From Goblin’s excessive near operatic soundtracks for Italian Giallo director Dario Argento (Suspiria) to John Carpenter’s (Escape From New York) synth experiments for his own films to Fabio Frizzi’s peculiarly sinister scores for the likes of Italian schlockmeister Lucio Fulci (Zombie), it’s safe to say that old school horror movie soundtracks are back. Thanks to the likes of Stranger Things and Death Waltz, those old synth scores of the 70’s and 80’s are increasingly being not just reissued, but mined and re imagined by folks like Pye Corner Audio and Repeated Viewer with a distinctively modern spin.
Giallo Disco is a label that focuses on this retro futurism, drawing from Italo Disco, Krautrock, electronic music and those incredible scores from the 70’s and 80’s. It’s run between Berlin and Vienna by Antoni Maiovvi and Vercetti Technicolor; both of whom produce their own take on horror electronics. Giallo Disco album covers are a dead giveaway, they’re nostalgia for a misspent youth, of having the bejesus scared out of you late at night watching way too many slasher films. They’re just about to drop to two new albums, Haex-Hrll (aka DJ Overdose)’s taut futuristic electro saga Further From The Truth, and the bleak cinematic funk of New York based Colombian Fiero’s Modus Operandi EP. Fiero in particular could be coming straight from the 70’s, with a sound somewhere between Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter, like much of Giallo Disco’s roster, it’s a driving synthetic score to an imagined thriller.
Last year’s Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, a Don Cheadle fantasy with car chases, and a fictionalised white Rolling Stone journalist isn’t entirely what Miles deserved, but it did highlight his electric period. Listening to this music it’s so forward thinking you can understand how earth shattering it was. Not just for the listener, but also for his collaborators many of whom would subsequently chase their own muse: jazz-fusion.
Keyboardist Joe Zawinul composed the title track and appeared on Miles’ 1969 album In A Silent Way, and would go on to much acclaim via the Weather Report. But his 1971 solo album, simply titled Zawinul, which features his own gorgeous, atmospheric take on In a Silent Way and contributions from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, is jaw droppingly soulful. Many consider it the unofficial first Weather Report album.
Keyboardist Chick Corea’s (Bitches Brew) fusion group, which also featured guitarist Al DiMeola, Return to Forever, is often cited as the premier fusion ensemble. Like many in the genre they would subsequently get a little too clean and impressed by their own dexterity, yet 1975’s No Mystery is the balls out Latin funk of four blokes strutting, on an album that is dedicated to L Ron Hubbard.
English Guitarist John McLaughlin (Bitches Brew), developed perhaps the most ferocious fusion in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, yet I prefer his 1977 ode to Indian classical music, Shakti, with tabla legend Zakir Hussain, which with acoustic guitar is almost an antidote to the aggressive spirituality of Mahavishnu.
What do Kentucky Fried Chicken and Peter Weir’s little known and criminally under-appreciated 1977 existential horror, The Last Wave have in common? Starring Richard Chamberlain and David Gulpilil, the film that delves into Aboriginal culture and dreamtime in an urban setting. The score was composed by Charles Wain. Wain was a curious figure.
Firstly, his score is a remarkable mix of synthetic cues and experimental electronics, using the Arp Odyssey, the Arp Solina String Ensemble, and guitar as well as manipulated didgeridoo. It effortlessly manages to conjure a deep existential dread, and in this post Stranger Things, post Mr Robot world it could’ve been made yesterday. Secondly if you check IMDB this is Wain’s only credit. Ever. Thirdly if you Google ‘Charles Wain’ you will discover it’s an astronomy term – another name for the ‘Big Dipper.’ All of which is highly suspicious. Who was this enigmatic figure?
Melbourne label The Roundtable’s first ever release of the soundtrack (along with John Barry’s lost score to Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout) illuminates things a little more, and this is where it gets weird. It’s where CC corn chips, Kentucky Fried Chicken and petrol jingles collide with high art, because Wain is in fact the pseudonym for television and radio advertising jingle guy Wayne ‘Groove’ Myers. If you watched Australian TV during the 70’s and 80’s his jingles are firmly etched in your frontal lobe. Yet this score is his experimental side. One thing’s for sure “You can’t say no,” to this deep and remarkable work…Sorry…
The price of vinyl is based on scarcity, not quality. There is just one scratchy 78 of the Long ‘Cleve’ Reed & Harvey Hull (Down Home Boys) 1927 murder ballad ‘Original Stack O’Lee Blues’ in existence. If you want one prepare to cough up $60,000, and that’s if its obsessive owner will sell it to you. It’s pretty obscene, particularly as the tune is near indistinguishable from numerous other examples of ‘race music’ recorded at the time. But I digress, I want to go the other way and talk about how thanks to a cigarette company you can get a taut slab of 70’s jazz funk for a dollar. Founded in 1968, drummer Warren Daly, fresh from touring the US with the Glen Miller band returned to Australia and hooked up with trombonist/ arranger Ed Wilson to form an 18-piece big band fusing, jazz, funk and rock. Due to their size, the Daly Wilson Big Band initially struggled financially and disbanded in 1971, but were rescued in 1973 by the benevolence of the Benson and Hedges company, who’s logos would adorn four of their next five albums. Sampled by DJ Shadow, their cover of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra,’ retitled ‘Space Odyssey – 2001’ is a psychedelic funky freak-out, whilst the urban 70’s noir of ‘Theme from Swat’ was sampled by DJ Q-bert and ‘Dirty Feet’ by Mobb Deep. Whilst Benson & Hedges pulled their funds in 1983 and the band ultimately disbanded, their legacy lives on in a ridiculous amount of op shops around the country. Seriously, you can find an album in pretty much every one.
Lately I can’t get enough of eccentric Norwegian experimental pop artist Jenny Hval. She’s just released her sixth album, Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones/ Rocket) and it’s a monster. There’s so much going on. Metaphors abound, vampires, menstruation, the supernatural and 70’s horror films, are all enmeshed into a narrative that references childbirth, capitalism, love, the body and bodily functions. Sonically it’s really forward thinking, where melodies, noise, musique concrete, gothic synth pop, spoken word and all manner of experimental cross genre gestures intersect. Hval sings too, gentle crooning or intoning wordlessly over abstract yet strange and spooky, yet somehow reassuring sonics. It’s a dense album, its threads aren’t immediately obvious, and it takes some time to unravel, yet as it does you continue to find new elements contained within. These days so much music is genre safe, immediately pigeonholeable, so it’s actually quite novel to hear music that seems totally unconcerned with notions of genre, and appears much more interested in chasing down its muse. And its muse in this case is blood.
Adelaide musician Jason Sweeney, previously one half of Pretty Boy Crossover makes gorgeous ambient music as Panoptique Electrical. Last year he released an album with Hood and Declining Winter’s Richard Adams as Great Panoptique Winter. Last month he released the gentle, ambient Disappearing Music For Face on the Greek label Sound in Silence. Like his previous solo offerings, it merges sparse electronics, piano, bells and other analogue instruments. It’s sparse, gentle and atmospheric, some of the most beguiling sounds you could ever hope to hear.
To escape the Melbourne chill I’ve been doing some air travel recently. Before leaving I consulted with a seasoned traveller who swears by closed headphones and Max Richter’s Sleep (Deutsceh Grammophon), an eight hour suite designed with the consultation of neuroscientists to lull all listeners into fitful slumber. It’s good advice, given I’ve only ever been able to listen to 20 odd minutes before snoring shamelessly into a strangers armpit. Yet aviation exposes us to all kinds of distended emotions, and in the 20th hour of a long haul flight, with square eyes, itchy feet and a fragmented soul, an epiphany occurred. I reached for Eluivium (aka Portland’s Matthew Cooper). I’d first encountered him via 2007’s Indecipherable Text (Sensory Projects), that I liken to a warm cocoon, except at some point you’d look up and realised your fist is in the air. I closed my eyes and pressed play on his forthcoming False Readings On (Temporary Residence), and within seconds was awash with warm overdriven organ, disembodied chorals and tentative piano. Trapped somewhere between sleep and awake, the dense ambience was a tonic to my unconscious. Curiously the album’s based on cognitive dissonance in modern society, yet somehow my own feverish state converted anxiety into joyous discovery. I have no idea whether I listened to one song or the entire album, but I can tell you that listening again as I write these words, the connection is now permanent, and it’s hard to imagine that music can get any better.
In recent years Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman has captured the imagination of the west via incendiary live performances, albums released on Ribbon music, Sublime Frequencies and Monkeytown, production by Four Tet and collaborations with Bjork. His high-energy electronic dabke music is like nothing you’ve heard before, exotic, frantic and infectious, distinctively Arabic flavoured techno music over which Souleyman weaves his tales of love and revs up the crowd. Yet Souleyman has a secret weapon, the man responsible for these incredible sounds, synth player and fellow Syrian Rizan Said. If you’ve ever seen Souleyman live then you’ve marvelled at Said’s remarkable ability to organise chaos, within his synth is an entire Middle Eastern orchestra, and he is a maestro, his electronic percussion in particular is jaw dropping.
Last year Said released a solo album; King of Keyboard on the Beirut based Annihaya records. Annihaya is a fascinating label that specializes in the displacement, deconstruction and ‘recycling’ of popular or folkloric musical cultures. They’ve recently released the near hysterical psychedelic Shaabi of incredible Swiss/ Lebanese duo Praed, as well as albums from Sun City Girls, and Lebanese electronic artist Rabih Beani (Morphosis). Said however is a whole other level, it’s synthetic Arabic music on amphetamines, a hyperactive frenzy of artificial reeds, triple time beats and intricate exotic melody lines. Said ran a studio in Syria before the war and wrote Korg synth patches that he sold across the region. His music meanwhile is centuries old, traditional music gone digital -and it’s remarkable.