Piero Piccioni
Bora Bora






Piero Piccioni (1921–2004) is a name that most passionate Exotica fans encounter only because of one particular work, but this is greater than the surroundings it is linked to. Far greater. Enter Bora Bora, the pianist and organist’s ten-track journey to said titular island as well as Tahiti. Released in 1968 on the Italian Cinevox label, the album contains everything genre fans love, and then some: a large choir, exotic percussion par excellence, shimmering ukuleles and tropical as well as unexpectedly grim and mystified timbres. I could leave it at that and urge you to check out the release if you have not come across it yet or shoved it aside some time ago, but I would then have omitted an important part in regard to this work. Bora Bora may feature ten unique tracks, but they are no standalone pieces.


This is the soundtrack to the eponymous movie from 1968, envisioned and directed by Ugo Liberatore. The razor-thin plot is quickly told: a wife runs away from her husband, an ignorant, terrifying Frenchman. She flees to the island in the Pacific. Once the homme terrible knows about her whereabouts, he sets up ploys in order to win her back. The movie, meanwhile, is quasi-forgotten and did not stand a chance against the adventure movies of the time that took place in similar locations, but instead featured huge monsters, bejinxed brutes and never-ending sequences of obstacles. The soundtrack has chiefly survived the mediocre film thanks to the 1996 reissue of the Japanese Soundtrack Listeners Communications Inc. which not only remastered the original ten tracks, but put five lost bonus cuts onto the CD. I do not want to already give away the secret sauce of the seriously magic arrangements of Piero Piccioni in the opening paragraph, but can tell you in advance that the luring album moves from Exotica to Space-Age, then back and beyond. It outshines the movie. And many dedicated Exotica albums as well!


The opener Tahiti features one of the strangest preludes, considering what is yet to come in the same piece: shady double bass aortas and bongo blebs create the illusion of a murky pre-Funk work with crepuscular jungles and danger-evoking underbrushes… before a harp-infused string panorama in technicolor enfolds before the listener’s inner eye, delicately chintzy and syrupy, further fueled by upfront ukulele glimmers and a large susurrant mixed choir which resides tightly in-between the textural thicket. The glissando of the harp mimicks the billows of the turquoise ocean. This tune has Italian cinecittà written all over it: a tad histrionic and definitely over the top, Tahiti would have been a great closer, but is only one incarnation and just the beginning, as the French-Polynesian neighbor and title-lending island Bora Bora is the setting of the next tune which starts similarly tense. Dark timpani and slapped bass twangs conflate with a spectral-languorous choir which murmurs along to the darkness, only partially illumining it. Dichotomous alto flute tones mould majesty and camouflaged savagery into each tone, making Bora Bora a genuinely splendid piece which emits that paradisiac feeling, but delivers it via dun-colored tones in minor. Unbelievably soothing, especially near the end where ligneous marimba droplets and the climactic choir coruscation round off the solemnity of this piece.


The following Tamouré Festival showcases the first clear sign of that Italian Pop formula which was so huge in the 60’s and 70’s: splendid percussion surfaces complete with wooden-hollow drums, bongos, rain sticks and congas form the base frame to an insouciant upbeat ukulele-focused ritual dance. The tempo increases near the end where it simulates a grinding tachycardia. The plasticity is gorgeous, and Piero Piccioni leaves enough room for the drums to shine. What else is there for him to do? After all, this is the score to a film. Blue Rhythm Festival follows and adds bold doses of classic drum kit goodness – or, alternatively, badness – to the tropical table before the tune turns into a slow Elephant Walk-like wonkiness with vivaciously wobbling Space-Age organ shards played by the composer himself, warm acoustic guitar rhythms, dense bass guitar blebs and diffuse brass sunbursts. This is the black sheep of the album, but a loveable one it is at the end of the day, schlepping itself ever-forward. Kudos to the inclusoon of the scintillating organ bubbles which range from vitreous to dubious.


While Magic Of Tahiti is a reprise of the opener Tahiti and revs the carefree melody up with a schmaltzy Mediterranean loftiness and a Rimini-resembling aural panorama, the closer of side A, Eros Of Hiro is the fantastic centerpiece of the album which mercilessly interpolates the enigmatic arcaneness that was heretofore featured few and far between. Here, the mystery strings and vibraphone chimes resemble Sci-Fi tonalities. If you know Martin Denny‘s stupefying Jungle Madness off Hypnotique (1958), you know what you are in for. Once this segue is over, the nocturnal blackness is ennobled by besotted choirs; Piccioni grafts a love theme that would have been entirely applicable on the 101 StringsThe Exotic Sounds Of Love (1972). Everything gleams and feels drugged and dizzy. This is an unexpected gem and one of my favorite symphonic Exotica pieces ever created… and you find it here, on this soundtrack to a lackluster movie!


Side B opens with another take on a previously presented song: Tamouré Nella Sera is obviously tied to Tamouré Festival and features staggering drums aplenty which then swirl around ukulele serpentines and sun-dappled, mountainous tone sequences. The same can be said about Tahiti Tamouré, the third version of the Tahiti theme which is merged with the Tamouré motif and ennobled here via prominent kettle drums that exude a gunmetal-brazen afterglow. L’Isola Incantata is the final original piece of side B which enchants with mellow legato vibraphone coils, quavering organ undulations and tastily muddled bass fluxions. This is the clear cut Space-Age hymn par excellence, even though some chords emanate rufescent horror timbres. Everything on this piece is a big silkened blur. Top notch!


The album closes with another version of Bora Bora where the choir seems to be mixed more frontally, but everything else remains pretty much the same. This is the end of the original album. The Japanese reissue of 1996 features five additional tracks: alternative and short takes from the archives that did not make it to the original LP, let alone the film. It is not worth carving out their differences in greater detail, these are really just shortened; no additional pattern or texture ever surfaces. Tahiti Tamouré (Alt Version) is worth noting – more like worth nothing – for its strangely echoey ukulele riffs which sound plastic-y and artificial.


Bora Bora is a movie that time forgot and which is plagued by its lead actors. However, Bora Bora is also a movie that sports an exquisite soundtrack that works entirely well on its own when it is detached from the moving pictures. The two main themes Tahiti and Bora Bora are eminently catchy; the former might be considered too clichéd due to the tumular-frilly ukulele licks that foreshadow lackluster Latino productions of the late 90’s. What the lead melody destroys is formidably built anew by the splendid circumambience: the humming choir does indeed ennoble the island vistas, no matter how smarmy it sounds at times, and the string washes are equally luring.


Two distinctive factors let this release tower above the competition: firstly, the percussion prowess hints at – and fakes – a high budget production, there is not one sampled drum in place. Naturally, this would have been hard to achieve in 1968, but the drums are not even dubbed via reel-to-reel operations. The textures sound great and boost the exotic factor by a wide margin. Secondly, the murky tonality is shrouded in mystery and danger and makes this an absolutely mind-blowing hybrid between Space-Age and Exotica whose luminosity even grows when one considers that this is only a soundtrack to “some long-forgotten flick.” Tunes like the riddle-charged Eros Of Hiro and the mellowest of all otherworldly dreamscapes called L’Islata Cantata make this album truly worth anyone’s while who is at least a bit interested in island settings infested by darker undertones. The Japanese reissue is definitely valuable due to the tracks being remastered, but the actual bonus tracks are huge letdowns, there is anything of aesthetic effulgence on there. Make no mistake and succumb to the soundtrack to Bora Bora. As for the movie? There is no Bud Spencer or Terence Hill, ergo: meh.


Exotica Review 267: Piero Piccioni – Bora Bora (1968). Originally published on Oct. 5, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.