His Dark Exotica

Ennio Morricone - "Interrupted Melody"

by Jason Cook

20 September 2010


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.
Regardless of its placement in The Heretic, both “Interrupted Melody” and its sister track work astoundingly well as `70s film-culture quantifiers, delivering Morricone’s ability to challenge us not only with atonality, or in this case, clearly presented tonality in contrast to his more abstract works, while ushering us someplace out of the film’s horror towards the classical and concrete. “Interrupted Melody” might have made a perfect opener to Exorcist II, but instead it occurs elsewhere, without acting as an obvious bookend.  In this way, the piece becomes an adjunct expression of the genre. The strings ebb and somewhere in that wash of old, analog reverb is a voice; herein we have, contained, a notion. Morricone gives us a safe place. “Interrupted Melody” sounds unsophisticated enough to be heard playing in another room, through a cheap television; perhaps at your parents’ home and perhaps accompanying some innocuous Lifetime drama that you never fully notice. It’s pleasing though, warm in your ears. You pause for a moment and continue to listen.

What I’m getting at is easy. Horror movies always have a score. Usually that score is trite in most every way, overly suspenseful and mawkish. “Interrupted Melody” and its sister track give us a sound sentimental enough to exist elsewhere, and it is there that Morricone succeeds. It’s unfortunate, really, that Exorcist II is such a patchwork film, unsuccessful at its plotted moments and hallucinatory where it wishes mostly to be fantastical.

I don’t see much use for “Interrupted Melody” as a reused piece outside of this soundtrack. It’s too dated to go unannounced. It might feel dishonest even in a Wes Anderson film. But the piece does exist comfortably in Morricone’s oeuvre as a relic of stale drama. And there it defends Morricone’s versatility; it’s his John Williams, his mellow James Horner. The piano sequence that opens the standard version of the song is a perfect expiatory sample waiting to be acquired and dropped into some crackly dubstep, à la Burial. We’ve got a good something left to work with.

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