Thogdin Ripley; Fragments and grails: searching for the Arrebato soundtrack.
Thogdin Ripley is one half of Hexus Press, a small press dedicated to experimental horror, and really thrilled and annoyed at all the attention Arrebato is getting.
Which recordman hasn’t got their own list of ‘Holy Grails’ — those discs that reduce life to a cruel game of hide-and-seek, forcing a turn away from the sun into a dark basement on every holiday abroad (remember those?); compelling, almost religiously, a visit to each charity shop, just in case; the very possibility of finding one making each bleary-eyed early start to the car boot worthwhile simply for the what if. Of course, the quest for the original grail — historically a vessel, or even a stone (stone! Imagine searching for the right stone! Hahahaaaaaaaaaaaa) — is filled with diversions and confusions, frustrations and failures. In the search for what is essentially an old cup the first question is surely: where do you even start looking?
Spanish director Ivan Zulueta’s cult film Arrebato is finally getting a restored cinematic release in the US in October. It’s a smacky arthouse horror that meshes the mechanics and history of filmmaking with drug addiction and, ultimately, vampirism, and you should definitely see it. The uncredited soundtrack, aside from one original (the angular new wave snarl of Negativo’sAnsiedad), is reported to be composed of samples from library records of the time (an assertion to me personally from Zulueta’s estate, that turns out to be perhaps at least partially untrue — one of the main refrains is taken from a song by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel). The various themes are repeated over the course of the film, leading to approximately a minute of swelling Korg, drum machine and keyboard, which could equally have been lifted from a sparse krautrock epic, a minimal wave experimental noodle, or the beginnings to a somewhat chilly avant-jazz LP. And there, right there in those circa sixty seconds, is the burning heart of my obsession.
They say that the journey is more important than the destination, but this one’s taken me to some far-flung places, and so far has been the entirety of the quest: from outliers of the Spanish and Portuguese minimal scenes to Bee Gees b-sides; symphonies of bleeping white noise and sibilant oscillators to contract-fulfilling saxophone squawking; Basque prog to compilation-only synthpop — all the while scouring a fistful of deep-fried and unclassifiable loner electronics from unknown music laboratories. If it’s got a Roland TR-77 listed on it, you can bet I’ve tried! The song from the soundtrack has been one of my grails for over a decade, now. Like a grizzled and mud-stained Sir Percival — emaciated, beaten, strung out, and running only on vapours, but still somehow believing — I’ve been searching for so, so long. When, o lord, when?
I thought it might be nice to share some of my findings, which have all come from the search for that one minute of music. If any of you out there reading this have any clues, please, I implore you — from one simple man in a rusted suit of armour on a rocky beach to another — point me towards that stone.
INTRO: Unknown fragment from Arrebato
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark — Distance Fades Between Us (1978)
Ghostly, drifting and slightly queasy repetition, as featured on a free 7” given away with their first album, which prefigures their later homages to krautrock across a bunch of different b-sides and their more ambient LP fare.
Naughtiest Girl Is A Monitor — To Love Nuclear (1982)
More formless drum machine soundscapes. This seems to bridge NEU! and Eno, at the same time as pointing very straight towards the future of the eighties. With its gentle swells and mid pace, it seems to me to be that rarest of things — a ‘warm’ cold wave record.
CVO —Sargasso Sea (1980)
Compilation-only strangeness from avant-library musician and ex-Wavemaker keyboardist John Lewis, which adds a dubby, languid aspect to the standard minimal wave keys and drum rhythm. This song, with its decadent lyrics and ‘interesting’ vocal delivery, was the perfect soundtrack to the UK’s terrible lockdown summer for me. “In the red Sargasso sea I lie suspended, this tropical malaise distorts perspective, every day’s the same.” Quite.
P1/e — Dependence (1980)
More of a straight-up minimal wave minor masterpiece, used in the soundtrack to the great Berlin film Kalt Wei Eis, Dependence starts off as a truly Germanic love song, only to flip around in a stingingly Freudian volte-face.
David Cain — November (1969)
A record that never ceases to amaze. Derek Bowskill’s extended vowels and precise vocal delivery are part of a BBC LP intended to encourage school children to dance. After each month’s poem has been intoned (sometimes as sinisterly as in this case, with its hair-raising opening: “Now night on all fours crawls cautiously through the valley”) Cain’s rather abstract musical theme repeats, presumably to give the class time to twist themselves into tortured, angular shapes, or write their own TS Eliot-inspired lyrics. Of course, Cain was part of the Radiophonic Workshop, and of course, Jonny Trunk re-released this a few years back, but it’s still possible to find an original lingering about in a charity shop — if you’ve got the patience.
Mick Clarke — Time is Now (1978)
It’s 1978, and Geordie experimentalist Mick Clarke has got a sequencer, and he’s not afraid to use it. The LP Games, which this track is taken from, is an expansive, Berlin School one-man(ish) epic of repetitive noodling, but it’s this one, with its unusual combination of synth and doleful acoustic guitar, that really stands out. Originally on the great Blubber Lips, this track, along with some of his other highlights, was reissued recently on the Spanish label, Frigio.
Anne Clark — Poem For A Nuclear Romance (1983)
Wonderfully naive doom and gloom from poet Anne Clark and keyboardist David Harrow, which sounds like the apocalypse has finally reached Grange Hill. Originally on her LP Changing Places, you can also find this on a 12 as a flip to the equally great True Love Tales — surely a contender for the best white (wo)man rap of all time.
Unlimited Systems — In the Morning (1981)
A wild German cold wave-meets-psych raga freakout, akin to something like Meredith Monk brushing up against Bikini Kill over an early Casiotone demo. Therefore, sublime.
Blancmange — Just Another Spectre (1980)
From their pre-Blancmange proper EP Irene and Mavis, (and joining a host of other eighties hitmakers-to-be that dabbled in the avant in their earlier iterations, before congealing into pop) this nice instrumental, with its faltering beat — which sounds less like a drum machine and more like it’s patted on a sodden cardboard box in the next room — and looped refrains, probably comes closest to the narcoleptic/hypnotic feel of the Arrebato fragment. Good luck finding an original issue.
Ultravox — Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977)
The most likely source of the Arrebato theme — except that it isn’t quite there. It’s possible to conjecture that the theme could, really, have been based on the intro to this, and possibly recorded (alongside the simple stepping legato keyboard refrain that repeats throughout the film) specifically for the project by… well, there’s the question. The Spanish minimal wave scene seems to have been comprised mainly of tape releases, and mostly from post-1980, until it exploded via bands like Aviador Dro and Esplendor Geometrico in post-Franco cultural reconsideration that erupted into the mainstream in the early eighties. Pre-that, a few bands released extended, sub-Tangerine Dream prog noodlings that came close to the style, but were — for my purposes — overblown and too lushly produced. The Spanish ‘art music’ scene seems to have been disparate, drawing on iterations of early music via the likes of the Atrium Musicae De Madrid. Discounting these, and bearing in mind that Arrebato was shot over the end of the seventies (and that Zulueta was culturally ‘hip’ and had been steeped in international pop culture since the sixties), what are we left with? Essentially everything else: the “thousands of [quite literally] occult rhythms” that Will More’s character rasps about in the original clip.