Watch This: Ennio Morricone’s Radical Proto-Noise Music
It is a sad day for music and film lovers, as we have lost one of the greatest composers of the last century. Ennio Morricone made a household name for himself with his evocative Western soundtracks that permanently burrowed into the popular conscious. But his skill for cinematic expression extended far beyond those catchy whistles and blazing fuzz guitars. He composed masterpieces across the full scope of human emotion, from romance to comedy to terror. He owned them all.
One of the many assets that set Morricone apart was his penchant for experimentation. This was most apparent in his genre film scores, where you can find him conjuring tidal waves of buzzing, droning, electric cacophony. His score for A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN contains some prime examples of his manic musical mood swings, where gauzy dreamscapes suddenly mutate into walls of nightmarish noise.
Morricone sharpened his experimental ear in the early 1960s in the visionary ensemble Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza (aka Il Gruppo / The Group), which he co-founded with composers Franco Evangelisti and Egisto Macchi. Their aim was to capture unfiltered “instant compositions,” and what they recorded was far ahead of its time, fusing elements of Miles Davis’ acid jazz, musique concrète, and even psychedelic funk to create a sound some have likened to later krautrock heavyweights like Can and Faust.
While some might associate improvisation with a casual “no rules” approach, Il Gruppo’s sonic experiments were more like mad science. The 1967 German documentary below captures a moment in which The Group tinkers over the treated strings of a grand piano, looking more like neurosurgeons than musicians (perhaps they were, in some sense). Il Gruppo‘s sonic excursions contain the seeds of what would become Morricone’s compositional tool-kit: dissonant atonal brass swells, psychedelic effects-drenched arrangements, jazzy mod drum breaks, and much more. It’s a true privilege to witness some of the great Italian composers collaboratively dissect their art form and reassemble it into something entirely original. Enjoy Theo Gallehr’s fascinating Nuova Consonanza, Improvisational Composition Collective.
For further reading, we recommend this excellent guest blog post on giallo film arrangements with Dallas-based film composer Curtis Heath, from our 2018 series devoted to great Italian horror film scores.