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INTERVIEW: Goblin founder Claudio Simonetti talks about his pioneering work on the original “Suspiria” soundtrack

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When it comes to original horror movie soundtracks, one that always tops the all-time greatest lists for aficionados is the score for Italian director Dario Argento's supernatural film "Suspiria" from 1977.

This witchy, near-Dionysian music is punctuated with unhinged howling and creepy whispers between funky '70s prog-rock breaks, with wildly driving percussion and atmospheric instruments such as a Moog System 55 modular synthesizer, tabla and bouzouki. It was composed and performed by Italian prog-rock band Goblin — who forever influenced the genre and future electronic soundtrack creators such as John Carpenter of "Halloween" fame. If you think the nostalgic soundtrack for "Stranger Things" was good, its Texas-based creators credit Goblin as a major inspiration.

This Friday, Richmonders will get a chance to watch the color-saturated, original "Suspiria" in the majestic setting of the Byrd Theatre with its eclectic soundtrack performed live by a new touring incarnation of Goblin, led by founder and original composer Claudio Simonetti.

But wait, that's not all: He'll be performing a second set of film music after the screening that will include other soundtrack work he did for Argento — he's made 14 films with him — as well as for George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." Style spoke with him by phone, hyping the Byrd, and he sounded excited to perform there.

Style Weekly: What do you remember most from recording "Suspiria?"

Claudio Simonetti: Dario loved our music and had us do the music for "Profondo Rosso" ["Deep Red," 1975]. After the big success of "Profondo," when he shot "Suspiria" he called us again and told us this was a different mood, not the normal genre horror — something about witches. So we wrote completely different music. For "Profondo" we did the whole thing in two weeks, for "Suspiria" it was two months, recording and researching many different instruments.

In the beginning we read the script and started to record. But after the film was edited and finished we decided not to use. It's like if you read a book and go see the movie: Normally nobody likes it because your idea of it is different. When the film was finished, the mood was completely different, so we threw away everything and rewrote from the beginning.

How did you decide on the instruments?

Ah, the story is about a Greek immigrant, so we said, we'll use the bouzouki, which is a Greek instrument. We put also the tabla with the bass doing "bom bom," mixed with the big Moog System 55. And for first time I used a sequencer. In 1977, this was the only one that worked. No digital ones existed then. For keyboards, we didn't have many choices. We didn't like the orchestra: We were a rock band. The Moog was just to have something special and new. I had my old mini Moog from the '70s, but the big one I used because I love Keith Emerson [of Emerson, Lake and Palmer] and he uses it a lot. We had to rent it because it was expensive [laughs]. … Dario told us that the music would still have to scare the audience even if nothing was happening on the screen. He said, "I want people to always feel like the witches are in the air" or something.

Do you remember the first time you saw it with an audience?

Oh yeah, yeah. I remember it was in Rome. For the first time, we used a bigger PA in the cinema, since this was the first stereo film of Dario's. Great!

Are you improvising at all today when you perform the score?

No, normally we play it exactly as it was written, the same parts, arrangements. But sometimes we might add something. But improvising we never tried before. Every night is different just in a few parts only.

Did Radiohead's Thom Yorke reach out to you before he made the new soundtrack for the remake of "Suspiria" in theaters now?

No, no. I haven't seen nothing about the new "Suspiria" remake. I don't know anything about it. Even Dario, he was not contacted for the remake. Maybe Dario sold the film. Anyway, I don't know what Thom Yorke did. But I just saw one interview with the director Luca Guadagnino, who explained why he did the remake because he loved Dario all his life. But the funny thing was during this long interview, they used the original Goblin score instead of Thom Yorke one [laughs]. … I like Thom Yorke, I like also Radiohead, but I think for sure he changed everything.

So there are three different versions of Goblin out there now?

Yes, we have different lineups. With this guy I play for 20 years, we did one Goblin tour in 2013, 22 concerts, with two of the guys who play with me [now], plus two old members of the original. But now just the two [new ones] play with me and I have a new bass player, a girl, very good bass player. They have another band with two of Goblin, another with four of them. So three different lineups, yes.

How are American audiences reacting to this live tour?

Oh, it's unbelievable. Wherever we go, it's sold out. Very successful. I'm very surprised and ask myself, "Why do people love this film after 41 years?" It's like a dream for me. I couldn't imagine if someone told me, in 1977, I would play and tour in America 41 years later. People know very well this film, and even the others I play afterward. I love American audiences very much.

Do you listen to much rock anymore?

There is not much progressive rock anymore. But I listen to any kind of music. I am a big fan of Celine Dion and Slipknot as well, you know? S

Goblin performs "Suspiria" at the Byrd Theatre on Friday, Dec. 7, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35.

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