Ennio Morricone & Bruno Nicolai's 'Dimensioni Sonore' Is an Essential Masterclass in Italian Library Music

BY Brock ThiessenPublished Nov 5, 2020

There's no question 2020 has been a horrible year, and an unfortunate cherry on top was the passing of Ennio Morricone. After decades in music and hundreds upon hundreds of releases, the Italian soundtrack maestro left us this summer at the age of 91. As a silver lining, however, a new light is being shone on the composer, with some of his most obscure and elusive works now being unearthed. Among them is the towering Dimensioni Sonore — Morricone's sprawling 10-volume library set made alongside longtime collaborator Bruno Nicolai.

Created for RCA in 1972 and now reissued in full for the first time, Dimensioni Sonore is ambitious, to say the least. Not only does the project consist of 10 full-length albums — with five being credited to Morricone and five to Nicolai — but Dimensioni Sonore finds both composers stretching their creativity to the very edge, making for some of the most forward-thinking compositions of their careers.

With Dimensioni Sonore not tied down to any specific film or television project, Morricone and Nicolai clearly used the opportunity to pursue their most radical and avant-garde ideas — even if the project was for a biggie label like RCA. For better or worse, this means there's a total absence of the composers' more pop-oriented sounds. There's no dreamy Edda Dell'Orso vocal lines, no bouncing bossa nova grooves, no Spaghetti Western ear wormers, and definitely no skewed bubblegum-pop songs.

That said, Dimensioni Sonore hardly feels out of place in Morricone and Nicolai's collective discographies. In fact, what the pair have constructed is very much in line with their more dark and experimental giallo and horror scores — though minus all the pretty bits — such as A Quiet Place in the Country, Il Gatto a Cove Code and The Night Evelyn Came from the Grave.

Morricone's work with famed avant-garde collective Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza also repeatedly comes to mind, with Dimensioni Sonore adopting the same sort of free-form techniques you'd expect from the Group. In fact, various members of the ensemble are even included on Dimensioni Sonore.

While this incredibly out-there, high-brow approach may be a deal breaker for some, Dimensioni Sonore stands one of the most fascinating and ambitious works by either composer, as they go head-first into a truly idiosyncratic realm of sound. The results are incredibly complex, as Morricone and Nicolai weave a sonic fever dream of cerebral jazz and free-form modern composition that's one serious mind fuck of a journey.

It also helps that there's some truly jaw-dropping percussion exercises and one hell of a rhythm section, with Dimensioni Sonore locking onto some serious grooves more than a few times. Plus there's even some wordless female vocalisms scattered throughout just to keep things extra interesting.

But while Dimensioni Sonore very much plays out like a unified whole, the deeper you go, the easier it is to get lost, as Morricone and Nicolai throw out a mind-breaking array of creative ideas. Despite the incredibly long runtime, no two tracks are truly alike, with a varied approach to both acoustic and electronic instrumentation preventing Dimensioni Sonore from ever repeating itself.

Without question, Dimensioni Sonore is an imposing piece of work — both on and off the turntable — and this is no doubt why the set is only now getting its first-ever vinyl reissue all these decades later. But for those up to the challenge, Dimensioni Sonore stands tall among the best of '70s avant-garde, serving as a stunning showcase of not just Italian library music but modern composition as a whole.

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