Saturday, 5 November 2016

To boldly go: part 1

Title: Ecce homo – I sopravvissuti
Year: 1969
Composer: Ennio Morricone

This new series will feature score reviews from science fiction films. Let’s get everything started with an obscure post-apocalyptic film Ecce homo – I sopravvissuti. There’s almost no information about the production but it only lists 5 actors who play the last survivors of a nuclear war which destroyed humanity. Every track is called Venuta dal mare which translates to ‘Coming from the sea’ and the CD booklet has pictures of barren seashores. Maestro Morricone’s score reflects those perfectly. However the score is once again easier to admire due to its technical achievements rather than enjoyability.

The score's opening phrase

The score is written for a small chamber ensemble of six performers: Edda dell’Orso in vocals, Nicola Samale on flute, Dino Asciolla on viola, Anna Palomba on harp, Franco Giordano on percussions and Franco Goldani on vibes and marimba. The main title cue begins with a brilliantly haunting, eerie solo voice singing in the emptiness before being joined by an African kalimba and finally the rest of the instruments. It introduces immediately the four pitches on which everything is based: A-C-C#-D. Every single track is just a series of permutations of those four notes. Only during the more improvisatory moments can there be other pitches for instance in sliding glissandi but otherwise this is all we get. It’s quite astonishing how Morricone can keep the interest up even with this little to work with. It might have something to do with the fact that those notes don’t really form common chords and for instance there’s a constant battle between a minor or major third with C-C#.

There’s not that much I can really comment on. The score is rather slow moving, but occasionally there are moments of sheer brutality. After the title track, II begins with a nautical harp which to me sounds like something gliding over a still nocturnal bay. III has the first short obscure ‘chase’ moment where the flute starts to sound almost animalistic and Edda’s voice on the other hand comes more to the forefront. The percussion usually sounds like shards of glass clattering together or then like someone shaking a match box (for instance in track VII). IX develops the material heard in the title track but at the end it begins to move towards a more threatening atmosphere which culminates in XI and XII. The first one has a steady stabbing rhythm and the animalistic flute makes its return. The latter transforms Edda’s voice into aggressive moans which are layered on top of each other similarly to the flutes, which creates a sort of Edda ‘trio’ and flute ‘duo’. The steady chase rhythm is also prominent during the cue’s whole duration. Before the pretty uneventful Finale, the album’s cleanest writing is represented in XV. The last track on the album is a concert suite of the best the film versions have to offer. It’s actually a surprisingly cohesive piece of music which in my opinion could be performed in some chamber music festival.

The score of Ecce homo is a rather difficult one to recommend. The concert suite is included on many other albums and for those who might be keen on discovering this score, it would be the best way to start in my opinion. Though the concept of the score sounds quite unbearable on paper, I’ve always found something truly captivating about it. This is Morricone’s Planet of the apes and it experiments with the techniques used in contemporary classical music writing. You just have to give the maestro credit for creating an experience that sounds this alien and unique.

Rating: **1/2

1. Venuta dal mare (main titles) (02:09) ***
2. Venuta dal mare (II) (01:59) ***
3. Venuta dal mare (III) (02:27) ***
4. Venuta dal mare (IV) (01:19) **
5. Venuta dal mare (V) (01:08) ***
6. Venuta dal mare (VI) (01:57) *
7. Venuta dal mare (VII) (01:24) ***
8. Venuta dal mare (VIII) (01:15) *
9. Venuta dal mare (IX) (02:04) ***
10. Venuta dal mare (X) (01:35) **
11. Venuta dal mare (XI) (02:07) **
12. Venuta dal mare (XII) (04:02) ****
13. Venuta dal mare (XIII) (02:13) **
14. Venuta dal mare (XIV) (01:15) **
15. Venuta dal mare (XV) (03:16) ***
16. Venuta dal mare (finale) (04:20) **
17. Venuta dal mare (concert suite version) (14:33) ****

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