Fantasia 2018: A Chat With Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini

Italian prog-keyboardist continues his love affair with cinema by live-scoring silent classics.

Though Italian prog rock band Goblin’s lineup has changed over the years, their impact on cinema, particularly that of giallo classics, is written in stone. On again, off again keyboardist Maurizio Guarini has worked with the band for over 40 years, in addition to his solo work and studio wizardry for other artists. At this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Guarini treated the audience to a live-scoring of Italy’s first feature length film. L'Inferno is a beat-for-beat recreation of Dante’s epic poem, and a natural pairing to Guarini’s darker musical motifs. We were able to chat with Guarini about his lifelong love of cinema and his feelings about film scores in general.

Do you have a first memory of going to the cinema? Or of the first score you loved?

Maurizio Guarini: Not really. I remember going to the movies, and friends taking me to the movies, but I never really associated music with that. I remember Fellini. I was small, and that was a nightmare for me. I didn’t really understand what was going on. I started to work in movies when I started to like science fiction. It was what I was reading. You know the old ones, with bad effects? Those ones. I wasn’t particularly attracted to horror.

You are known for working on horror soundtracks and scores. Have you grown to appreciate it?

Guarini: I appreciate it now. I can appreciate the difference between the horror of the '70s and the horror now. It’s an interesting topic to think about and to work with. When I was a kid I saw Night of the Living Dead. I wasn’t watching it critically, but I was a bit scared by it. When I start working on stuff, thriller or horror, something with tension, I can find an approach to tie the music to the images.

Did you get to work with Romero?

Guarini: Goblin did Dawn of the Dead, but I wasn’t with them then. I did meet him when he moved to Toronto, the past few years.

Horror itself is a dramatic genre. How do you maintain that drama in the score?

Guarini: Each of us has a different concept of horror. We each get scared by different things. I think the main thing is the drama, but some of us are a bit different. When you see too much blood, you know that everything is fake. A psychological aspect may horrify other people. Personally, I’m horrified by babies. They come from nowhere, and suddenly there is a new being. Who knows what’s going on in that new brain? This is the most horrifying thing.

Well, when you put it that way, babies are scary.

Guarini: They are to me. It depends on the approach. So when you work on something, you take into account that all people are different. Take it in a direction to boost the image and what the director wants to do.

What movies scare you?

Guarini: The Exorcist scared me. Alien scared me. That tension scares me. But not babies in film. I don’t get scared with a lot of blood. The Shining scared me. Those two little girls? I don’t like it. Rosemary’s Baby is more a drama. Repulsion scares me. What’s going on there?

You love scifi, and you mentioned Alien. This is a place where horror and scifi meet.

Guarini: Now, many people identify science fiction with horror. In Alien, but also in the unknown. That unknown is horrifying.

And in 2001 there is no way to stop what is happening.

Guarini: Right. You can’t say, “Hal, please stop it,” You don’t know what he is doing.

Which film scores do you like?

Guarini: Well, first of all, this changes over time. What I liked twenty years ago was different, ten years ago was different, and it’s different now. Now there is a lack of melodies. It is more effects, especially in the last three or four years. It sounds very heavy, like in Blade Runner. No actual melodies. The score for Blade Runner is one of the best to match the movie, and I like that. I love the old Bernard Herrmann scores for Hitchcock movies. There is not one specific type of score I prefer over another, but I like the match between music and film. It may be an ugly piece of music, but it can be perfect for the movie.

A lot of recent scores are electronic, and the beats feel primal. How to do feel these changes are affecting scores?

Guarini: The music is key. It can destroy, or make a movie a masterpiece. When we were making our scores in the '70s, we were not thinking much about the sound. We were just making whatever was coming to mind to match the scenes. We didn’t have the technology we now have. Now there are so many choices. You can ruin or change a movie. If you want to make a strong imprint, you can go electronic. Or if you want to hide behind the movie, you can do something transparent, using stereotypes that people don’t notice. It’s not a punch. For example, I’m doing L’Inferno now. It was made 107 years ago. I didn’t want to impose anything. I tried to imagine what they would have wanted.

Especially in horror film, there is a lot of power in silence. Have you worked with directors to build in silence?

Guarini: Absolutely. Silence is more horrifying, sometimes. The audience is prepared to be terrified. Silence is very important.

When scoring an older film, do you do research into what the original score would have been?

Guarini: No, I don’t research that. I know the kind of music from that time, more or less. Another approach would be to do something entirely detached from the film. I didn't want to take that approach with this one. I wanted to write themes.

What interested you in doing live scores?

Guarini: We did Suspiria live, with Goblin, but that was just a cover. We played in sync, with something that already existed. Then in 2017 I was asked to do this by the Italian Bureau of Culture. A university was lecturing on Dante for two weeks and had a big event. I saw this movie [L’Inferno] restored by the Cineteca di Bologna. I saw it two or three times. One approach would have been to use computers. I prefer to not do that. I have the score written, but I left some space for improvisation. It’s all to have fun.

With L’Inferno, you need to match the film but also entertain the crowd.

Guarini: There is no real plot. They just go through hell. They just visit different situations. The music needs to be descriptive, for the demons and things. The parts are each five minutes long.

You get to build a different melody for each level of hell.

Guarini: It’s good to differentiate it a bit. When you see it, the film will always be one hour, with similar images. But for someone who is not a cinephile, they might get bored and leave after two minutes. I try to help them to go through the movie in a more relaxing way.

Is there any film you wish you had been able to score?

Guarini: How many hours do I get to think? Hmm. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classical music is a perfect choice. The silence of the spaceship. I would like to write a score for that, not using classical music. That would be something.