Werner Müller
East Of India






Conductors and arrangers who irregularly visited the Exotica genre oftentimes delivered highly interesting viewpoints and unique takes which tower above the gazillions of better known interpretations such as Taboo, Caravan or The Moon Of Manakoora. The majority of their complete works isn't all too interesting for Exotica collectors, but those scattered works that are, remain fan favorites and more often than not proved to be truly important offerings in hindsight, be it Milt Raskin's Kapu and Robert Drasnin's Voodoo! (both released in 1959), Stanley Wilson's Pagan Ritual or Stanley Black's Exotic Percussion (both in 1961), to name just four skilled gentlemen… with a fifth name following right up: German film scorer Werner Müller (1920–1998) whose oeuvre consists of kitsch-driven heartache melodies, Schlager Folk schmutz, symphonic Easy Listening pieces and, well, more than a few great Exotica nuggets if you take his moniker of Ricardo Santos into account, a pseudonym he chose for the international market.


His 1963 exotic album East Of India, however, is delivered under his real name and is a blast, letting the listener forget all the sugarsweet schlock Müller is predominantly known for, if at all. Released on Decca and being the spiritual follow-up of his best-known exotic work Hawaiian Swing of 1962, East Of India comprises of 12 unique cinematic pieces of Middle Eastern and Far Eastern style complete with a large mixed choir, keeping the cliché level to a minimum. Kotos, shamisens and Honky Tonk pianos mesh with seraphic strings, muted horns and iridescent mallet instruments. Whatever stylistic choice Müller is making, it is almost always tastefully delivered, and while the work is of a symphonic nature, it is solemn and oftentimes intimate enough to inherit the laid-back traits of Exotica quartets and Jazz groups. Read on to find out more about the many strength and minor weaknesses of East Of India.

The Banquet is already in session when the listener hears the first bustling notes of pizzicato strings, the spectral aah-aah chants of a large mixed choir, a shawm-like trumpet plus a koto instrument, all of these devices are rounded off by the lavish stream of legato violins. The mood is not blithesome, but oscillates between an impressive pompousness and permanent movement. A majestic tune of whose mélange only the trumpet resembles the typical sound of Werner Müller, as it inherits the slightest traces of a German Schlager or Alpine Folk sound. But it is not glaring enough to ridicule or destroy the opulent setting in any meaningful way.


The Raftman's Ballad is a much more resplendent and dreamy composition, with icy orchestra strings that immediately shift their timbre and move into territories of rapture and bliss. The acoustic guitar frame is almost swallowed by the orchestra, as are the double bass backings. A muted trumpet plays the main melody which is surprisingly kitsch-free. Sure, this tune is saccharine, but there is no melancholia added. It is an Easy Listening ballad, if you will. Glinting vibraphones and short Far Eastern tone sequences on the kalimba round off this wonderful tune which I happen to like very much. 

While Bazaar Melody presents an uplifting chase theme with rapid-firing dark strings in tandem with their brighter brethren, galloping beats, rain sticks and a humming male choir which is embedded in-between the brass bursts and shifting Oriental and Occidental melodies, Ferry Boat Serenade moves into glaringly Japanese realms with a soothing alto flute, utterly mellow koto twangs and quiescent strings. Its beginning phase is decidedly convivial and jocular, but the middle section revs up the scope to majestic levels with sunset-red tonalities and a certain dose of melodrama. It is a feast for fans of Japanese Exotica music, and by now, Werner Müller has perfectly camouflaged his usual style of arranging.


Lotus And Chrysanthemum resides in the same Asian tone range, but is a much more reduced percussive tune with gentle maracas, an acoustic guitar and a trumpet. Only in the second phase do the strings reach a Les Baxter-like territory, gleam and glow in Space-Age colors, whereas the third phase ends on an enigmatic note. The final piece of side A, Ritual Dance, does not live up to its promise, as the effervescent pizzicato violins, the cascading harp licks and the joyful choir create an overly syrupy concoction; the silky brass stabs, however, are top-notch.

Side B starts off with the wondrous On The Kyushu Island, a rustic but highly enchanting offering with yet another acoustic guitar frame and a humming mixed choir whose chants are boldly reverberated. Highlights include bouncy timpani, a bonfire shamisen, mellow alto flutes and a questionable usage of a sky-high vibraphone note that is repeated every so often; alas, it distracts too much from the reverie that is otherwise splendidly maintained. Merry Geishas is the fastest and most gleeful inclusion, with rapid hand claps, intertwined accordions with brass sections, and spiraling whirlwinds of Hollywood strings. The addition of a koto and typical Japanese notes on the vibraphone elevate this song into surprisingly original spheres. This piece sounds real.


It is Moon Over The Pagoda that injects a nocturnal, much more serious atmosphere to the ears of the listener: a romantic lead fiddle and staccato strings paint a mysterious, rather doleful mood. The koto and clinging tambourins serve as enlightening devices, but this piece remains the dead-serious piece of the album. Arthur Lyman's similarly-titled take on the traditional Moon Over A Ruined Castle creates a similar mood. Fans of Dark Exotica music will love it. 

While Chinese Tittle-Tattle is a brass-heavy big band spy motif in the veins of the Hawaii Five-0 Theme with piles of sizzling-hot horns and only a few interspersed Chinese flutes and unexpectedly latinized Honky Tonk pianos, Sampans On The River is a gargantuan showcase track that could be the – delicately marvelous – theme to a game show or something. It is melodious to the maximum, with convivial strings and a rising horn motif that fuels the excitement with every bursting note. The second phase adds claves and a dose of mystery, but since the strings are coming back in the last phase, the fanfare-like character of the tune is once again boosted. It is a superb track that glimmers in neon lights and is outright positive and embracing. And it is even fittingly included, for its broad show tune atmosphere is indeed transformed into something exotic as the composition progresses.


The final Lament sounds like a let-down on paper, but is actually a terrific closer with glitzy harp twangs, glockenspiel particles, a mellowly muted trumpet and resplendent strings. A piano melody is soon placed in this sunset-colored arrangement, and the oscillation between quieter paths and figuratively ethereal strings works flawlessly. It is a fitting, majestic conclusion to one of Werner Müller's very finest works.

East Of India is a fabulous album, and the fact that I'm praising its symphonic scope and large pool of exotic instruments cannot be taken for granted, for Werner Müller's complete works are ever-shifting entities of a boldly German style – especially in regard to the horns – that is meshed with Mediterranean, Latin or Far Eastern clichés. East Of India is nothing short of successful, as Müller is able to hide these unnecessary and dangerously out of place German mannerisms. Only the opener The Banquet leaves microscopic particles of Alpine horns, but all other compositions are gorgeous and almost sound truly faithful. Ferry Boat Serenade provides an Asian aural feast of balmy and glitzy sound waves, while the dark Moon Over The Pagoda moves into arcane areas. The choir adds much to each composition on which it is included and can even be deemed essential, for the incomprehensible chants are neither intrusive nor arbitrary, let alone lackluster.


There is no single dud on this album, and yet are there stand-out compositions, for example the show tune-inspired Sampans On The River on which Müller circumnavigates all the usual big band-related traps such as all too heavily erupting brass stabs or overly incisive horns; likewise, The Raftman's Ballad is Easy Listening par excellence, but still not ephemeral enough to not acknowledge its striking qualities in the form of über-enchanting strings. Les Baxter fans, take note! I can wholeheartedly recommend this album to everyone who is even the slightest bit interested in the Exotica genre, to both the casual listener and die-hard collector alike, since the 12 unique compositions are so worth it. It is not yet available on iTunes or Amazon, but hey, its 50th anniversary is celebrated in 2013, so…?


Exotica Review 197: Werner Muller – East Of India (1963). Originally published on Mar. 30, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.