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Monday, Oct 11, 2010
"Little Afro Flemish Mass" begins with the soul of a Massive Attack sample, emerging beautifully through glossolalia backed by hand drum passages and full choir ululation. It’s a great piece, haunting in an unexpected way.

Perhaps the best and most descriptive title on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic, “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is one of the post-exotica songs from which this series derives its name.


Exotica, named after the respectively titled 1957 Martin Denny album, was a musical genre born out of a strange 1950s need for suburbanites to escape the glamor of their picket-fence nuclear era with impressionistic, pseudo-Oceanic lounge music, similar to the “space age pop” also of the era. Les Baxter’s Ritual of the Savage is perhaps the most important work of the genre, offering a true escape for turntable-listeners of that decade’s twenty-something generation by way of stereophonic strings, tribal rhythms of all sort, vibraphones, kotos, gongs, bird calls, and nearly anything “exotic” (or not endemic to white, suburban, narrowly cultured, unable-to-listen-to-real-jazz-but-rather-Sinatra-&-Swingin’-Brass). Is it a good genre? Yes. Did it die with the JFK era? Mostly.


In the same way that the 1990s gave birth to post-rock by reinterpreting standard rock instrumentation in Bark Psychosis’ Hex or Slint’s Spiderland, Ennio Morricone, probably not unbeknownst to himself, borne post-exotica with “Little Afro Flemish Mass”. The piece is culturally-aware; it behaves exactly as its title claims. In the film for which it was written, at the moment it plays we find, by our definition, an exotic setting (Ethiopia); a ritual of sorts (the Afro-mass); and all the chants, trappings, and impressionist garb one might have conversely imagined for Les Baxter’s work. Morricone’s piece is aware of Baxter’s work, and one might take this argument and scold it for the fact that “Little Afro Flemish Mass” isn’t a postmodern interpretation of anything: It is what it is—an imagined mass, a recitation of Catholic circumstance in a weird setting. But that’s false, I say. “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is to Ritual of the Savage on the basis of its outlandishness, its inherent association with a genre known for cultural misappropriation.


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Monday, Oct 4, 2010
Reedy and sustained, “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird of the Sky” make for both of Ennio Morricone’s most focused coda-laden contributions to his soundtrack for the ill-received 1977 horror psychedelia sequel 'Exorcist II: The Heretic'.

Reedy and sustained, “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird of the Sky” both make for Ennio Morricone’s most focused coda-laden contributions to his soundtrack for the ill-received 1977 horror psychedelia sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. Guided by bells, tensely shuffling percussion, and a soft lone voice representative of Regan, the film’s possessed protagonist of sorts, “Rite of Magic” first delivers the film’s coda on the 1977 soundtrack—second in the film to “Great Bird of the Sky”, which plays only 20 minutes into the film and at its first dramatic point, a moment when Richard Burton, sweaty and orange-faced as ever, is handed a portrait of himself illustrated by a not-so-little Linda Blair as Regan.


“Flames… Flames. They’re getting bigger. We’ve got to put the fire out”, he says. Morricone’s piece begins and the weird aria starts amid buzzing strings like George Crumb’s Black Angels gone soft.


“Take it easy. It’s probably an after-effect of the hypnosis”, Louise Fletcher tells Burton.


They’ve been experimenting with a remote-viewing device, and when they do find the fire, somewhere in a basement and to the tune of silence—Morricone’s piece drops out after the soloist’s first few bars, Fletcher sees Burton standing before it, crowned with flames, and the film gets a little sillier. But the coda returns in a scene almost an hour later, emerging again with Burton in Ethiopia, praying to God in, remotely speaking to Blair who lays in bed, possessed and sweating like Burton, speaking to him: “Call me. Call me. Call me by my dream name.”


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Monday, Sep 20, 2010
Irrespective of its placement in 'Exorcist II: The Heretic', both “Interrupted Melody” and its sister track, "Interrupted Melody (Suspended Sound)", work astoundingly well as `70s film-culture quantifiers, delivering Ennio Morricone’s ability to challenge us not only with atonality, or in this case, clearly presented tonality in contrast to his more abstract works.

Mimicking the naming convention for Morricone’s opening track on the Exorcist II soundtrack, and irrespective of the 1955 American film of the same name, Ennio Morricone’s “Interrupted Melody (Suspended Sound)” is a simple, almost processional piece, a highlight of the composer’s encapsulate work on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic. Considerate enough to run beneath the title sequence of a less conceptual film, its motif is repeated once more on the album, playing more slowly and with the earnest of a Disney film in “Interrupted Melody”.


Morricone’s naming convention, “(Suspended Sound)”—and, for “Regan’s Theme”, “(Floating Sound)”—seem to be implications of each respective piece’s dynamic timbre. “(Suspended Sound)” plays at a higher velocity, more within earshot of the listener. Its strings and slow piano are recorded and compressed at an almost pop-music level, sounding more literal and akin to something more fit for television. “Interrupted Melody” is cathartic and a logical antonymous motif to the shadow of Mike Oldefield’s “Tubular Bells” from the series’ first film.


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Monday, Sep 13, 2010
Somewhere on the downbeat in Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to 'The Heretic's' "Magic and Ecstasy" are the ghost notes that the film's teenage Regan must find alarming, like a Trashmen record played at the wrong speed.

Somewhere on the downbeat in The Heretic’s “Magic and Ecstasy” are the ghost notes that the film’s teenage Regan must find alarming, like a Trashmen record played at the wrong speed. One of the coverable tracks on the album, the song tries very little to scare its listeners in the way they may have expected after hearing either incarnation of “Regan’s Theme”. Instead, a drum kit cobbles through a Voodoo Child rock beat, accompanying a fuzzed-out bassline that leads us into Hell.


“Magic and Ecstasy’s” psychedelic tendencies aren’t at all at odds with The Heretic’s imagery. In fact, if one were to excerpt the film’s African possession scenes (yes, Exorcist II has plenty of strange scenes set in an Ethiopian dreamworld, from the perspective of a third-person psy-locust controlled by Linda Blair’s thoughts—see what I’m getting at here?) and contrast them with those of a bandanna-clad Band of Gypsies, add a few wavering King Crimson solos, and, well—I think Ennio Morricone had it right here.  At its most interesting moments, The Heretic is fairly entertaining, and mainly during its dreamworld sidebar. We see stampeding wildebeest, red rocky caverns, perspective-skewed savannah after grassland after dark reddened riverscape. James Earl Jones shows up as an entomologist. At one moment, Blair’s Regan tells us commandingly as she flies in locust-form: “Come; fly the teeth of the wind. Share my wings”. All of this Morricone watched in a mixing room as he wrote “Magic and Ecstasy”.


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Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010
Ennio Morricone's score to the 1977 film 'The Exorcist II: The Heretic' is anything but predictable. The man responsible for that bravado-ridden whistle we all know from 'The Good, the Bad & the Ugly' does something on this soundtrack that might be truly hellish if not for its roots in exotica.

It’s difficult to mention anything musically related to The Exorcist series without first recalling prog-meister Mike Oldfield and what his theme from “Tubular Bells” did for the series’ antecedent entry. Oldfield’s excerpt did something honest for the horror genre; it delivered a clear mood, one clear of the tense strings that mired many soundtracks then to-date. Ennio Morricone, prolific trafficker in beautifully sleazy lounge and synth-funky giallo soundtracks in the 1970s, did something different for the Exorcist series’ second entry: he brought us clever smatterings of Les Baxter; he brought us surf-jazz funk, he brought us atonal clusters. The man brought everything he could bring.


Morricone’s name is not quite a household one, but his music, through its influence, reuse, or appearance in Grammy-winning soundtracks, is instantly recallable and nearly a filmic entity unto itself. Recently, Morricone’s music was sourced for use in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and other films. And just over ten years after Morricone’s landmark work on The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and the rest of the Dollars trilogy, he wrote music for John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), featuring a vinyl-only release often shadowed by Morricone’s thin margin of spaghetti western work.


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