There’s nothing we enjoy so much as a good electronic sci-fi score from the ‘60s. While the Bebe and Louis Barron score for Forbidden Planet might be the most famous, there are scads of experimental electronic works out there just waiting to be discovered by a new generation of soundtrack fans. New label Ondes Positives, out of Birmingham, has unearthed a fantastic work in Myron Schaeffer’s score for 1961’s The Mask.
Schaeffer’s work is absolute madness. Swirling tones and washes of noise create a very psychedelic atmosphere, years before that was such a thing. It’s shot through with barely-heard voices and sharp pulses, lending everything an air of confusion and frightening discomfort. The chittering laughter and screams make this less a film score and more the soundtrack to a funhouse of terror. It’s only enhanced by the means in which each sequence begins and ends.
Given that each sequence starts with a voice intoning, “Put the mask on now,” before it degenerates into its particular mode of insanity, then ends with a simple series of notes on an organ, every sequence is tied into the other, but they’re all very different strains of weirdness.
The rescore by Larva is a skittering, uncomfortable affair, but the warmth of the synthesizers used feels enveloping and very present. Some electronic scores can feel as if they’re standoffish and aloof from the film, but Larva’s presentation is right there in the room with you as the LP spins. The repetitive background pulse of “Ego” lays the foundation for a track which grows ever more intense and high-strung, yet still manages to keep this as a human affair, rather than a series of tones played by robots.
There’s a personal touch to all of this, which makes the re-score a very appealing listen. Granted, the droning end to “Anima/Eyes of Hell” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they could’ve put a locked groove onto the end of that track, and your reviewer would’ve let it go all day. There was something comforting in its unending repetitive tone.
The packaging is what will first draw you in. Even for those unfamiliar with this over fifty year-old film will see the screen-printed poly sleeve and take a second glance at it as they dig through the bins. Upon opening it, one sees that Ondes Positives has spared no expense. It is, as noted, two single-sided LPs in a gatefold sleeve. The sleeve, when opened, is die-cut to allow the centers of the LPs to resemble nothing so much as gigantic lenses in a recreation of the film’s titular mask.
There are copious, well-designed liner notes, as well as reproductions of reissue film art and a lobby card from the film’s initial release. The mastering on these two LPs sounds amazing, although the cyan LP in our review copy had a center hole just slightly too big, which caused the LP to knock against our automatic record player as it rotated. It’s fine on a standard DJ turntable, however, but be aware.
Regardless of a minor manufacturing defect, this is an excellent package, whose unique presentation demonstrates the importance of the musical content therein. Any label which released such an album would be due kudos of the highest order, but to aim so high and succeed with an ambitious first release as this, Ondes Positives deserves all of your support.
THE MASK (1961) / COMPOSER: MYRON SCHAEFFER / LABEL: ONDES POSITIVES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW