Secret soundtracks in the darkness
Matt Hill contributes bass and beats to progressive-psych band Expo ’70, but he has his own project on the side. As his alter ego, Umberto, Hill plays craftsman, sculpting idealized film scores for obscure old horror films. Night Has A Thousand Screams is his latest project, created for the Glasgow Music and Film Festival earlier this year. The Festival hyped
Umberto’s appearance as a live soundtrack performance for a secret film. He chose a cult favorite slasher flick called Pieces (1982), by Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón, as his inspiration.
The album’s 10 tracks follow the flow of the movie, allowing the listener to absorb every menacing moment. The first track, “Boston, 1942” covers the opening scene with its back story for the film’s killer. A child is playing with a
jigsaw puzzle. Chastised by his mother, he ends up murdering her. Umberto’s
music sets an expectant vibe with chiming tubular bells against mysterious
sweeping synth drones. A grinding bass line ratchets into the tune to represent
the violence. Umberto uses electronic distortion, sirens, and the persistent
chimes to create a sense of unreality paired with heavy action. These bells become
one of the motifs throughout the score. The next tune, “Opening Credits”,
establishes a couple of other recurring themes. One is a bass run that suggests
the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. This crops up during “The
Investigation”, “The Waterbed”, and “Paralyzed”. It’s usually accompanied by an
inexorable beat and shimmering keyboards.
Umberto’s soundtrack also relies on a lot of spooky
underwater sounds that link several of the murders to the killer’s obsession
with puzzles. Several of the tracks reference specific attack scenes in the
film. The strongest of these is “The Pool”. It begins with the underwater
theme, but picks up a stalking electronic beat. Initially, the music is simple,
setting the scene of a young woman unaware of the coming threat. But the pressure
builds as a heavier rhythm falls into place, until a sinister climbing melody
line finally reveals the psychotic killer to his terrified victim. The track
ends with the release of a grinding bass tone.
Night Has A Thousand Screams is a well designed film
score. More than just an accompaniment to the action, it provides another
medium to appreciate the story and feel of the movie. That live performance in Glasgow must have been a
heady experience as Umberto’s trance grooves enhanced the suspense of Pieces.
The music captures an ambiance of creepy tension, taking advantage of the same
formula that horror films use to heighten the impact of violence. The songs
begin with a calm setup, followed by the initial hint of threat that eventually
builds. But like the best directors, Umberto breaks the flow occasionally to
offset expectations, such as his slow-motion free fall section in “Paralyzed”.
But the final strike is inevitable.
Even as Umberto aspires to soundtrack greatness, he has
a slightly different perspective from most composers in this genre. Knowing
that few listeners will get the full effect of pairing his music with the film,
he’s structured his album for independent listening as well. Pieces vary in
length from a bare minute for “Opening Titles” to the sprawling 10 minute
“Paralyzed”. The longer tracks reuse the motifs of his musical lexicon, but
they also work as standalone songs. Without the context of Pieces, listeners
can still enjoy the music journeys, with trippy explorations, chill trance
progressions and revelatory build ups.
(This review originally appeared on Spectrum Culture)