Pitturamusica: succinct sonic paintings form a soundtrack to an imaginary horror or crime thriller film

Luis Bacalov / Ennio Morricone, Pitturamusica, Italy, Cinedelic Records / Soave, CNSV01, vinyl LP (1971, reissued 2020)

Reissued for the first time in June 2020, a month before Ennio Morricone’s death in July, from the original master tapes, this work of experimental electronic / musique concrete by two Italian composers can be heard as a set of exercises in contemporary experimental music of its time and as a possible soundtrack to an imaginary horror or crime thriller flick. By 1971 both Morricone and Argentine-born naturalised Italian Bacalov (1933 – 2017) already had distinguished careers as film-soundtrack composers among other things – Bacalov had been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film “The Gospel According to St Matthew” in 1967 and would win one for Michael Radford’s “Il Postino”, nearly 30 years later in 1996 – and while the nine instrumental pieces on this album are probably originally separate from one another, when arranged together the way they have been here, they instantly join up in an unexpected tapestry of light and sparsely styled music of many moods that might well be a soundtrack to a film with spooky and perhaps not pleasant surprises. Originally the music on this album was composed on the occasion of an exhibition of paintings by Edolo Masci in Milan, hence its Italian name “Pitturamusica” (“Painting Music”).

Surprisingly perhaps for this kind of experimental electroacoustic music, all tracks are short with the longest piece not exceeding six minutes so listeners might be forgiven for expecting pieces that sound fragmented and which might not appear to go anywhere except back at where they started. First track “La Gioconda” (a reference perhaps to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa painting) gives listeners some idea of what to expect: lightly tripping, even hysterical electroacoustic music on treated violin and other instruments with many voice samples and a distinct mood, in this case what seems like desperation coming close to hysterical outbursts. Orchestral instruments – violin, brass instruments, flute among others – are actually recognisable across several tracks even though used in unconventional ways: the flute on “Conchiglia” has clearly breathy and thus forlorn tones, and its distortion on the track puts its close to Japanese shakuhachi (a woodwind instrument) in mood. Other tracks are distinguished by original treatments of found sound recordings of voices in monologue or in conversations with others.

Some tracks like “Dopo Apollo II” and “Mela” I wish were longer than their slightly over 90-second lengths allow: “Mela” in particular has a distinctly dark and sparse style with plenty of space behind the shrill flute twirls and echoes, and “Dopo Apollo II” works on a grand scale that seems cramped within two minutes. The one “long” piece, “Apollo II”, turns out to be a rich soundscape of distorted violin-like sounds and swoops, noise, whooping effects and deep spaces that could be describing someone’s very alarming hallucinogenic head-trip.

Each and every track could have been something bigger and grander, and listeners might regret that Bacalov and Morricone did not exceed the parameters they set for themselves in creating these pieces and turn them into major works of sonic painting. Sometimes though sound art as miniature as some of the tracks on this album is all the more to be treasured, punching its message through your ears and not overstaying its welcome once its aim has been achieved and its work done.

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