Composer Claudio Simonetti on Argento, ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Dracula 3D’

Oct. 27, 2012 | 7:00 a.m.

For many people the names Claudio Simonetti, Goblin and Dario Argento are forever intertwined. The Italian composer and musician was a part of the band Goblin when it composed deeply influential music for Argento’s horror films “Deep Red” and “Suspiria,” its sense of grandeur and spooky dynamics blending well with Argento’s baroque visual style. After the band broke up, Simonetti continued to collaborate with Argento — he recently composed the score for Argento’s upcoming “Dracula 3D.”

Simonetti will appear twice this weekend at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles. On Saturday he will play as part of the Synthpocalypse Halloween Party (streaming live at cinefamily.tumblr.com) and on Sunday, he will sit down for an extended Q&A before a screening of Argento’s “Tenebrae” as part of a members-only event. Earlier this week he talked with Hero Complex contributor Mark Olsen poolside at a Los Angeles hotel, perhaps a somewhat unlikely place for a musician who so often pens soundscapes for the underworld.

Dario Argento on the set of “Mother of Tears: The Third Mother.” (Franco Bellomo)

HC: Do you identify primarily as a composer or a musician?

CS: I am a musician. As a musician you have many chances to do different things. My background is classical study, I studied in Rome at the Conservatorio Saint Cecilia, I studied piano and composition. But at the same time I had some bands, rocks bands. I grew up on the progressive rock  of the ’70s, bands like Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Deep Purple, Emerson Lake and Palmer and it was during this period I formed my band Goblin with Massimo Morante as a guitar player. We started to play in the progressive style, we never thought we’d become famous as soundtrack composers. In 1974 we met Dario Argento because he was looking for a band that could write a soundtrack for his new film. That was “Profondo Rosso,” “Deep Red.” He asked if it would be possible to have a big famous band like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and it was the same publisher as the record we were recording, who said to Dario, ‘”Try to listen to these guys.” We were very young, I was the oldest and I was 22 years old and Dario was very famous, he was a big director. So he listened to our music and decided, ‘Yes, I like these guys.”

HC: Did you consider the music you were doing to be particularly cinematic?

CS: It was a surprise for us. I remember the first time I went to the cinema and saw the film with my music, I felt something strange. I never thought I’d work for the cinema.

HC: Were you a fan of horror films?

CS: I grew up on Hammer films and Hitchcock. Even if that’s not strictly horror, I always loved his films. And Dario Argento, when I first saw his films I didn’t know him personally. I’m not a big fan of splatter, I like something with a thriller story. Of course, with some blood, but not too much.

HC: Do you feel your work with Argento overshadows other things you’ve done?

CS: I did a lot of films with many directors, but of course the best known are those with Dario Argento. But I had a good relationship with Argento because he always left me free to do what I want. He never imposed. “He’d say, ‘What’s your idea about this film?’ If he liked, I’d start to do the film in my way. Every time with Dario I tried to do something different. The last film I did, “Dracula,” is my 14th film with Dario, including the three produced by him. Every film I do is special for me. Dario gives me more of a choice, the style of Dario is so different. In the beginning we would discuss what kind of music he wants for the film, but now after 37 years of working together, he leaves me completely free to do what I want. He knows more or less what he is going to get. Of course he comes in the studio and if he doesn’t like it he says, “No, do something else,” but he doesn’t come to the studio often.

HC: Do you compose differently now than you did back then?

CS: In the beginning with Goblin it was a different way to work. Now with a computer you can write exactly the music you want to a scene, but not in the ’70s. In the ’70s we just went into the studio and started to record what we liked and after the recording, the editor and director would decide where to put the music. They cut the music. Now I write the music specially to the scene. So it’s a different way to work. I don’t know, in the ’70s maybe we were more innovative, we didn’t have computers and samplers. We just had the normal instruments of the ’70s, the Moog, the Hammond Organ and that’s it. Now you have a lot of plug-ins and such. Maybe it was a more creative period because you had to invent for yourself something that didn’t exist.

HC: Are any of your soundtracks particularly special to you?

CS: My favorite film of Dario’s? Of course “Suspiria” is the best, then “Profondo Rosso,” “Phenomena,” “Opera.” I love my last soundtrack, for “Dracula.” It’s different, I used an orchestra. “Dracula,” I tried to have the same mood as the Hammer films, I put my style to the Hammer mood. Every soundtrack has its own life, its own style. That’s why I like to do music for films. The films permit you to do every time something different. The risk is that you always write similar things, but not with films because every film is different.

– Mark Olsen

Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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