Live-scoring the silent L’INFERNO is the latest in the musician’s long litany of horror achievements.
One of the highlights of this past summer’s Fantasia International Film Festival was the opportunity to view a rare piece of Italian horror-cinema history, accompanied by a man who was an omnipresent part of the country’s great shocker wave of the 1970s and early ’80s. L’INFERNO (1911), loosely based on Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY, is not only the first feature (running 68 minutes) produced in Italy but the oldest surviving full-length movie in the world. Shot over three years by Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro, it features striking black-and-white images of hell and impressive early visual effects. At Fantasia, L’INFERNO was presented in a special screening accompanied by an evocative, mesmerising live score by veteran musician Maurizio Guarini—part of a 2017-18 tour that also included a show at the American Film Institute in November.
Guarini was an early member of the quintessential prog-rock group Goblin, with whom he worked on Dario Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA among others. As a keyboardist, he collaborated with such Italian composer greats as Fabio Frizzi (on Lucio Fulci favourites such as ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and Pino Donaggio (on numerous films in all sorts of genres). A second career in software development led him to relocate to Toronto, Canada in 1998, and he later rejoined Goblin for further albums and tours. SCREAM spoke with Guarini at Fantasia about his latest project and his remarkable history.
SCREAM: Was Fantasia your first time performing the score for L’INFERNO?
MAURIZIO GUARINI: No, I did it the first time in April 2017. Actually, that was an idea from the director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto. They were doing a program on Dante, and he said, “Why don’t we do a soundtrack for this?” I watched the movie and thought it was incredible, so I did it, and this was the first in a long series of shows.
SCREAM: Had you been familiar with L’INFERNO at all before he brought it to your attention?
MG: Absolutely not. I had no idea, and ended up discovering this film, the very first feature made in Italy. At that time, they didn’t have any history of filmmaking, so they had to invent everything. Sound for film was invented about 10 years after, so there was no way to add it at the time. It was really avant-garde, like virtual reality is right now, and surprising and beautiful, so I took the challenge of doing it.
SCREAM: Is it a complete score for the entire film, with no breaks?
MG: Yes, a complete score; for one hour and eight minutes I’m playing the keyboard. It’s long, and a challenge to do live, but yeah, there are no silent moments. I had to think about it a little bit and watch the movie again, and decide how I wanted to approach the music, because the score is something that can change the impact on the audience. I had a more experimental approach at the beginning, but I decided not to do that, because I don’t think that would have been the way the original author would have done it.
SCREAM: Were you aware of any scores that had been composed for L’INFERNO in the past?
MG: Yeah, Tangerine Dream did something, and some others as well. There were two or three things that I saw on-line, but they were all experimental. Tangerine Dream’s was very interesting, because they had done it on tour, but that was just a few scenes; I don’t think it was the whole movie. And they were just doing [existing] music, they didn’t write a specific score for this. So I thought, OK, forget whatever else other people did, let’s try and do something different.
SCREAM: When you perform a live score, how much room do you give yourself to improvise as you go along?
MG: Let’s say 50-50. I wrote themes for specific scenes, for that length, but I left myself a lot of space for improv. First of all, because I’m playing alone for one hour and eight minutes, doing exactly some music I need to read, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to put in more on the improvisational side, but improv is not just improv; it’s based on specific music I wrote for this. There are some very long scenes in L’INFERNO, so I have a lot of space to have fun, because I need that as well. I think it’s the right approach.
SCREAM: Is this the first live score you’ve done for a silent film?
MG: Yes. I did play a live score for SUSPIRIA with Goblin in 2015, but that was already written music, and we had to play it exactly as it was timed to the scenes. But just myself doing the score, yeah, this is the first time.
SCREAM: When you were creating this score, did you draw on any musical influences from the time the movie was made?
MG: Not from that time, because it’s too distant from what we can accept right now. Music from 1910 was mostly classical or opera or that kind of stuff. I did get inspired by some more recent music, like Goblin themes and others that used a big orchestra, even though I don’t have one. I just emulate the big stuff. We are always being inspired by things we’ve heard, even if it’s not on purpose. But nothing specifically from that time.
SCREAM: Which Goblin material in particular influenced your L’INFERNO music?
MG: There’s a piece I use called “Helicopter” from a Goblin album. I think it fits perfectly in a couple of moments in the movie, including the end, because it’s very liberating. There’s a bit of inspiration from another Goblin theme from BUIO OMEGA [a.k.a. BEYOND THE DARKNESS and BURIED ALIVE], but it’s done in a different way; you wouldn’t recognise the melody. For the rest of it, there’s not much Goblin. There may be some sounds like in SUSPIRIA, but it has nothing to do with any specific scenes. I didn’t try to get too inspired by Goblin; I just tried to do something different.
SCREAM: How did you first hook up with Goblin?
MG: I joined them in 1975, just after they released the soundtrack to DEEP RED, because they needed to go play live, and the band was fragmenting after the movie. Claudio Simonetti, the other keyboard player, left at that time, so they called me, and we started playing a lot because we were at the top of the charts, day after day for two months. And we started working on other soundtracks, including CHI? and then SUSPIRIA at the end of 1976. That was actually the first time I played with them in the studio, though after three days, I left the band—so I’m not even mentioned on the album, but I am part of it. Then I started working with other musicians in film scoring, and from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, I did maybe 100 movies with a lot of other musicians—not as composer, but as a keyboard player and other things.
SCREAM: You and Simonetti both seem to have a checkered history with Goblin.
MG: Well, there are a lot of stories on-line, but it’s very simple. Claudio founded Goblin, and I didn’t even know it existed at first. After PROFONDO ROSSO, he left because he put together a disco project; why he didn’t want to stay with Goblin, I don’t know. So when I started, there were four of us, and then he came back on board, so for the first two years, we played live and we did albums with five people—two keyboard players. After SUSPIRIA, I left, and after two years Claudio left and I rejoined Goblin, and there was a different lineup: Fabio Pignatelli, myself and Agostino Marangolo, and then we had Carlo Pennisi. Claudio disappeared from Goblin from 1978 to ’82, but then some of them ended up doing TENEBRAE in 1983. I wasn’t there, and it wasn’t even Goblin; it was credited as Simonetti – Pignatelli – Morante. When they got back together in 2000 for Dario’s SLEEPLESS, they didn’t call me; I was in Canada already.
Then in 2004, Massimo Morante called me from Italy and said, “Do you want to do a new Goblin album? Why don’t we put that together?” I said, “Sure.” So Massimo, Agostino, Fabio and I did this album called BACK TO THE GOBLIN that was released in 2005, and after about four years we started playing live again.
SCREAM: What did Argento ask of you in terms of the music, and what was that working relationship like?
MG: SUSPIRIA, which was my first specific experience with Dario, was made in a different way. He told us before we started shooting what the movie was about, and asked us to write the theme before seeing any scenes. So the main theme was written not while watching the footage, but just out of nothing. He’s very emotional; the communication is very strong with Dario. First of all, because he’s passionate when he’s talking about his work, and second, because we’re from the same city, so we speak in Roman, not standard Italian. When you have this kind of confidence with someone, you can take the level of communication a bit higher, because you don’t have to explain so much; sometimes you can explain just with a look in your eyes, and it’s understood.
SCREAM: Can you talk about your work with Fabio Frizzi?
MG: We met in a studio in the late ’70s, and when he needed to do horror, especially with Lucio Fulci, I was there. I was a keyboardist with a horror sound, so of course he called me, right? I did several movies with him; not just horror, though. I played on comedies and other stuff he was writing the music for. We have always been close friends, and we’ve kept in touch on Skype since I moved to Canada. And actually, when he did a show in Toronto, I joined them on stage, and we played music from CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE BEYOND live. That was the first time I ever played on stage with Fabio, and it was very touching.
SCREAM: With Frizzi, you performed some of the most iconic themes in Italian-horror history, like ZOMBIE and THE BEYOND. Can you talk about your contributions to those?
MG: I don’t know… At that time, I really didn’t have many choices like we do now, in terms of sounds. We didn’t have very sophisticated equipment, so we were just using the mellotron and that kind of stuff, some keyboards. I would think that using something like a low choir might be scary, and we’d just go in and do it. Now, these movies are sort of milestones in the genre, but when we were recording, they were not. It was like two days in the studio, and then I had to go to another one. They were like record, do it and leave. “Is it OK?” “Yeah, it’s OK, next thing.” “OK, is this fine?” “Yes, it’s fine.” That’s the way we’d work, very quickly. Now it has slowed down, because we are older and the technology offers so many possibilities. At that time it was very simple: “OK, ready? Record.” “OK, done?” “Done, finished.”
SCREAM: And yet the music still works to this day.
MG: It should work in this way, but now there’s this mindset that you need to spend more time on it, and I don’t know why. When you’re spontaneous, you create art. If you start thinking too much about it, you’re just destroying your creativity, right? We were not thinking enough to destroy it, and that’s why I think, including directors, maybe we made a lot of errors, like technical difficulties in the music, but who cares?
SCREAM: How was it working with Pino Donaggio?
MG: We met in a studio, again, and he knew that I was working on soundtracks. He approached me more from a technical perspective, because he was using orchestra, normally. During that period, there were no synchronisation methods like we have now, so I had written a program for that and I was helping him. He would come to my place, to my studio, and we would work for four or five days just to synchronise the music. This collaboration continued over a long period—maybe 25 movies together.
SCREAM: Goblin was very progressive in its approach, while Donaggio is more classical. Was there a difference in terms of collaboration?
MG: Oh yeah, it was different. Goblin was more about fighting for what you wanted, and trying to put your part into it. Donaggio was just about collaboration, and trying to help. With a band, everybody’s trying to tell the other, “No, you shouldn’t do that,” “Yeah, we should not be doing that,” so you start having arguments. As a musician, I’m a session man, so I work with singers and other kinds of musicians, and they are often totally different. So you have to be flexible in some ways, and able to deal with various kinds of situations.
SCREAM: Tell us about your move to Canada.
MG: The reason that brought me to Canada was not music, it was software. I am a software developer as well, and in Italy I was working for a Canadian company, doing video games. The owner of the company said, “Come to Canada and take a look, there are a lot of things going on there.” We’re talking about the end of the ’90s, and in Italy the new technology had not really taken off yet; it was more so in North America. So I came to Canada and got some experience there. I re-approached the music after about three years of living there.
SCREAM: Do you think you might get back into doing original scores for new features?
MG: Actually, I am back to doing that, though not as Goblin. I’ve done a couple of features from a new director named Bennet De Brabandere; one is called THE SALVATION, and the other is a horror/comedy called CHERRYPICKER. As Goblin, we are not doing any movie work at this point. Sometimes, that’s our choice; people want us to do things, but we want to choose projects that have meaning for us, and not just take the first thing they give us just to put our name on it. You want to like what you do, right? So we are waiting, myself as well, to do things that are interesting.
SCREAM. Thank you for taking the time to speak to SCREAM.
MG. My pleasure. Thank you.
Words: Michael Gingold