Italian film composer Ennio Morricone has always displayed avant-garde tendencies, yet usually contextualized them within more musical constructions. With cracking whips, wordless vocals and strange whistles, his scores for Sergio Leone’s widescreen spaghetti westerns, for which he is best known are a case in point. Yet so deft and self assured is his approach in films like The Good the Bad and the Ugly and Fistful of Dynamite, it’s hard not to speculate that perhaps he was truly getting his experimental avant garde fix somewhere else, and these attempts to make sound effects musical were only the tip of the iceberg.
Gruppo Di Improvisazione Nuova Consonanza was a communal avant-garde happening. Founded in 1964, it was a collective of experimental musicians, an anti musical statement, and a middle finger to the establishment – refusing to obey standard musical rules. It was instigated by Franco Evangelisti, and Morricone was a member early on contributing trumpet. At its heart was group improvisation, using a wide variety of experimental techniques such as musique concrete and chance based composition – even apparently at times using chess to determine musical parameters. On this album Gruppo is made up of Morricone and Evangelisti alongside Mario Bertoncini, Egisto Macchi, John Heineman, and Walter Branchi.
Some of the atonal moments of improvisation, particularly with strings and pattering percussion, or ill defined squawking trumpet are at times reminiscent of some of Morricone’s thriller or Giallo scores, though to be fair the sounds here probably owe more to 20th century experimental composition. Interestingly though the next moment the album will veer into jaunty spookism that bears a striking resemblance to Morricone’s later work –particularly his westerns with folksy banjos and harpsichords – so it’s not a surprise to note that he is actually credited solely for the compositions and the group (in which Morricone played trumpet often using extended techniques) for the improvisations. It does make you wonder however, as Andy Votel (Finders Keepers) mentions in his epic liner notes, how often the group were used uncredited in future Morricone scores. Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage for example.
A Quiet Place in The Country is a film by Elio Petro, who would go on to work with Morricone no less than five times in the future, including Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion in 1970. It’s the tale of a painter, tormented by nightmares, searching for inspiration, who retreats to the country with his wealthy girlfriend before descending into some kind of existential madness in a house that may be somewhat haunted. Votel calls it classic Italian ‘artsploitation’ and it features Django himself Franco Nero and his later wife Vanessa Redgrave (Blow Up) in the main roles.
It’s difficult to imagine a film these days using such a bold experimental soundtrack (with the possible exception of Wolf Creek), and whilst this soundtrack is something of a time capsule with the interest coming from not just Morricone’s presence, but the fact that it’s representative of his weirder more out there work, the music very much holds its own and is still somewhat confronting and boundary pushing some 47 years on.
It’s also the first time its been released, as though Morricone readied it for release at the time, it never eventuated.