†††† Always been interested in the intersection between avant-garde music and horror cinema, and the original soundtrack to William Friedkin's groundbreaking 1974 masterpiece The Exorcist is still one of the best examples of the use of experimental music in horror. Prior to The Exorcist, filmmakers had used experimental music and some more adventurous jazz music in a number of horror films, mainly throughout the 1960s, but The Exorcist was the first soundtrack to heavily draw from the radical sounds of contemporary avant-garde composers. Friedkin's brilliant curation drew from progressive rock, the most terrifying depths of contemporary classical, and extreme avant-garde music, much of it assembled from his own personal music library in a collage of sounds that served to underscore his documentarian approach to the narrative. Musical excerpts from Penderecki, Webern, Henze and Crumb were incorporated into the film, and original interstitial pieces were commissioned from minimalist composer David Borden and avant-garde composer Jack Nitzsche, with Nitzsche creating his piece using the reverberant sound of glass being rubbed alongside recorded voices. The result is a witchy, weird sonic nightmare that can create a deep sense of unease even when listened to outside of the film.
†††† The chilling insectile ambience of Nitzsche's "Iraq" that serves as the introduction to the soundtrack is a brief but portentous piece that blends Muslim calls to prayer with dissonant strings and ambient sound from the film, leading directly into Oldfield's mesmeric and instantly recognizable "Tubular Bells", featured here as a nearly six minute edit; those icy, elliptic synth keys and ominous piano melody still have an eerie, hypnotic power, essentially inextricable from the film itself. There's just a short excerpt of Webern's "Five Pieces For Orchestra, Op.10 (Sehr Langsam Und ńusserst Ruhig)" that, while drastically edited from the full version that appeared on the old vinyl release of the score, still conveys a strong disturbing feel in the short time it has here. There are some other tracks that are unfortunately featured here in edited form, like Crumb's classic "Night Of The Electric Insects", but thankfully this reissue does feature extended versions of the Penderecki pieces. As "Polymorphia" slowly billows out of some deep, lightless crack in the earth like an amorphous black stain, at first an exercise in dark ambience that rivals anything from Sleep Research Facility or Lull; as the track unfolds though, and those wormy, atonal strings gradually writhe up out of the depths of the mix, it transforms into something much more nightmarish, a slow realization of abject horror bathed in blackened dissonance and ghostly clatter - even removed from the film, this is one of the key tracks from this soundtrack, a deeply unsettling and frightening presence. And Penderecki's hellish "Kanon For Orchestra And Tape" is one of my favorite horror movie musical sequences of all time, blending the shocking demonic frenzy of the orchestra with a mass of nightmarish tapes that produces and almost proto-industrial delirium. "String Quartet (1960)" offers a similarly disturbing atonality, the musicians scraping and torturing their violins and cello to produce a perverse pointillist hallucination, and Harry Bee's "Windharp" emits a dank blast of cavernous ambience. And the final two tracks are another pair of shorter excerpts, one a brief reprise of "Bells", the other the stunning performance of Hans Werner Henze's "Fantasia For Strings" that serves as a coda to the film.
†††† Despite some of the shorter tracks, this is still presents one of the most important horror scores of the 70s, essential for soundtrack collectors and fans of nightmarish dissonance. The re-mastered Perseverance reissue includes new liner notes from soundtrack expert Randall D. Larson (Musique Fantastique: 100 Years Of Music For Fantasy, Science Fiction & Horror Films).