Category Archives: FEATURES

Katie Gately: She Comes In Colors

Katie Gately brings film and sound design to her eye-opening debut LP

As tired as tags like “experimental club music” and “avant-garde pop” can be, albums like Color, Katie Gately’s spellbinding debut on Tri-Angle Records, come across every so often, simultaneously subverting and eschewing the conventions of both in ways that dazzle, shock and captivate.

Drawing on her studies and work in film and sound design, Gately’s productions are often composed of countless layers (421 separate tracks, in the case of album opener “Lift”) of heavily affected clips of her own voice, found sounds and Foley recordings. These techniques have their roots in her time enrolled at University Of Southern California’s film school.

“USC’s film program tends to be directors, cinematographers, producers, but I applied specifically to study sound work,” she says. “I actually said, ‘I have no interest in directing, I just want to do sound’ when I applied, and somehow got in. I wound up taking a couple of electronic music courses there, too. They have really incredible facilities, and as soon as I realized I could use sound libraries and cartoon libraries, I was off and running. I got into trouble early on, though, while working on a film project. The director kept telling me that my sound design was too distracting. I got really carried away with these ocean sounds that were supposed to just be in the background.”

While her heady, extended methods would easily drift into unlistenable territory in less nimble hands, Gately’s productions are defined by a genuine curiosity, nimbly dancing on the line between excess and just enough. “It’s always about how much can I add before it just sounds too crazy,” she says. “What’s the most obnoxious thing I can make the song do? How can I have it be just 49 percent obnoxious and 51 percent fun?”

—Möhammad Choudhery

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Hello Shark: Isolation Drills

Philly’s Hello Shark explores the dark sea of loneliness

Delicate is a fitting title for the new Hello Shark album. Lincoln Halloran, the group’s songwriter, singer and bandleader, seldom raises his voice above a whisper, choosing to deliver his confessional lyrics with a restrained presence that adds an emotional tension to his tales of isolation and heartbreak. His guitar playing is minimalistic, but his chiming tones perfectly complement the icy emotional terrain he describes: a bleak world of loneliness and missed connections.

“I’m not a very good guitar player,” Halloran says modestly. “I can write decent guitar parts, but I’m strongest in the lyrics. The musicianship is pretty basic, and it takes me a lot longer to write guitar parts than to come up with good lyrics.”

The album’s arrangements are stripped down and folky, keeping the emphasis on the words and the emotions they convey. “They’re almost journal entries set to music,” he says. “If something pops into my head, I make a note of it on my phone, or maybe sing it into a voice memo. When I write, I go through the notebooks and try to structure something out of sentences and melodies I put down. I’m pretty much a verse/chorus writer, but if I get one good verse, I don’t add a second half-assed verse, or a chorus, to make the song longer.”

Halloran grew up in Newburyport, Mass., a fishing village with a small sadcore scene, but he didn’t become interested in performing until he moved to Vermont for college. “I had a friend with a four-track recorder,” he says. “I started recording cover songs, and that got me interested in songwriting.” He put out a CD-R to sell at shows and started building an audience. Three years ago, he moved to Philadelphia.

“Philly’s been good to me,” he says. “I have a lot of friends in bands, and it’s centrally located, so I can make weekend trips to play in New York, D.C. and Baltimore.”

—j. poet

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Honeyblood: Just Like Honey

Scottish duo Honeyblood’s second LP brings the noise

On its second album, Babes Never Die, Scotland’s Honeyblood covers a lot of ground. There’s the punk-meets-girl-group clatter of “Ready For The Magic,” the funky, hedonistic rave up of “Sea Hearts” and the dreamy, cynical chanting of “Love Is A Disease.” The women in the band—guitarist/singer Stina Tweeddale and drummer Cat Myers—make a mighty noise, marked by anthemic choruses, Tweeddale’s skilled use of power chords and distortion, and Myers’ blockbuster drumming.

“We encourage each other to make as much noise as possible for two people,” says Tweeddale. “With this record, we demoed vigorously to nail down the sound we wanted to achieve before we went into the studio. We made the album in 13 days, racing against the clock at all times. I would love to have the luxury to spend months making a record, but it’s something we can’t do at this stage.”

Live, Tweeddale and Myers rule the crowd with the force of their playing, but in the studio, producer James Dring (Blur, Lana Del Rey) and their friend Matt Jones added synthesizer tones to fill out the sound. Would they consider adding another musician to their lineup?

“We recently acquired a new member called Sebastian,” says Tweeddale. “He’s a collection of sounds, triggered by Cat through a sample pad. We’re loving his work at the moment. Will we ever get more humans in the band? Maybe, but not right now.”

The album closes with a brief, easy-listening Latin outro, featuring drum loops, dreamy harmonies and Irish penny whistle. After 10 tracks of rowdy, energetic garage punk, it’s quite a shock.

“Cat loves Latin music,” says Tweeddale. “That inspired us to play the tin whistle and write that little outro. We’re planning to write a whole EP of Latin tracks after this album comes out.”

—j. poet

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Katie Burden: Werewoman Of L.A.

On her debut LP, Katie Burden goes magic

Strange Moon is Katie Burden’s debut, but she pours a lifetime of emotion into every word she sings. “I have a frenetic energy and fearlessness that comes out when I perform,” she says. “I didn’t play an instrument until recently, so I always liked collaborating. When I met (producer/drummer) Norm Block (jennylee, Brian Jonestown Massacre), I told him I wanted to make a record, and he recommended bringing in guitarist Jen Turner (Here We Go Magic, Exclamation Pony) to help out. During the process of making this album, we became fast friends.”

The dark, multilayered, larger-than-life ambience of Strange Moon complements Burden’s powerful, uncontained vocal style. She’s comfortable with smoldering torch songs (“Cut The Wire”), powerful rockers (“My Kind”) and cryptic ballads, like the title track.

“We tried to make a record that would leave you feeling haunted,” says Burden. “‘Strange Moon’ is a story about turning into a werewolf. It’s steeped in the language of dreams and mysticism, but it’s not necessarily a literal transformation. It could be about a sudden mood swing or an obsession that takes over your mind and nervous system.”

Burden, Block and Turner put in months of intense studio work to polish the album’s sweeping, psychedelic tone. “We brought in a few friends to add some of the cinematic touches,” says Burden. “We wanted it to feel big and orchestrated, with tons of textures to grab onto, something you’d have to listen to a few times to catch all the nuances. The guts of the songs were written quickly, but I kept putting off recording the final vocals. I learned it’s helpful to have the lyrics first, and work the melody around them, so it can be part of the song-making process, as opposed to writing them after the song is basically done.”

—j. poet

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The Flat Five: Perfect Harmonic Convergence

Chicago supergroup the Flat Five are guided by voices

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices.

“We’re in this band because we’re harmony junkies,” says Hogan, who cofounded the group with Ligon. “We’re all in a million other bands, but every time we get a chance, we get together to sing, and we work hard at it. We love singing harmonies. Our rehearsals can go on for seven hours or more, even if we’re not preparing for a show.”

Hogan and Ligon first got together for a one-off show as a duo. “We talked for 10 minutes and started referencing songs by the Davis Sisters, Wilburn Brothers, Georgie Fame and Lou Rawls,” says Hogan. “The first time we sang together, there was an obvious click. I was in a secular gospel group with Nora called the Lamentations, so I asked her to join us. We sounded so good, we began looking for other people, and it became a snowball that gathered up this group of harmony dorks who all happen to play about a billion instruments as well.”

The Flat Five started as a cover band, doing tunes by Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Nilsson, Oscar Brown Jr. and Leslie Gore. Gradually, the group began adding songs by Scott Ligon’s brother Chris, a writer with a skewed vision and unusual sense of melody and rhythm. “We do a lot of his songs in our live set,” says Hogan, “but he’s not a well-known writer. When we decided to make an album, we thought we’d avoid the curse of the cover band by doing songs most people hadn’t heard before.”

The result, It’s A World Of Love And Hope, is an album full of delirious vocal harmonies, anchored by Chris Ligon’s peculiar worldview. “The songs are weird and twisted, dark and light at the same time, with a wry sense of humor,” says Hogan. “We recorded live, sometimes with the five of us gathered around a single microphone. We decided we wanted an uplifting title for the record, so we went with It’s A World Of Love And Hope. It’s a lyric from ‘This Is Your Night.’ My last solo album was called I Like To Keep Myself In Pain, so I made a conscious decision to stay positive in this band, to be shamelessly hopeful in the face of climate change and Donald Trump. Some people don’t believe life can be wonderful, but if you look at all the little things around you, you’ll see it is.”

—j. poet

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The Stooges And Jim Jarmusch: Filming Danger

Iggy Pop’s Stooges get the documentary treatment from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

“This was my dream, you know? That someone good—someone with solid stature and unlimited imagination—would take a look at the group in their own way; and then tell a story with their own skill and point of view. That’s how you get something to combust and start a fire.”

If anyone knows from the incendiary, it’s Iggy Pop. His entire career is the stuff of the flammable, with no element more ignitable than the Stooges. Pop’s raw-powered band of Michigan fellaheen came from nothing to hit nowhere (from the avant-garage of 1967 to the glam of 1974), quickly and arguably invent punk, then disappear, only to reunite and rise in 2003 until the deaths of its cocreators, Scott and Ron Asheton. That’s the documentarian’s tale that filmmaker/Stooges fan Jim Jarmusch took seven years to tell, at Pop’s urging, with Gimme Danger.

“He asked us to make this, and we went off and did it, but I had two elements of trepidation,” says Jarmusch, seated next to Pop. “The first was, ‘Oh God, what if we show it to Jim (Osterberg, Pop’s real last name) and he says it sucks? We’d have to shelve it. The other was a brief lack in confidence. I saw Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth. I loved it, as it took chances in making a portrait of someone by not telling the truth. All of a sudden, I thought what I was making was pedestrian, until I realized that we are celebrating the Stooges with no tall-tale telling involved.”

What this was, in both Jims’ eyes, was a story of the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever, one that, in the band members’ minds, was wild, emotional, funny, adventurous, disrespectful, loving, shaggy, primitive and sophisticated. “So we had to make a film that had all those parameters as its style,” says Jarmusch of Gimme Danger’s rough look with collage, cartoon flourishes to go with its rare footage (“Because our fans weren’t the heavily tech types,” laughs Pop) and boldly ferocious soundtrack. “In rock ’n’ roll if there isn’t anything stupid—and I mean this in a nice way—there’s something missing,” says the director, pointing out that the Stooges had to get name approval from the Three Stooges’ Moe Howard (who did not give a fuck) as part of the humor. “If all you are is earnest, you end up being U2.”

As for Pop, the only fear he had going in to the doc process was the 10-hour-plus interview at his home in Miami that served as Gimme Danger’s principal narration. “Here it comes, you know,” he says. “Talk it out. Then again, that’s why I made a career in stage diving. I’m used to not having trepidations.”

Pop mentions, too, that by this point he no longer has a problem seeing himself in states of dislocation and drugs’ throes that came with his famed past of throwing himself around a stage and into an audience’s (sometimes not) waiting arms. “I had been in this band and no other, so I don’t have many comparisons, but seeing things like the footage for the Cincinnati Pop Festival was normal to me then,” he says. “Now, it’s beyond different—but I could notice from my certain body movements that when I took certain drugs I moved certain ways. Those photos or footage: It’s starting to be OK to see that. Five years ago, I still had a hard time watching.”

Along with portraying the glorious Pop, the other characters in Gimme Danger are given equal truck and pluck, such as Detroit and Ypsilanti, whose dynamics are explained by Pop as part of Henry Ford’s “industrial monarchy over an agrarian paradise” but with a strain of radical intellectualism. Then there’s Pop’s partners in mad badness, the Ashetons, who, in Jarmusch’s words, “were real gentlemen, like Iggy. No matter what weird shit they went through together or on their own, that gentlemanliness showed through. Very Midwestern.”

If there were any lessons to be learned from Gimme Danger (other than to avoid making a documentary as warts-revealing as Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, a film Jarmusch “hated”), it’s simple and straightforward.
“Don’t be a dropout,” says Pop, laughing.

“Follow your instincts and don’t let the world fuck you up or turn you into sheep,” says Jarmusch, more seriously. Without naming the plight or light of the Stooges, he says, “If the world doesn’t get it at first, they will. It might just take a lifetime.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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The Pack A.D.: The Power Of Positive Negativity

The Pack A.D. transforms a bad year into a great new album

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the album’s nomenclature.

“Oh yeah, it’s totally facetious,” says Miller with a laugh. “I’m not going into details, but each of us had our own things going on. It wasn’t the easiest album—not because the ideas weren’t there but because the overall enthusiasm was a little on the wane. We worked harder than ever because we had to get past things that were going on, and we thought it would be nice to think positive. It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.”

The Vancouver duo’s hard work included four recording sessions over a year-and-a-half span. Black and Miller decided not to re-up with Nettwerk, their label for 2014’s Do Not Engage, and hadn’t yet negotiated with Cadence, which expressed interest when they left Mint Records after 2011’s Unpersons. Subsequently, they created Positive Thinking without real or imagined label expectations.

“We had no idea who we were going to put this out with,” says Miller. “It was very freeing to be back in that position.”

The lengthy gestation and repeat sessions were new for the Pack A.D., and the result was a dozen tracks that clearly reflect the pair’s rejuvenated perspective.

“We ended up recording 25 songs or something, then narrowed it down to the 12 on the album,” says Miller. “In the past, we wouldn’t even necessarily have lyrics ready when we went in to record, and this time we had everything ready to go. It was definitely a more thought-out experience.”

The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking.

“Becky’s a huge fan of ’60s and ’70s psych, which works well for us,” says Miller. “It’s a little more jammy, but on this album we brought back a blues stomper, ‘Los Angeles,’ that could have turned up on our second album, Funeral Mixtapes. We’re just still trying to play the dirty game of rock ’n’ roll.”

Rather than scouting studio space and spending time in transit, Black and Miller remained in Vancouver and invited longtime engineer Jesse Gander to produce. “Once we like someone, we’re loath to change,” she says.

As Miller notes, the prime motivation was to fashion music they could honestly and easily recreate onstage: “With two people, you can add bells and whistles and then decide, ‘Do we hire people to fulfill those things or do we do it differently live?’ You have choices when you add little things. Is this the album where we become the Black Keys? In some ways, it’s extremely freeing to be a two-piece, but you have so many choices, sometimes you’re stymied to pick one.”

With just three people involved in the studio, the atmosphere could have been a bit claustrophobic on Positive Thinking, but Miller insists that close quarters have always worked for the Pack A.D.

“There’s only two of us, so that’s a very comfortable place to be, that trapped-with-one-other-person feeling,” she says. “It’s good that we can talk and not talk and still have things to not talk about for hours.”

—Brian Baker

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Blossoms: Pop Will Eat Itself

Britain’s Blossoms have bloomed on their self-titled debut LP

British quintet Blossoms is unapologetically ambitious. Rather than quietly release 2014 debut single “Blow”—issued on Skeleton Records, owned by the Coral’s James Skelly, who also produced it—the band announced it with an ardent, online manifesto. “We want to be heard by everyone,” it read, in part. “We want to be as mainstream as Will Smith, as great as the Smiths, and as uplifting as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”

“We thought that since this was our entrance into the world, we should make some bold statements,” says shag-haired frontman Tom Ogden, who simultaneously quit his Stockport hotel job and began touring England to fulfill that prophecy. “It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, but we do want to be on the radio. We do want to be big. And I always like a band that has something to say.”

Mission accomplished. Ogden and crew have just issued their self-titled Skelly-helmed debut, which features overseas hits “Charlemagne,” “Getaway,” “Honey Sweet” and “At Most A Kiss,” all heavy on Myles Kellock’s frothy keyboards and rooted in Blossoms’ unusually anachronistic sound: “Call Me”-era Blondie meets vintage Bay City Rollers (Ogden’s sleek vocal style even eerily echoes that outfit’s Les McKeown), all glistening with a sugary Stock/Aitken/Waterman sheen. Ever since he started composing at 15, he’s always been a sucker for a great melody, he explains. While his early efforts smacked of his then-favorite group Oasis, his later songs reflected the music he heard on weekend nightclub forays into nearby Manchester, where he danced to Blondie-retro artists. “And now our music gets played there, in those same clubs,” he says, proudly.

Ogden never planned on a career in music. He always imagined that he’d go to film school and find a job behind the scenes in that industry. But in Stockport, there was nothing to do on weekends but wander the streets and drink, so his fellow members had formed various other bands out of sheer boredom before they agreed to spin off into Blossoms.

“But I think even in the early days, we knew we had something, something a little bit different,” he says. “And because we’d been in other bands, we knew what went wrong in them.”

His songwriting quickly evolved. “Girlfriends would come into the picture,” he says, “and you wrote songs about them—the timing really aligned, because when us five got together, it just worked.”

So far, Ogden has met—and been praised by—personal heroes like Johnny Marr, Ian Brown and Arctic Monkeys mainman Alex Turner. But the latest Blossoms material he’s been demoing sounds even more like Debbie Harry’s classic combo. “Some of the new songs sound almost like ‘Heart Of Glass,’” he admits. “I love Blondie, and I’ve always cited ABBA as a big influence, as well. So we’re about keeping a certain attitude within a great pop song, because there’s a lot of pop music that’s deemed unrespectable or not credible. So we want to keep the balance right between great pop and cool sounds.”

—Tom Lanham

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Hal Willner And Lou Reed: Making Legacy Live On

Hal Willner’s Lou Reed (or Lou Reed’s Hal Willner)

Mention to Hal Willner that he’s a sort of keeper of the flame, and he grumbles. The producer has, since 1981, been an all-around music boss at Saturday Night Live as its sketch-music adaptor, coordinator and composer. Around this same time, he began to create and curate smart tribute albums to the esteemed likes of Nino Rota, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and other genre-busting geniuses who forged a blueprint for the art form. Willner also created sonic sound beds for Beat Generation literary godfathers William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and their beatnik comic cousin Lenny Bruce.

“No, they don’t need me to do anything with their flames,” says Willner. “I am happily associated with Bruce and the Beats and am always available to that crowd,” pointing to the 2016 Burroughs-released work Let Me Hang You.
When it comes to the late, great Lou Reed, however, Willner is happy to carry a torch.

Reed’s last producer—“in a humbling list of illustrious names: Bob Ezrin, Tom Wilson, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Richard Robinson, to say nothing of the guy who painted the banana,” he laughs, considering Velvet Underground associate Andy Warhol—is proud of tackling 2000’s Ecstasy, 2003’s The Raven and all original work and Reed compilations until his death in 2013. Their newest (but not last) collaborative production is the recently released The RCA & Arista Album Collection, which captures Reed fresh from leaving the Velvets up through depressive art rock (Berlin, Street Hassle), glam (Transformer), showy, silly soul (Sally Can’t Dance), swishy folk (Coney Island Baby), noise (Metal Machine Music) and more.

“It is a mammoth catalog that you think you know until you dig into it,” says Willner, mentioning how he and Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow, separated out Reed love songs for the early summer 2016 all-Reed spectacular outside of Lincoln Center, where a “misty rain never felt so mesmerizing.” To quote Donald Trump, says Willner, “This is huge.”

Willner first worked with the daring ex-Velvet on 1985’s Lost In The Stars: The Music Of Kurt Weill, with the guitarist/singer morphing the German theater composer’s most plaintive ballad, “September Song,” into an era-appropriate Reed rocker. “I had the first Velvets album, Berlin and Transformer but didn’t cling to everything Reed did,” says Willner. “Rock got stale for me by 1975, so I moved to NYC to become a jazz producer because of the innovative work of Sun Ra and such. By the ’80s, however, jazz got stale, and I drifted back to rock.” And Reed.

“Lou wasn’t told to have a producer like most artists are by the label, he chose to,” says Willner. “He wanted another voice—a buddy, a partner—and that other voice happened to be mine. I’m also not just a record producer but rather an all-around collaborator, a one-stop shop. But with him, you came ready to work. He taught me to focus, really focus. You did your job. Bear with him. Listen hard, then harder. Follow his lead and call the shots when they needed to be called.”

The same was even truer when it came to The RCA & Arista Album Collection. According to Willner, Reed knew he was “obviously” dying, as did those close to him (“We all lived in denial,” says Willner) and wanted this re-breathing of his ’70s and ’80s catalog to be brilliant, a true last will and testament to his powers as a poet guitarist and sonic elocutionist. “It was amazing watching and listening to him pointing to what needed to be enhanced and what to be left alone,” says Willner.

According to Willner, the new boxed set is not “remixed” but rather reconsidered for Blu-ray sound. With that, Reed could realize that which had long been stuck in his head, like the dynamic effect of binaural sound that was Street Hassle (“his headphone album”) or to bring out the nuanced background vocals of that same album’s “I Wanna Be Black” and the Bowie/Ronson harmonies of Transformer. “Lou really marveled at their vocal lines and wanted their dimensions to sound greater,” says Willner. “He relived everyone’s contributions to his work.”

With that, Willner sees The RCA & Arista Album Collection as a gift to rock, jazz, poetry, punk, noise and pop—like Miles Davis, an ever-shifting palette of sounds that had peaks and valleys, but always made the music his own and changed the culture.

“To go from the Velvets to Metal Machine Music—all before 1975 and often with great criticism —is something to behold,” says Willner. “Lou Reed changed the game and often.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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Ennio Morricone: A Fistful Of Dynamite

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone returns with the bold Morricone 60

From his roots in the avant-garde scene of his native Italy to the nouvelle, nontraditional symphony he composed for his most famous recent film score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, composer, orchestrator and conductor Ennio Morricone loves to experiment.

These testing grounds might not include the early fuzz-tones, primitive rhythms, oddly tuned chorales or nature’s roars as did his earliest works. At the request of Italian “spaghetti-Western” (yes, Morricone supposedly loathes the phrase) director Sergio Leone, the composer engaged audiences with dusty, prickly scores for modern horse operas such as 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars, 1965’s For A Few Dollars More, 1966’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and 1968’s Once Upon A Time In The West. Still, experimenting is his right and duty, even now as he manipulates the contours, luster and grand sweep of his best-known cinematic moments on his new album, Morricone 60, meant to signal both 600 compositions and 60 years in the biz.

“It is always difficult thinking about composing for a film while at the same time trying to find a compromise between that which can be, something that must be and something that should be understood and felt by an audience,” says the 88-year-old Italian known as “Il Maestro” through an interpreter from his apartment in Rome, his longtime home. Considering notions of experimentation, Morricone—who started out as a trumpeter along with spending time in Italy’s premier conceptual ensemble, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza—remarks that he’s always looking to turn sound on its head. “I compose a piece of music that is interesting to me, that is relevant, contemporary and challenging because I do not wish to bore my audience,” he says. “Or me, for that matter. I want to feed my audience music that has dignity.”

And for the record, “No, I have not played the trumpet in nearly 50 years,” he laughs.

Talking about his initial, often dissonant influences in 20th-century composers Boulez, Stockhausen and Luigi Nono and the use of the “sounds of reality” to give his “instrumental music meaning,” that forum had to find its own form, its own shape, in his recollection. “Which was imminent; not all contemporary music had this, the sounds of reality, at the time,” he says. “But I used this to make a point, a sort of short circuit.”

Hence, the sweeping orchestration and noisy elements of scores for Leone, his baroque “giallo” (horror) for Dario Argento and Alberto De Martino; then a run of internationally famed directors from Bernardo Bertolucci, Lina Wertmüller and Pedro Almodóvar to Hollywood-Americans such as Brian De Palma, Mike Nichols, Barry Levinson, Warren Beatty and Oliver Stone.

Ask if he has heard or felt a difference in what he has written for Hollywood (he never even thought about moving to America, let alone learning to speak the language) as opposed to Mediterranean or European directors, he claims he never noticed. “It was always up to me to propose that which would solve a problem; that would fit a mood, a scene,” he says. “There are so many options. That is why it is difficult to strike the perfect balance no matter who the director is or where he is from.” More important for Morricone is that the music he’s composed—past or present such as those for new films (A Rose In Winter, La Corrispondenza) or those in pre-production (Aline & Wolfe)—must be able to exist outside the realm of cinema. “From the very beginning of the process, when I start writing a composition for a film, I write all music as independent and stand alone. If the music is audacious and powerful enough for a film, it must also have a life free from its images.”

This is why Morricone 60, recorded anew with longtime collaborators the Czech National Orchestra, is so powerful. Not because they conjure images of boots of Spanish leather and gunfire, but because their mood and colors do so on their own. The best example of that power comes in Morricone 60’s re-envisioning of the noisily classic “Main Theme” from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Devoid of its usual gut-shot yipping howls and twangy guitars, the new version is rich with deeper bassoon and brass arrangements to maintain its sand-swept majesty. “The new album was meant to mirror what had come before,” he says. “Maybe this time, though, I did not have the original instrumentation available. So I change to whatever I see fit. I decide right there and then.”

Spoken like a true sonic adventurer.

—A.D. Amorosi

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