Interview: Film Music Maestro Ennio Morricone

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Mike Clark



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Morricone says of Venturi, “He's well aware of my requirements and what's needed to achieve the results I want. There's a great harmony between myself and Fabio, and the engineers I worked with before him — there's a sort of unspoken communication between us. As far as recording is concerned, I started writing music many years ago and recorded on three tracks first, then eight, 16, 24, 48 and now, thanks to the use of computers, they're countless. The important thing is not to be ‘passive’ in front of technology. Certain things I invented from a musical point of view were the direct result of the technical means I had at my disposal, so there must be an active use of technology, not a mere acceptance of what it's able to provide. Composers can invent a new, completely different way of writing by means of the implementation of technology.”

Famous Fans Go on Record

A few days after the 2007 Oscar ceremony, a Morricone tribute album was released. We All Love Ennio Morricone features some of the biggest names in contemporary pop, rock, jazz and classical music, and it cracked the Top 5 in Italy's charts. The all-star cast includes Metallica (who have featured the maestro's “Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as an intro to their shows since 1983, complete with footage from the film), and other illustrious fans such as Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion, Yo-Yo Ma, Roger Waters, tenor Andrea Bocelli and Quincy Jones with Herbie Hancock.

“You realize that you have composed important music when someone, somewhere is playing it,” Morricone says. “I am, however, astonished, obviously in a good way, that famous artists from the musical world have paid tribute to me by participating in this project.”

Film Scores Come Alive

Few internationally renowned artists begin playing regular concerts at 70-plus years of age, but Morricone performs in public more often now than ever. “There wasn't such a big demand in the past,” he says. “Not because I don't like appearing in public; I do more concerts now because they ask me.” Since 2001, Morricone has directed his music before packed, spellbound audiences throughout Europe, in the U.S., Latin America, Korea and Japan, appearing in venues such as Radio City Music Hall, the Verona Arena, Taormina's Greek Theatre, Royal Albert Hall in London, the Kremlin, the Vatican's Nervi Hall, the UN General Assembly and St. Mark's Square in Venice.

To ready his music for live performance, Morricone explains, he has joined smaller pieces of music together into longer suites “Rather than single pieces, which would require the audience to applaud every few minutes, I thought the best idea was to create a series of suites lasting from 15 to 20 minutes, which form a sort of symphony in various movements — alternating successful pieces with personal favorites.”

In concert, Morricone normally has 180 to 200 musicians and vocalists under his baton, performing multiple genre-crossing collections of music. Rock, symphonic and ethnic instruments share the stage, which doesn't make Venturi's work easy. The engineer has to seamlessly move from orchestral music, such as the score to The Mission, to a piece with a punchy rhythm section (“One Night At Dinner”) and then into a complex combination of both (“The Working Class Goes to Heaven”). But he responds with a combination of strategic instrument positioning, the use of acoustic panels and careful mixing. Digital desks have proved priceless for this type of work: “They're unbeatable, thanks to the number of inputs, onboard signal processing, the possibility of storing scenes, as well as their small footprint and light weight,” Venturi says.

The crowds that attend Morricone's concerts expect their favorites to sound as they're accustomed to hearing them at the movies, and the sound reinforcement system at these performances is massive. “We're compelled to use spot mics placed much closer to the instruments, so more mics are required,” Venturi says. “For an orchestra, I'd normally use from 40 to 50 mics when recording, but we need considerably more than 100 for live gigs. Widespread use of ‘bugs’ for the strings also ensures more direct sound and less P.A. spill. In studio, not only is this unnecessary, but I try to avoid it to ensure a greater amount of reverberated sound.”

Venturi's customary concert mic setup makes wide use of Schoeps CCM 4/MK 4 cardioids (strings, harps and woodwinds) and DPA 4060 miniature mics with adaptors on some of the strings — two on the basses and celli, as the lower the instrument's register, the more “bug” backup is necessary. He also uses a pair of CCM 4s on the piano and an MK4 capsule with an active tube for the soprano sax. Schoeps MK21s are used for the brass, marimba, vibes and tympani, and a series of MHK60s for the chorus. Venturi also habitually uses AKG 414s on the horns, bells, symphonic snare drum and percussion, as well as on part of the drum kit. The bass tubas and the rock snare have SM57s and the kick drum an AKG 112. He uses BSS DI boxes on bass, guitar and synthesizers.

Another crucial aspect addressed at concerts is monitoring, and Venturi tries to use as many enclosures as possible to keep the volume of each to a minimum, reducing the risk of them being picked up by the mics. “Normally, we use about 40 monitors of various sizes and six sets of ‘cans’ [headphones], usually for the rhythm section and percussionists.”

Passing the Torch

The music chromosome evidently continues in Morricone family's DNA, as his son, Andrea — after attending the Santa Cecilia Conservatory and writing soundtracks with his father for a while — now has his own successful career as a composer and conductor.

Meanwhile, the maestro shows no signs of slowing down. As of this writing, he was composing music for two films: one by Giuseppe Tornatore called Baaria; the other by Giacomo Battiato, Resolution 819. “[Music for film is] an extraordinary art and being relatively young, it's hard to imagine where it will head in the future,” Morricone observes. “After 50 years in this profession, I'm not tired of it, I still enjoy it and don't know what else I could have done in life if not this, which is the reason I continue to be excited by composing and performing my music.”

Journalist Mike Clark ( covers entertainment technology from his home in Italy.

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