Emperor Norton's Counterfeit Sounds

Emperor Norton's Counterfeit Sounds
Ironically, the vogue of current "fake" soundtracks may have started with a real one. In 1995, Motel Records reissued Vampyros Lesbos, a soundtrack to a 1968 German/Italian B-movie. So contemporary were its sounds, so forward-looking was its vision that it became a cult hit, spawning a New York City club amongst other things. Vampyros Lesbos arrived at the height of a rash of soundtrack reissues, many of them great albums from forgettable films. Emperor Norton label manager Steve Pross, a huge fan of film scores, wanted to start a soundtrack reissues side-project at the label. When he quickly discovered that those not already snapped up were mired in licensing muck, he embarked upon the next best thing: he made them up.
Fake blaxplotation soundtrack Soul Ecstasy, by Inner Thumb (aka DJ Me DJ You) was followed quickly by Logan's Sanctuary, a soundtrack to a non-existent sequel to Logan's Run by Air drummer Brian Reitzell. Pross, the brains behind the whole scheme, is currently seeking artists for a Mexican Planet of the Apes (hopefully featuring Japan's Cornelius) and a French lounge/spy film pseudo-soundtrack.

Oddly enough, Pross initially believed he was on the cusp of this fakery; that illusion was shattered partly when Arling & Cameron, independent of Pross's plans, delivered their newest Emperor Norton album Music For Imaginary Films. Of course, former Bad Seeds bassist Barry Adamson's noirish fake soundtrack Moss Side Story came out six years earlier, and for more than 30 years before that, musicians had been making narrative, coherent albums that followed a story. Then they were called concept albums.

Two of Pross's fakers took different routes to the end result. DJ Me DJ You's Ross Harris went back to a live band for Soul Ecstasy, seeking authenticity by minimising digital ProTools editing and using vintage gear, but describes it as "an extension" of his other work. Harris would have preferred to keep the genesis of Soul Ecstasy more ambiguous, instead of creating the legend of the "lost" film." "The ideas were really open ? we weren't trying to stick to specific plot lines, it was a fantasy sequence, one after another."

Reitzell, fresh from Air's real soundtrack gig for The Virgin Suicides, needed more structure for Logan's Sanctuary; in fact, the plot outline for the film is the best thing about the project. "It would have helped to have actual images," Reitzell says.

"I've always wanted to do scores," he says, "just as hordes of people in bands would like to do." Now that there's talk of a Logan's Run remake, Reitzell would love the job, but his vintage synth-heavy concept album isn't likely to rise above the pack. What all this fakery serves to demonstrate most clearly, in fact, is just how good real soundtracks are, how delicately their composers weave an emotional thread through a structure already determined by the filmmakers.

Two streams will probably emerge from this. Musicians will either take it one step further and actually make films ? as DJ Me DJ You's Harris has done, writing, acting in and scoring part of a film called The Recycler, featuring Beck, Hank Williams III and Beth Orton, currently seeking a spot in this fall's Toronto Film Festival. Another option is to make better fakes: Pross had plans to do Soul Ecstasy up Blair Witch-style, with a trailer and other promotional "documents"; instead, he's applying those ambitions to his Mexican Planet of the Apes. And he'll continue to map out plans for more genre-specific concept albums, at least "until the owner of the label tells me to stop doing such silly things."