Film Music Review
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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





EFFECTS (1980)

Music composed, performed and produced by John Harrison.

22 Tracks (Playing Time = 40:25)

Also includes “Boy Talk” composed and performed by Leland Balber. Songs produced by John Sutton. Project coordinated by Ford A. Thaxton. Album mastered by James Nelson at Digital Outland. Art direction by Mark Banning.

La-La Land Records LLLCD 1040

Limited edition of 1500 copies.

Rating: **1/2

Mining the obscure is something that La-La Land has been doing well the past few years. Now comes this first low-budget, independent film effort from director Dusty Nelson who would go on to make a few films including 1988’s NECROMANCER as well as directing episodes for TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. The music is by “composer” John Harrison who writes in his notes for this CD that he basically got the job of composer because he had a piano. Some will recognize the name from his music for George Romero (i.e., CREEPSHOW, 1982) but he is perhaps more recognized for his directorial work in several miniseries including DUNE and more recently SUPERNOVA and as a screenwriter for DUNE, CHILDREN OF DUNE, and even Disney’s DINOSAUR (where he has a co-credit with several others). In addition to his own piano playing on the disc he is joined by Robbie Klein on flute and Ron “Byrd” Foster on drums. Several songs include additional personnel.

EFFECTS is based on the novel “Snuff” by William H. Mooney. Essentially, it is a horror film taking place on a movie set and one after another terrible things begin to happen. That’s the easiest way to put it without giving away the plot for those curious about checking the film out.

The “Main Title” opens with the sound of a projector running and some unusual flute effects a la Varese before landing firmly into a somewhat minimalistic sound. The piano plays a series of chords with minor elaboration in different registrations and little electronic punctuations add some rhythmic interest. These chord progressions are the primary thrust of a score that relentlessly hangs on them with some variety in its sound. We get a sped up toy piano version, a guitar version with ambient background, a harpsichord-type version, etc. I would like to think that the breathy flute effect is also following the chord progression idea since it appears to follow the general repetitive pattern. It does not get much simpler than this. Tracks like “Barney’s Dream” stand out a bit more with their synthesizer driven sound. They fit the genre quite well and are a part of a period where horror scores took simple ideas and built in their creepiness through repetition and the unusualness of the sounds being sampled or created.

Admirable is the way Harrison experiments with the flute sound throughout the score though it is often the same effect when it is varied within an individual track like “Dom and Celeste Go Fishing” it seems to work even more. “The Chase” includes movie dialogue and sound effects but it is otherwise a vague reference without anything that tells you in the CD booklet what is going on. The percussion sound begins in a kind of restless native way and then begins mimicking a heart beat starting slowly going apoplectic and then slowly dying away. Dialogue also helps fill out the playing time of “Did You Get It?” The “End Title” blends a little of the main thematic chord ideas with guitar riffs and other “effects.” A bonus track is a strange little number that sounds like something from an early John Lurie score complete with out of tune or wrong note ideas and a little rock beat that kind of bookends the track. It is the kind of thing one gets in composition classes by promising new composition students.

The songs will be of most interest and fill out more than 14 minutes of playing time. “Radio Jingles” is a cross between the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE opening theme music and a Bob James number and it is a piece of its day. “I Need Your Love,” with music and lyrics by Ron Foster, is in the standard rock mode of the time but more a part of the mid-to late- pre-disco jazz rock sound of the 1970s. Fans of obscure ‘70s rock will be interested in checking out the various songs written for this film that hint at these various types of rock sounds from jazz to gospel and soul. Some of them are pretty good and feature outstanding playing by the ensembles. The sax work by Kennie Blake and Robbie Klein is almost worth the price of the disc alone as is Henry Reid’s guitar solos. Leland Balber’s “Boy Talk” breaks up the disc with a brief jazzy piano interlude.

Harrison is fairly up front that this is what it is, a simple score, his first attempt at writing something for film. Like all composers who get the bug to write, the first time is always a fond remembrance. There is nothing to be ashamed of here. The album is recommended to those interested in these early experiments with minimalist writing and 1980s horror films. It makes an interesting companion to scores for John Carpenter’s early films.


--Steven A. Kennedy, 11 January 2006

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