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Music

The Federico Fellini film that blew Mark Mothersbaugh's mind

There’s nobody quite like Mark Mothersbaugh. Perhaps that’s why there’s no band quite like Devo. Responsible for crafting one of the most leftfield Top 20 singles of the 1970s, the Ohio bizarro-punks successfully melded the high-octane ferocity of new wave and early electronica with a surrealism more familiar to fans of Salvador Dalí than those of Siouxie and The Banshees. It comes as no surprise, then, that Mothersbaugh, the band’s main composer, has been a longtime fan of Federico Fellini’s dreamlike cinematic world.

Opening up about some of his favourite records, Mothersbaugh, who also works as a film composer, discussed Nina Rota’s lush score for Fellini’s Satyricon. Released in 1969, this dark fantasy drama is based on Petronius’ work of the same name, written during the days of Nero and set in ancient Rome. When it hit cinemas, Fellini Satyricon bewildered audiences as much as it rocked the establishment. In other words, it was the perfect film for a young anti-Vietnam protestor like Mark Mothersbaugh.

Mothersbaugh protested American involvement in the Vietnam war while a student at Kent State University in the early ’70s. In fact, his nation’s wanton destruction of Vietnam and its people actively inspired the politically subversive foundations of Devo. “From 1968 through 1970, Kent State was an amazing place,” Mark told Pitchfork. “They brought in people like Morton Subotnick, the experimental electronic music pioneer. Instead of seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the local theatre, you could go see Fellini Satyricon, which blew my mind. That film had almost no dialogue and one of the most creative scores anybody ever did.”

All of Fellini’s greatest films were soundtracked by Nina Rota, a prodigious talent with one of the most prolific outputs of any 20th-century film composer. He wrote more than 150 scores for Italian and international productions from the 1930s until his death in 1979. That’s three scores every year for over 46 years. That’s not to mention the numerous ballets, operas and concert works he was also writing at the same time. His otherworldly score for Satyricon is as lush and artful as his work on Amarcord and La Dolce Vita, but also far more experimental. The sonic palette of Satyricon is unlike anything else. Blending electronics, Balinese percussion and dissonant guitar arrangements, Rota’s score is at once utterly terrifying and undeniably alluring. Make sure you check out the suite below.

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