This Halloween saw the Barbican putting on a night of guts, gore and beautiful scores as Italian composer Fabio Frizzi, joined by the F2F Orchestra, the Alauda String Quartet and vocalists, performed a dazzling set of pieces from his long history of film and TV collaborations. The audience, suitably decked out in black robes, masks, and bleeding head-holes, roared approval throughout. This is not the first time Frizzi has gone down a storm in the capital, last year he played the Union Chapel to acclaim.
For the uninitiated, Frizzi, born in Italy in 1952 in Bologna, is considered one of the undisputed masters of Italian horror soundtracks; the Italian horror genre being its own peculiar industry with its own idiosyncrasies, aesthetics and stars. Frizzi himself is perhaps best remembered for his long partnership with the late ‘Godfather of Gore’, Italian director Lucio Fulci. Fulci’s films are notorious, and beloved, for their bizarreness, rawness, and extreme, prosthetic-driven gore effects that belied their small budgets. Together, Fulci and Frizzi made splatterfest sensations like Zombie Flesh Eaters, Seven Notes In Black, The Beyond, City Of The Living Dead, Manhattan Baby and more. The influence of these films travelled beyond the shores of Italy: they not only made both Fulci and Frizzi horror icons, but even years later Quentin Tarantino would borrow the theme from Frizzi’s Seven Notes In Black for his film Kill Bill Vol 1. Other artists like Boards Of Canada and Wu Tang’s RZA all praise Frizzi’s work as inspirational.
An interview with Fabio Frizzi by the Barbican’s Ben Eshmade offers some insight into Frizzi’s approach to the genre, and his thoughts on the arc of his career. It also highlights why Frizzi’s music, as displayed in the Barbican show, sounds somewhat atypical compared to other more ‘traditional’ mainstream horror scores with its use of dissonant orchestral themes, synthesizers, vocal sections, and eerie sounds. Frizzi admits that he will probably forever be associated with the shambling form of the zombie, given Fulci’s success with his undead films (interestingly, Fulci’s cult hit Zombie Flesh Eaters was confusingly titled in Italy to suggest that it is a sequel to Zombi: the Italian title of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, even though the films are unrelated). Having worked on creating so many piece of music to underscore the actions of the shuffling undead, he admits: “It’s as of they were friends of mine.” But his first collaboration with Fulci actually wasn't a horror film. In 1975, through a publishing contract, Frizzi got his first opportunity to work with Fulci on one of Italy’s last spaghetti westerns, The Four of the Apocalypse. Before that, Frizzi’s musical career had kicked off in earnest in the mid-1960s when he was introduced to musicians Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera. The trio went on to pen the scores to countless low-budget Italian movies.
Frizzi also discussed how he decided, when scoring these blood-soaked epics, to take the opposite approach of what many viewers would expect from a horror soundtrack composer. Instead of dirges or frantic blitzes of strings, Frizzi would try to write romantic or nostalgic themes, exploiting the fact that horror is mixed in our heads with emotions and experiences of the past. When it came to instruments he could use to create the "voices" of the undead, Frizzi looked to instruments like the early prototypes of the Mellotron synthesiser.
As to his working relationship with Fulci, Frizzi puts their success down to a “chemical reason”, there was just a spark in the relationship. He compared compassing to eating a good meal: you need to take time to digest a film, writing the themes whilst looking to understand the characters you are talking about, as well as the story. It takes time.
The Ben Eshmade interview quotes come from the programme notes for the evening's performance.