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The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…
Mr. Bungle. Two words that when I first heard I thought ‘that’s a weird name for a band’. And it was, but then again, they were a weird band. Over 15 years they released only 3 albums. In very broad terms, the first could be summed up as a funk-metal acid trip through teenagers mind that was obsessed with sex, vomit, freaks, clowns and more sex. The second was a strange peon to jazz and thrash in regards to going mad whilst underwater, final album was almost a do-wop attack of noise as it trawled through modern fears. If these quick summaries sound ridiculous/wrong/stupid/accurate/fun/intense then you’d be right- because Mr. Bungle was all of those things.
So what does this have to do with Hollyweird?? Well, the guitarist of Mr. Bungle also formed a band called Secret Chiefs 3, and a project of theirs is what we’ll be looking at today. In fact I’m even listening to it as I type!
Now, Secret Chiefs 3 is in itself a tough band, if not a tough concept, to cover in just one blog- particularly a film blog Simplifying at best I can, Secret Chiefs 3 are actually seven different bands all based around Trey’s work with other musicians. Each ‘satellite’ band has its own sounds and its own purpose. Whilst Trey Spruance’s creation of all these satellite bands certainly allows him greater creative control since he can swop musicians or concepts at any time, it also serves a greater mystical purpose. I will not even attempt to get into in here- partly because I do not want to write a feature length novel, and partly because honestly I am too ignorant to do it justice. Let’s just say that Trey believes that music has ties to hidden codes within religious texts from ancient cultures and so he is seeking to explore the self via music. So suffice to say for this entire introduction that this is not just a simple band churning out songs to avoid getting day jobs. When they do something, they have a reason- and in 2010 they released an Italian, Supernatural film soundtrack. Kind of.
Didn’t see this? Don’t worry, neither did anybody else
70’s Supernatural, Italian cinema is pretty darn niche. Dario Argento, quite possibly the most famous Italian Horror director, made several films in this territory. He was not the only one, Mario Bava is notable to, as is Lucio Fulci. As a concise snapshot, rather than a researched piece, it may be best to describe this sub-genre as featuring excessive gore , dialogue closely resembling foreign porn via dodgy dubbing, pulpy narratives that play fast and loose with logic, lurid colours and masochistic bordering on the chauvinism. The protagonists are often young women and the Supernatural clashing with the faith of a Catholic nation often crept in.
Giallo films have many similar aesthetics, although feature their own tropes too. Giallo often features a killers POV, women being stabbed/strangled and a plucky young protagonist. Although Giallo and Italian-Witchcraft films of the same period do differ, there are many similarities that need establishing now for later on in this piece.
OK, so we’ve established the SC3 are a strange, talented band and that Italian Supernatural films feature violence, sex and the supernatural. But what are Italian Supernatural soundtracks, from the Seventies, and why did SC3 ‘kinda’ do a Supernatural soundtrack?
Well these particular Italian movies tend to synth-heavy scores that lack all subtlety. Often church bells would feature during moments of the reflection of evil, or the stabbing of keyboard keys would screech out during attack scenes. At other times, catchy melodies would be be lain over pulsing rhythms to hint at evils waiting underneath any happy scenario.
So if Trey & Co. fancied making one of these soundtracks they’d just need to wait for a modern day Giallo film to get made and try to get the soundtrack job, right? Well, turns out the answer is no Instead they formed an entire 90 minute film in their minds.
They plotted out the characters, the narrative and the beats. Then they sound tracked it. After that came carefully designed artwork. This is a mix of traditional staples of this cinema- blood, women, witches- combined all the usual coded Secret Chiefs pictograms. The listener is left to listen to the music, study the song names and also decipher the artwork and slowly the film almost unravels in your mind…. Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini
Tracklisting a.k.a. Hints Towards Plot Points:
- “Faith’s Broken Mirror”
- “Sophia’s Theme”
- “What’s Wrong with Cytherea?”
- “Mourning in Ekstasis”
- “He Hates Us”
- “Psychism 1: Cytherea’s Possession”
- “Love Spell”
- “Agenda 21”
- “Subcutaneous Solution”
- “Abyss of Psychic Enchantments”
- “Subdermal Sequence (Nano-Correction)”
- “RFID Slaverider”
- “Dionysian Dithyramb (Eros-seed of the Egregore)”
- “Perfectly Reasonable”
- “Psychism 2: Fear is the Great Teacher”
- “Abolish Believers by Abolishing Belief”
- “Funeral for What Might Have Been (Sophia’s Theme)”
- “Codex Alimentarius”
- “Putting Forth the Hand to Take”
- “Psychism 3: Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind”
- “Hypnotopia (Obey your Passion)”
- “Nano-correction/Human Migrations/Faith Realizes”
- “Chapel by the Sea (a Heart That is Broken and Humbled…)”
- “The Strength to Sever”
- “Baby Hedone (Harvest of the Egregore)”
- “Zombievision 2012”
- “The Great Die Off (He Mocks Us All)”
- “Cytherea’s Awakening/Martyrdom at Romiou Point/Return to the Foam”
- “To Love God is Sweeter than Life (Sophia’s Theme)”
I have tried to work out this plot consciously, and in doing so I have an approximate idea of what occurs in the ‘film’. But to explain it would be to defeat the purpose; SC3 want you to listen to it and form your own conclusion. It is akin to the metaphor of turning Lead into Gold, which was actually about attaining a purity of soul. It is not about the actual event, but the process you go to in order to make the event. In cinematic terms, if you remember the denouement of Pi then you get the idea.
All I can share here is that the ‘movie’ loosely involves a girls possession, the implications of self if one is fitted with an ID chip, the trio of witches who frequented Argento and Fulci’s work and the ultimate salvation of the soul. Nice easy going stuff, right?!
The music that creates this aural world is formed through an orchestral score that dips in and out throughout the run time, as it would during a real film. Further elements are violent strings screeching adjacently to flutes and female vocals. Analogue synthesizers, harpsichords and cellos lull over over prog-style rock outs. Psychedelic blasts that put The Mars Volta to shame slam up against calming church organs. Recreations of possessed shrieking voices disturb at the quietest moments. Oh, and there’s even a ‘scratched-vinyl jump’ at one stage, even on the Digital versions- a nice touch!
This is certainly different to my normal blogs, but if the idea of a fake soundtrack to exploitation cinema that requires the listener to decipher the story doesn’t sound downright Hollyweird, then I don”t know what does.
I’m going to leave this entry to the words of Mr. Trey Spruance himself;
“The first thing to note is that Giallo cinema music has the distinction of having been graced by nearly all the great masters of Italian film music in general: Bruna Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, Ennio Morricone, Goblin, Pierro Piccioni etc. And though this area of music certainly has its appreciators, one still-underplayed element is that when considering the music, Gialloa harmonic language was developed by who, by current musical and aesthetic standards, set the bar. For any of us wannabes to share in the magic of this lost art form, we have to bring a bit more more to the table than some vintage amps, keyboards and vague undeveloped musical ideas based only in hipster aesthetics. Because if you ignore the deeper intricacies of the music theory at work, the orchestration, the arrangement, etc., you’re really only asking to make an ass of yourself (which is likely anyway no matter what you do). …The process should be likened to when someone is learning another language and begins to have dreams in that language…. So to state it plainly, these are original compositions that were dreamt into being in the harmonic language of the Giallo Horror Film Soundtrack. It’s that simple. The point is not to be strictly period-specific, or culturally-specific, but to be caring first and foremost about how to convey things that will affect the psychic state of the listener in the intended way. After all, the point of dreaming in this particular language, with all its sophistication, elegance and beauty, is to go that much more deeply into the territory.”
Next blog I’ll be back to normal (whatever that is), and writing about a film that brought back memories of catching late night movies on an old black and white TV in my room. Knowing that I had to go to sleep but maybe I could just stay up to 4am and school would still be fine…..
Just in case I have whetted anybody’s appetite…