It's probably due to Bruno Maderna's stature as a leading avant-garde and experimental composer, plus as a conductor of highly regarded classical music albums, that his nutbar score for the equally insane Death Lead an Egg was actually released on a soundtrack album at the time of the film's release.
This isn't to say Death is a bad score – far from that – but there's very little on the original LP configuration nor expanded CD from Fin de Siecle Media that qualifies as conventional.
It's hard to say where Maderna found his inspiration in director Giulio Questi's bizarro giallo about the husband of a wealthy poultry magnate, and his violent sexual exploits that are tied to the farm's effort to genetically engineer headless and wingless chickens with small bones that grow rapidly without the need of feed. It's an absurdist scenario through which Questi and co-writer/film editor Franco Arcalli interwove familiar giallo conflicts plus anti-capitalist ranting, but also applied a very modern editorial style, with which Maderna's score fits perfectly.
The album's first cut, “Guaiaba,” isn't a love theme, a conflict theme, nor the opening title music, but a source cue played in the hatchery to presumably keep the chickens happy and productive. Maderna's choice is a loose Brazillian samba (!) over which scat vocals – chants, grunts, and primal shrieks – dominate when the cue hasn't shifted back to a gentle, quasi-classical arrangement for acoustic guitar.
If there's any commonality among the cues, it's a shift between specific mood fragments that are either soothing, dissonant, gentle, assaultive, or completely bonkers. A case in point is “Testament of Revolt,” the film's main titles, that plays over magnified footage of developing chicken embryos and pulsing blood vessels.
Maderna actually introduces the film's two main motifs here – a rapid cluster of beckoning rhythms, and a lilting, corresponding melodic interpretation played by dissonant strings – which are seemingly glued together by a scattershot of distorted piano clusters, from which violin and other processed tonalities arise, and are quashed by the piano cacophony that pretty much sounds like a headless chicken running up and down the piano keys.
“Sigma Alpha” basically repeats the same lilting main theme on solo guitar, and Maderna has the musician vary the closeness to the recording mic, as well as sections of the guitar strings where the riffing melody is played. In “Down Down Down” he adds cascading electronica, which recalls the composer's prior all-electronic recordings from the fifties and sixties (which are fascinating, elegantly conceived works).
The album's only genuinely melodic cues are “Conversation” and “Sex Revolution on Campus” (of which there's none in the film). The former is comprised of a duet between a single violin and guitar. The structure has a loose, airy quality, and the melody has a slight country lilt that's wholly absent from the samba cues. The Brazilian vocalist, however, is added to the mix in “Sex Revolution,” offering more short vocal comments and mood tonalities than actual verse. Sometimes angry and scolding, or soothing and genteel, Maderna apparently is trying to nail the strange emotions that are inherent to the unsteady relationship between hubbie Marco, who can't wait to boff his wife's pretty cousin Gabrielle, and wife Anna, who apparently owns and heads the family business.
“Speaking of Silence” seems to take small bits melody from the prior cues and twist them into avant-garde statements on violin, whereas the concluding cue from the original LP, “Guaiaba,” is an impressionistic sound mix of bits culled from prior cues, including “Sex Revolution” with keyboards and various processed sounds.
The bonus cues that fill out the album to just over 50 mins. are other original score cuts, including percolating electronica (Bonus Track #4) that endlessly repeats Maderna's short melodic phrase for 3 mins.; and a short solo piano source cue (Bonus Track #9) that's played in the hotel lobby where the concierge summons a prostitute to Marco's room.
The bonus cuts are in mono, whereas the original album cuts are full stereo. The CD's mastering is very clean, and some of the harshness present in the vintage source materials kind of blend with Maderna's dissonant cues.
The reissue of Death Laid an Egg rescues one of the weirdest scores every written for a giallo, and while not a wholly accessible work (then again, neither is the film), there's something haunting and addictive that's survived the forty years since its creation. Call it a guilty pleasure, a work of avant-garde art film scoring, or an intellectual prank that confounds, shocks, and sometimes evokes laughter, but Maderna's final film score is a striking work that's inseparable from Guilio Questi's equally bizarre film.
Bruno Maderna's other known film scores are Sangue a Ca' Foscari (1946), Le Due verità / The Temptress (1951), Noi cannibali (1953), and Opinione pubblica (1954)
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan