prom Night (1980). The latter title in my opinion is probably the better score, but I suppose its all a matter of personal taste. In many ways I feel that Zaza’s music is at times evocative of the scores that were composed by Bob Cobert and Bill Marx, especially the music that Marx penned for the two Count Yorga movies back in the 1970’s. There is a simplicity and a complexity within Zaza’s music, which is why it not only works so well within the films he worked upon, but also has to it an entertaining and appealing persona when listened to away from any images. But the style between both Cobert and Marx is I think noticeable.

Both My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night are available on digital platforms, with both scores recently being released onto vinyl. The films maybe considered as B features or low budget affairs, but the scores are both outstanding. Prom Night is a wonderfully atmospheric work, with the composer employing what sounds to be a medium sized ensemble of layers with the string section dominating the proceedings, but I love the way in which the composer also weaves in a little scattering of percussive elements and utilises woodwind to great effect, but it is the use of sinewy and sharp sounding strings in the form of jabs and stabs and visceral meandering passages that catches one’s attention.

For a small or low-key score, it certainly makes an impression on the watching audience adding much atmosphere and also creating an array of moods throughout. The score even includes a handful of half decent disco tracks, Dancin in the Moonlight, for example which although cliched and cheesy is a true toe tapper. There are a few songs included on the soundtrack release and if you enjoy syrupy disco tracks and predictable ballads you will love these and when listening I was suddenly transported back to the 1970’s when there were so many of these tracks around. I think the composer even sends himself up a little with tracks like Another Disco Funk track and Funk Dat Disco, making an appearance in their great funky, groovy glory.  But look beyond these and focus upon the actual score and you will find a rare gem of a horror soundtrack, the version or edition on digital platforms contains every scrap of gloriously retro music from the movie, with thirty-four tracks and running for over an hour, however many of the cues twenty to be precise were not used in the movie. But its good to have them all here. This is a soundtrack that is varied if nothing else, but you know I really enjoyed it.

The same can be said for My Bloody Valentine, as in I really enjoyed it, the soundtrack is split into for sections or suites, all of which are over fifteen minutes in duration, these are 1. The Horror of Valentines bluff, 2.  Pickaxe Impalement Suite, 3. Bleeding Hearts Still Beating Suite and 4. Trapped in the Mines Suite. The score is again a varied one with the composer employing a syrupy sweet Mancini like theme initially, which soon segues into something a little more malevolent and apprehensive, again the composer utilising a relatively small ensemble, but this time embellishing and adding support to this via electronic means, creating icy and chilling effects. There is again an underlying sense of foreboding as in Prom Night, with the composer creating a sinister and virulent atmosphere, this time with a solo piano which picks out a four-note motif and gradually increases its tempo until it reaches a climax of sortsand do not forget this is just in the first cue. Overall, this is a varied and an accomplished work, which gives the action on screen greater impact. I think the reason I prefer Prom Night is because it is more of a symphonic score whereas My Bloody Valentine does bring into play more synthetic instrumentation. But this does not mean that the score is not a good one, on the contrary it is a soundtrack that I would recommend without reservation as Zaza does an excellent job of purveying shock and tension via the synthetic and symphonic elements of the work.

Another film that Zaza scored was the 1988 low budget sci-fi horror The Brain, maybe not the greatest movie or score, but it is still an effective soundtrack, the composer this time creating a soundtrack mostly by electronic means that was supportive of the movie but was I am sad to say not memorable at all, but there again should music for a horror movie be memorable or just effective in the film? The score for The Brain, is eerie, jumpy, apprehensive and certainly atmospheric, but it has very little originality to it and sounds like so many other synth horror scores that were around in the 1980’s such as Xtro, by Harry Bromley Davenport. Again, for The Brain Zaza, includes a disco type of song, which for me sounds like something that was a track on an album from the 1970’s by a band or artist that was a one hit wonder.

But remember Zaza himself released a handful of disco albums or at least disco music themed albums such as Hot in Here, Le Payback and Contact all released in 1977 and all have to them a sound and style that was synonymous with the disco days of the late 1970’s with Chic and Ritchie Family like vocals.

Although effective within the movie the score for The Brain is not as inventive or indeed as developed as Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine. One does still live-in hope that the soundtrack for Murder by Decree will one day see the light of day as it is most definitely the best of Zaza and his long-time writing partner Carl Zittrer.    

COSMOBALL.

Cosmoball, is a Russian sci-fi movie which was released in 2020. also known as Goalkeeper of the Galaxy this 3D Superhero sci fi yarn film is helmed by filmmaker Dzhanik Fayziev who also wrote the story and screenplay, based on the animated series Galaktic Football,  the movies storyline is set in the future in a post apocalyptic city on a world inhabited by survivors of an intergalactic war  that has shifted the planet’s poles. Above the city sits a gigantic alien space craft, but it is more than a spaceship, it is an enormous stadium, where the fast and frantic game known as Cosmoball is played. The planet below having its eventual fate in the hands of the Cosmoball players who are defending the Earth. The fate of the planet depends on the result of the match between earthlings and aliens.

An interesting if not fantastical scenario, but one that is preferable to the alternative of conflict. The musical score is the work of Italian born composer Tony Neiman who is now based in the United States, the score is now streaming on digital platforms such as Spotify and is one that will I know be of interest to many.

This is as one might think because of the film’s storyline action filled and theme led material, which it certainly is, the composer has created a score that is overflowing with wonderful thematic passages and these are not just of the action slanted variety, as there are also a number of really nice compositions within the score that display the composer’s obvious gift for melody and producing rich and emotive pieces. It is a score that I think will be returned to many times after the initial listen, and also a soundtrack that could become on many collectors list of favourites,

I was on a number of occasions reminded of the style of composers such as James Horner, Lee Holdridge, and Craig Safan whilst listening to the release, think maybe The Last Starfighter, and even to a certain extent Battle Beyond the Stars ,and even Splash in certain areas of the score. Even the action material which is at times fast paced remains melodic and that is I think the appeal of this soundtrack, well worth checking out and hopefully a CD release soon.   

IN CONVERSATION WITH COMPOSER TONY NEIMAN.

Tony Neiman is an Italian composer & a classical and jazz pianist. After a successful career in Italy and touring worldwide, he settled in Los Angeles in 2015. Since then he has composed music for several documentaries, TV shows and movies. In 2018 Tony Neiman composed music for a thriller ‘Midnight Climax’ directed by Joseph Sorrentino. He has collaborated also with a renowned composer John Ottman on a Fox Tv series ‘The Gifted’ and has been a part of the postproduction music team on “Georgetown” by Christoph Waltz. The composer performer has also worked with Victor Vanacore (arranger and orchestra conductor of Ray Charles) for his project “La Sorgente”. In 2016 Tony shared the stage with Abraham Laboriel for his Jazz Clinic in Los Angeles as a pianist.

You were born in Italy, were any of your family musical and did Italian film music play a part in you wanting to become a composer?

Yes, I was born in Rome, Italy. My father is an amateur pianist, and he instilled his passion in me at an early age. I started to play the piano when I was 3 years old. 

You did your musical studies in Italy at the Alfredo Casella Conservatory of Aquila. I understand you studied jazz and composition. Did you focus upon any instrument as well as piano whilst studying?

Piano has always been my main instrument. I completed my classical piano degree at the Conservatory L.Perosi in 2004. Then, in 2012 I received a jazz Master degree at the A. Casella. Another instrument I was always interested in was a cello. I believe it’s never too late to start learning, thus few years ago I decided to start studying acoustic and electric cello.

What would you say are your earliest recollections of any type of music?

Besides Italian pop songwriters I have always listened to Classical music.  Then at around the age of 15/16 I discovered Jazz. But Bach has always been a big part of me.

Being Italian, you were obviously aware of the great movie music composers such as Morricone, Trovajoli, Rota, Cipriani etc, did you ever get to meet any of them?

I have a great respect for these masters. I have studied and analysed all their scores but I never met them in person. Interestingly, Morricone called me once because he heard a composition I wrote. He was very complimentary, and I will never forget that.

How did you become involved on Cosmoball and at what stage of production do you normally prefer to start to see the rushes or speak to the director and producer?

The Russian Director Dzhanik Fayziev was looking for a Hollywood composer and I scored a demo for him. He really liked my vision and style for the movie and chose me to collaborate with him.

I like to speak with the directors early on so I can understand what they have in mind. I am very intuitive and love the creative process. I come up with themes and ideas early on but prefer to start scoring when the editing is locked. Cosmoball was my biggest production so far and I have to say I am very proud of the soundtrack and my team.

The score for Cosmoball runs for about an hour on the soundtrack release, how much music did you write for the movie, and when spotting it did the director have any specific ideas or requests as to what style of music they wanted for the picture? Was there a temp track on the movie and did you find having this tool useful or distracting?

The total music we scored for the two-hour movie was about an hour and fifty minutes. We used basically all of it. Some parts are missing on the soundtrack release because it was just underscore so it wasn’t necessary to put it into the soundtrack release. The director perfectly knew what he wanted, and he chose a great temp track so that I could understand easily what mood he wanted in the scenes.

What composer’s artists or performers would you say have influenced you in the way you write, perform or approach say a movie score?

Besides all my classical background that obviously helps my music, Bernard Hermann is the number one for me. I always liked his music. He is the first teacher of all music composer. 

Hans Zimmer completely changed the sound and score of the movies. Everybody now is scoring with the kind of sounds he “invented”. Coming to LA I met a lot of top musicians and everybody has something to teach you. That is the beauty of living in the most artistic and musical city of the world. 

You worked with composer John Ottman on the TV series The Gifted, did you collaborate as in write cues with him, or did you provide compositions that you had written yourself?

John Ottman is an incredible person and an amazing composer not to mention he is an Academy Winner as an editor. I had the privilege to work with him on “The Gifted”, where I was given cues and scored them having John supervising me.  It was a fantastic opportunity and a great experience. I am definitely interested in expanding my career into the tv world.

For you what is the purpose of music in a film or a TV series?

Music is emotions. It is the capacity to enhance a visual emotion with hearing perception through the music.

Do you buy recordings by other composers or artists, and what do you listen to if you manage to get some r and r.?

To be honest, I used to buy a lot of music from various artists in all the styles. Lately, I like to hear some of the ultimate soundtracks of composer I love like Beltrami, Desplat, Zimmer, Newton Howard and many others.

How many times do you like to watch a project you have been asked to score before deciding where music should be placed or what style of music should be utilised?

I watch the footage a few times and then I just wait for the music to come to me. There is a moment where I usually start to hear some notes in my mind and that means I’m ready to start!

Do you work on your own orchestrations when composing for film and television, and do you conduct at all?

I do everything by myself. I score, I orchestrate and conduct if I have enough time. With bigger projects and tighter deadlines, I have a team of musicians I collaborate with. For Cosmoball Daniel Alcheh helped me as an orchestrator and Gigi Meroni was in charge of the final music production.

You have worked on a number of TV projects for RAI, what would you say are the main differences between scoring TV and writing for motion picture?

Firstly, there is a substantial difference in scoring for Italian and for American productions. Italian scores are more based on the melody and the American productions are more based on the orchestration. 

There is no big difference in scoring for TV or for movies these days.  I always enjoy the process no matter what I am doing. Making music is my true passion and I feel lucky to make a career out of it.

How much time were you given to score Cosmoball from start to finish?

Three months including the final mix. 

Do you have a preferred recording studio when you score a movie?

I have great relationships with the studios in LA and Italy but I am also open to foreign locations which often can offer great deals.

The soundtrack for Cosmoball is already on digital platforms, some collectors are already asking will there be a CD release, and do you have any input into what tracks from your scores are included on any release?

I haven’t thought of it yet but can certainly consider!

When you write music for a short or a commercial, is it more difficult to establish a thematic foundation, given the time you have?

Indeed, when writing for a short or a commercial the thematic foundation is everything.  Especially with the commercials I am often pressed with time, but luckily, I have always come up with ideas right away.

You also recently worked on MK Ultra, will there be a score release for this?

MK Ultra should be released later this year. As soon as it is out we will release the score as well.

Stay tuned.

What is next for you?

I have a few exciting projects brewing. You will hear about them soon!