“They were crazy, they’d take the studio to pieces trying to get the best acoustics when mixing a track, with a combination of professionalism and a lust for experimental research.”
Armando Sciascia, by day, notable composer for Italian erotic and exotic cinema – by night, experimentalist and nocturnal avant-gardener.
Much like contemporaries Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Piero Umiliani, Sciascia worked as a pop music/film composer/journeyman by day (crafting a career and discography both lengthy and replete with energetic, articulate highlights), and as stealthy experimentalist by night.
Sciascia’s brash early 1960s scores for pulpish/exploitation and erotic ‘Mondo’ fare (“Mondo Caldo Di Notte”, “Sexy”, “The Kinky Darlings”, “Europa: Operazione Streep-Tease”, “Tropico Di Notte” et. al.) are well known and dearly loved by aficionados of the genre (his music also graced [uncredited]Hammer’s “Quatermass And The Pit” and the mid-‘60s Brit TV “The Liars”), what are (perhaps surprisingly) less known are his astounding abstract and edgy late ‘60s/early ‘70s library/production music recordings.
Lovingly crafted in his hand-built Vedette studio, Sciascia’s “lust for experimental research” has never been more evident than on these precious, never before commercially released library recordings.
‘Violin Reactions’ is an incredibly unique work, studiously constructed by Sciascia (essentially solo) in his studio out of his multi-tracked violins, ominous drones from his Putney (the EMS VCS3) and the retooled drum tracks of Tullio De Piscopo (cannibalised directly from his now very sought-after and hip-hop producer friendly drum/percussion instructional Vedette LP “Suonando La Batteria Moderna”). Armando creates a tantalising and esoteric hybrid across ‘Violin Reactions’, part futurist broadcast, part Middle-Eastern short-wave transmission, anchored by De Piscopo’s breakbeats and calisthenic percussion – strangely melodic and at a times hauntingly otherworldly. The original Vedette production/library LP was issued to the trade (post-production and synchronisation houses) in a minuscule run in 1974 and is so rare as to be practically mythical.
Born in Lanciano, Abruzzo, Italy June 16th 1920, Sciascia graduated in composition and violin at the Conservatory of Pesaro, before moving to Milan where he joined the orchestra of the Teatro Nuovo and the Pomeriggi Musicali. Soon his blossoming talent allowed him to found his own orchestra, which toured extensively around Europe. By the mid-1950s Armando was a recording artist, cutting increasingly idiosyncratic orchestral 78s (later 45s) for Phillips and Fonit Cetra.
By 1961 Sciascia’s renown as an innovator and accomplished jazz musician had reached the ear of exploitation film auteur Renzo Russo, and the resultant soundtrack for Russo’s ‘exotic’ film “Tropico Di Notte” is a tour-de-force of somewhat outrageous field recordings, blasting horns, delirious twists and joyfully reanimated Rossini and Liszt. As various limber (and chronically underdressed) Latin American bodies cavort across the screen, Sciascia’s score twists and writhes, blares and belts – always likeable, never at rest.
The resultant success ensured that Armando became the ‘go-to-man’ for Italian ‘mondo’ cinema for a number of years after (while also composing a handful of fine Western scores and gothic horror grist like ‘Metempsyco’/‘Tomb Of Torture’) before becoming producer, sometime lyricist and composer for the sublime beat-pop groups ‘I Pooh’ and ‘Equipe ’84’ (both released on his fledgling Vedette label) and numerous other pop/chart outings. From this point onwards Sciascia became unfathomably prolific – recording, producing and composing for scores of (extremely desirable) ’easy listening’, OST, pop and library LPs under a bewildering array of pseudonyms and aliases. So much so, that a convincingly definitive Vedette/Sciascia discography is yet to be compiled.
Selected highlights though would certainly include the Blue Phantoms’ fuzz-heavy ‘Distortions’ LP (also issued in the U.K and France under different titles/covers) and the magnificent 1970 library/synchronisation LP ‘Impressions In Rhythm And Sound’. Meanwhile Vedette was also busy releasing the seemingly anachronistic poles of pop music on the one hand (‘The Doors’, ‘The Stooges’, ‘The MC5’ etc.) spoken/political recordings from Che Guevara and Victor Jara, Satanic prog from ‘Metamorfosi’, earthy folk from Woody Guthrie and then a clutch of sublime abstract/experimental library LPs from Fabio Fabor, Lesiman, Sciascia and H. Tical (a Sciascia pen-name) on the other.
Armando Sciascia was a man of such profoundly broad tastes and a composer of such radical skills that all these supposedly disparate streams of thought and craft could be housed under the one roof (and many were generated direct from Sciascia’s bespoke and futuristic studio). Across the highly collectable ‘Phase 6 Super Stereo’ sub-label (on recordings ostensibly packaged as ‘easy listening’ discs) you’ll hear uncannily distorted harp and orchestral parts, drums with speaker-damaging phase modulations and bass parts fuzzed to within an inch of their lives. Armando Sciascia was a sonic black-wolf hidden in a pastel-sheep’s skin – an audio-mentalist with a violin. From the superb lilting aquatics of ‘Sea Fantasy’ to the jarring, morbid prepared piano of ‘After The End’ Sciascia always surprises and often delights.
After decades of prodigious activity Armando tired of Italy and the music business, and moved to the U.S in the late 1980s (only returning to Europe on occasion to visit family and friends before he passed away some years later).
The recent ‘Violin Reactions’ LP is a loving tribute to one of the forgotten and truly unheralded geniuses of Italian cinema and composition, Armando Sciascia. This reissue marks the very first ever commercial release of the remarkable ‘Violin Reactions’ sessions, a psychedelic, nubile nymph in sound. Its velveteen strings and loping percussion will caress you ears and massage your mind, its sleek sonics seduce your soul, its warm waves of sound welcome your spirit.
Let the games begin.