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An Electronic Murmuration: Brian Eno’s Music for Land of the Minotaur

Land of the Minotaur1

Land of the Minotaur

As the priest and the private detective approach the window, a familiar motif strikes up on the soundtrack. Deep in the bass, a succession of notes alternate by a semi-tone to anxiety-inducing effect. It’s not an entirely original idea: it’s essentially a sped-up and harmonically simplified version of the leitmotif Richard Wagner uses to introduce the dragon, Fafner, in the opera Seigfried. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Wagner’s wurm-motiv became something of a Hollywood staple, used to signify the monstrous and the numinous in films from King Kong (1933) to The Thing from Another World (1951). But at this tempo it can’t help but recall to modern ears one of the most recognisable bits of film music of all time: the shark’s theme from Jaws, made in 1975, the very same year as this low-rent schlock-fest from Greek director, Kostas Karagiannis.

In the context of Land of the Minotaur (aka The Devil’s Men), however, this is by far the most conservative bit of the whole score, notable as one of the very few moments on the soundtrack to employ actual recognisable musical notes. For the most part, the music by Brian Eno avoids the question of tonality altogether in favour of a shimmering cascade of electronic murmuration. As strange things go on in a small Greek town, with cultists sacrificing licentious teens to a fire-breathing minotaur statue, Eno produces an eerie susurrus of humming and heavy breathing, echoplexed into a dense fog of sound.

Produced in the same year that the ex-Roxy Music synth player would record his second collaboration with Robert Fripp and earn a credit for ‘direct injection anti-jazz ray gun’ on Robert Wyatt’s second solo album, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, it’s a reasonable assumption that he employed the same system of daisy-chained delay units. It’s a modus operandi Eno would accuse Terry Riley of copying from him – an accusation that would be a lot more plausible if only history travelled backwards – and is an early example of his now all-consuming passion for generative composition, inspired by the cybernetics of Norbert Wiener, the process-based minimalism of Riley and Steve Reich, and the generative grammars of Noam Chomsky. But what sounds contemplative and quietly zen on its near contemporaries is here unearthly, unsettling, goose-pimpling stuff. One of the real highlights of Eno’s soundtrack career – and an unfortunate omission from his two Music for Films compilations.

Robert Barry

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