The usual suspects here are some of the very great guitar players : first and foremost is Marc Ribot, who appears on many scores, as well on electric as on classical guitar. The greatly-missed Robert Quine has some wonderful tracks in the early Filmworks, on which Bill Frisell is also frequently heard. Also, Arto Lindsay appears in a few early soundtracks. Jon Madof plays on Filmworks XVII : Notes on Marie Menken.
Let's take a look at some of the soundtracks, chronologically :
White and Lazy
This is Zorn's first soundtrack. Zorn wanted to reflect the punk overtones in this short movie and decided to put together a core group of downtown rockers and it turned out to be an amazing band. Zorn writes : " The Director gave me a free reign for the music and I managed to find a place for most of my favorite obsessions : hardcore noise punk (Main Title
), rockabilly (The Heist
), moody Bernard Herrmann-esque harmonies (Meat Dream
) and bluesy Jazz (Phone Call
). (...) The real star of this soundtrack is Bob Quine, who runs a wide range of styles and plays superbly throughout." Bob Quine
played in Lou Reed's band and in the Voidoids and worked with Brian Eno, Marianne Faithful, Tom Waits and Lloyd Cole, amonst others.
The piece "The Heist" is arranged for guitar by our group's guitar player and is made into sheet-music and TAB : on acoustic or electric guitar, it is a nice rockabilly piece which uses strums and hand-percussion to give it the right feel.
The Golden Boat (1990)
is also on the next soundtrack from Zorn : "The Golden Boat"
(1990) by Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz
for a low-budget movie. Ruiz was a prolific filmmaker, with over 100 movies, with a carreer from begin sixties to 2011. One of the projects that gained him international success was the Franco-Portuguese epic Mysteries of Lisbon (2010).
"It is a challenge to create something great with little or no money, using only your imagination and ingenuity in solving problems not even encountered in projects with normal budgets". (Liner Notes, JZ)
This is also on "Filmworks 1986 - 1990".
In the liner notes, Zorn writes that form him, this film was a milestone and changed his attitude toward film scoring, from neurotic perfectionism to a more quirky, collaborative approach.
The opening "Fanfare" has a great guitar riff by Quine, accompanied by some harp punctuations and percussion. The track "Mood" with its spooky atmosphere and shifting harmonies has also some signature Quine playing.
An energetic track, "Rockabilly" has Quine again in the lead, accompanied by bass, drums and piano. His guitar sounds a bit more distorted on the next track "Slow", a deconstructed blues that is indeed very slow.
"End-titles" starts with understated bass and percussion but grows into an odd mixture of Quines electric guitar, bass, drums, harp, oboe etc ... A fitting end to this soundtrack (that totals ca. 25 minutes of music)
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"
has a nice story : Zorn was approached by an advertising agence that was looking for a new approach for their Camel commercial and the Morricone theme they used.
" This track is a freak ! "
"... they had already commissioned a reggae band, a jazz group and a classical string quartet. God knows what they thought I would come up with, but needless to say, after I delivered my track, I never heard from them again. That's show biz ! I still wonder which track they picked ...". (Liner Notes, JZ)
Bill Frisell and Robert Quine play electric guitar on this 64-second-track, which is amazing in its hig-energy level and colourful arrangement.
The band is a precursor of the basic Naked City line-up. (Zorn, Frisell, Frith, Horvitz, Baron)
She must be seeing things (1986)
This film by Sheila McLaughlin is basically a story of love and obsession between a lesbian filmmaker and her lover, whose jealousy reaches near psychotic proportions.
The music largely draws on jazz/blues roots and has dark undertones with dreamy sequences, some tracks are even a bit creepy. (Like the Death Waltz Fantasy, which reminds of Nino Rota)
Bill Frisell has some great soulful soloing on a few tracks here, as in the "Main Title", with its piano-bass ostinato and also in "Sex Shop Boogaloo", with Zorn soloing on sax as well.
But mostly the guitar-sound is mixed into the overall colorful sound of the band. The sound is more dense and fully realised here than in other early scores. The instrumentation is : voice, saxes, french horn, clarinet, trombone, guitar, harp, organ, piano, celeste, harpsichord, hammond-organ, bass and percussion. This makes for a richness of colour and a lot of possibilities.
The two "Catalina" tracks have a strange medieval tinge to them, with a contrapunctual writing that refers to the old Flemish School. These tracks are used in the movie for sequences in a monastery.
Usually Zorn does not cue his soundtrack music onto the on-screen action, but the track "Seduction" is a complex blues that runs through a series of mood changes that are cued precisely to what's happening in the movie. This track didn't make the final cut of the movie, as the director felt the music overpowered the images.
Overal we can say that, although Frisells guitar is not so much on the forefront, it stilll adds a lot to the overall effect of this score. This soundtrack is also on "Filmworks 1986-1990". (cuts 19 - 32) Recommended.
Hollywood Hotel (1994) directed by Mei-Juin Chen - Filmworks III (1990 - 1995)
This one is scored for sax and guitar, with John Zorn and Marc Ribot recording it in a single night session.
Zorn writes in his liner notes : "Ribot is one of the true revolutionaries of the guitar. It's not that he can do everything that's possible on guitar (and many things considered impossible). He's completely RETHOUGHT the guitar - its role - what it does - what it sounds like. Ribot is one those rare musicians you can recognise from the first note. "
"This is a strange score for a strange little film". The "Main Titles" is an accessible bluesy track with Ribot accompanying Zorns solo with some quircky chords. But the main part of this score is not easy-listening at all : it is way out there with freakish soloing and free improv. But still, there is some unity and recurring motifs to be heard, e.g. in the chord sequence of Ribot that has a descending bass line.
"Main Title" has been arranged for two guitars by Tirzah-Quartet's guitar-player.
One page of the sheet-music - The theme and guitar accompaniment - is here : (click to enlarge).
The guitar-chords have some added notes to give it an extra bite and twist (dissonance of the minor add9 chord). The voicing that Ribot uses is challenging for the hand positioning. This arrangement continues with the rendition of the solo-guitar part of this track, which is interesting study material.
It can be used as a head for improvisation and works well in the blues scale.
Pueblo (Filmworks IV)
This is one track (about 10 minutes) on the Filmworks IV s/m and More.
Ribot and Quine are featured one this one, with a latin, laid-back rhythm section.
Pueblo was originally created for an advertising company but rejected, as they found it too "down". Later, filmmaker Kim Su Theiler, who was working on a ghost/road-movie "Waste", liked it a lot and asked Zorn to use it in the film.
John writes about this track : "This hypnotic trance piece is one of the best things I've ever done. I never tire of hearing it and can listen to it for hours on repeat play. There is something very magical going on here that I can't quite put my finger on. Somehow the combination of the musicians, the tempo, the instrumentation, the interlocking parts, the simple patterns and the spaciousness CLICKS into a sensual groove that seems infectious. What a mood !".
Filmworks V : Tears of Ecstasy (1996) contains some guitar work by Ribot, but will be talked about in our section "Experimental and Noise in Filmworks". (coming up)
(1996) - directed by Dina Waxman
Zorn writes in his liner notes : "I'm not sure where you'll be able to see the film these tracks were originally recorded for, as the director's funding was pulled at the last minute, preventing her from completing the sound mix." Also in the liner notes, it is said that the studio
session was hindered by technical difficulties : Amps blowing up, equipment breaking down, digital noises, unidentifiable static, last minute schedule problems etc ... "The result is surprisingly satisfying and beautifully recorded."
This soundtrack is played by Ribot, Greg Cohen, Cyro Baptista and Zorn on alto sax. It has some surf-feel, with a clean guitar-sound that is a has a lot of bended strings, which gives it a "Hawaiian" effect with different layers of guitar. (Opening Credits - Hawaiian Postcard).
The catchy tune (Work-A-Day-World - Anton's Theme) has been arranged by Tirzah-Quartet's guitar player and the first page of the sheet music can be found here : (click to enlarge). It is nice to use as the basis for improvisation.
The track "End Titles" is basically a guitar solo by Ribot, accompanied by percussion and bass : it sounds very laid-back, bluesy with some latin and surf-aromas.
It is a pity that we can not see the movie for which this music was composed.
Mechanics of the Brain
(1996) directed by Henry Hills
Henry Hills, the experimental director, has used Zorn's music for several of his films and directed some videos
for Naked City songs, of which Batman was even studio-approved. Hills often used to cut his films to Zorn's music instead of the other way around.
The film Mechanics of the Brain is inspired by a documentary on Pavlov's early laboratory experiments and uses dancers as well.
We'll talk some more about this soundtrack in the "Experimental" section of the Filmworks.
There are a few songs that feature Ribot on guitar, the most prominent on "Houdini", which is an intense guitar solo on an active pulsating percussion vibe. Also Ribot uses some avant-garde techniques on his acoustic guitar on the title-piece "Mechanics of the Brain".
This soundtrack has an amuzing back-story that Zorn talks about in his liner notes (recommended reading)
These pieces were made for the Japanese animation series "Cynical Hysterie Hour" (4 episodes of 7 minutes) in 1989 and had a very limited release in Japan, after which they dissapeared in the vaults of Sony. For years, Zorn tried to license it from Sony for release in the US, but they refused his every request, although they had no intentions of reissuing it themselves. Over the years the rare import became a hot collectible among Zorn completists, changing hands for big bucks. Finally, an opportunity arose giving Zorn leverage to convince Sony to give him the tapes. The liner notes reveal the details in his own words, which makes for an interesting behind-the-scenes story.
Although this is a very short soundtrack it is very interesting : a wild rollercoaster ! It is one of the first times that Zorn makes actual animation-music in the tradition of Carl Stalling, one of his great examples and influence, hence the cut/paste techniques here, with the music evolving in places that you don' expect and keep you on the edqe of your seat. It consists of 23 short tracks, some of them only lasting for 30 seconds or so. The instrumentation is also interesting : guitars, harp, keyboards, voice, Brazilian percussion, bass and various sound-effects, like the sounds of video-games. The musical soundworld of this record is way out : from silly children tunes over waltzes to frenetic full-volume rock/punk, from brazilian samba-tunes to dreamy night-sounds, with titles like "Punk Rock Hero", "Making Ramen at Midnight". "Onion Samba". And still it is a FUN and accesible listening experience.
One melodic theme and chord progression can be heard in different interesting variations throughout this soundtrack. (Chords in Yakisoba e.g. D - C - D - C - Bb - Ab - Db )
Four guitarists assisted in the recording : Ribot, Quine, Frisell and Lindsay. For the punk overtoned pieces, we recognize Robert Quine's unique sound. Some tracks have guitar in the lead, but in most of them, there is a lot going on and the orchestration integrates the guitars into it.
The Port of Last Resort
(1998) a documentary,directed by Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy
This documentary - soundtrack featured on Filmworks VIII - is about the experiences of Jewish refugees who emigrated to Shanghai from Nazi Germany in the 1930's. To give it the distinct asian feel, Zorn added a special Chinese instrument : the pipa. Is is played by virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen.
In the liner notes, John Zorn writes : " Musically this was a perfect chance to call up Min Xia-Fen, who I had met earlier in the year. One of the world's greatest virtuosos of the pipa, I had the pleasure of hearing her solo recital. (...) Relatively new to improvisation, with a little encouragement she took to it at once and continues to perform with Derek around the world and with me on my regular improv evenings. As a special guest with members of the Bar Kokhba project, her sensual tone adds just the touch conveying the curious crossroads of Chinese and Jewish culture that took place at this special time and in this special place. It is an honour to have her play this music.