Philip Tagg
Hearing the Detectives

21 terrific TV tracks including
Declan Dougherty, I Recall Bacall,
Coke Squad
and the complete Afroglass Suite.

Hearing The Detectives
Non-existent Records NONEXCD 1

Music and inlay notes © Philip Tagg 1999

This document also available as printable PDF CD inlay
(A4 | US letter)

About this album

Hearing the Detectives: track listing

= hear MP3   = hear/see  Read the storylines

1 Venezuela Vice [1:33]
2 Throgs Neck Thugs [1:51]
3 I Recall Bacall [1:31]
  +  
4 Afroglass [15:01]
5 Club 33 Goes African [3:00]
6 Arizona Drains [1:12]
7 Crépuscule metropolitain [1:35]
8 Robocopter [2:05]
9 Unfair Fourths [3:23]
10 Unfair Fifths [3:41]
11 Ghoundles [3:34]
12 The Ugly Cowboy [8:32]
13 A Minor Repercussion [7:10]
14 Vindaloo & Lager [0:55]

15 Mad House Remix [5:05]
16 Århundradets kärlekssaga [1:24]
17 Coke Squad [3:14]
18 Declan Dougherty [1:59]
19 The Confused Detective [2:14]
20 Le Commissaire Sartre [1:47]
21 The Sad Detective [1:51]

Potted screenplays

Top of document 1. Venezuela Vice [1:33] — TV title theme

With its fast, video-style cutting, its attention to contemporary sartorial detail and extensive use of recent rock hits as driving underscore, Venezuela Vice, by being so trendy in the eighties, constructed its own aesthetic downfall and obsolescence. Set in Caracas and Los Angeles, the series featured towelling headbands, pastel-shaded leg-warmers, lime green tangas and tasteless silk ties. It also contained its fair share of heroin syringes, cúmbia combos, tropical cocktails, nightclubs with large fans in the ceiling, cocaine, illegal immigration, corporate offices in skyscrapers and shots of shanty-town wasteland. Overloaded imagery and interesting story lines were two remarkable aspects of the series, the former through its abundance, the latter through its absence. It never became clear why detectives Davy Crockett (played by John Dunson) and Ernest Tubbs (Washington Mohammed) actually needed to drive a metallic mauve Pontiac convertible at such speed round hairpin bends in the Caracas suburbs, and it is ludicrous that they never seemed to learn any Spanish apart from ‘amigos’, ‘vamos’ and ‘adios’.

Top of document 2. ‘Throg’s Neck Thugs’ [1:51] — Theme from Dr. Gunn
(dir. Taffy Young, prod. A. Zucchini)

First in a long series of spy thrillers starring Colin Shaughnessy as Irish secret agent James Bogg, Dr. Gunn brings Bogg to New York to clean up the Irish connection in the local mob who are running weapons to both loyalist paramilitaries and the provisional IRA. The circumstances are of course far worse because many thugs are in fact working for LEWD (The League of Extortion and World Domination) whose leader, Dr. Gunn (played by Donald Disgust), now moves his submarine headquarters to and fro between the East River and Jamaica Bay with a view to launching attacks on both the United Nations building and Kennedy Airport. New York’s Throg’s Neck Bridge plays an important role in this movie, because illegal arms from LEWD’s underground factory in Pelham have to be transported to sites near the airport and opposite the U.N. in Queens. The title music accompanies the usual Bogg film screen logos, after which black mob limos and trucks start moving, first one then a few more until there is a relentless convoy crossing the bridge on to the Parsons Expressway to wreak havoc on the civilised world, at least as Anglocentrics seem to understand it…

Top of document 3.’I Recall Bacall’ [1:32] — title theme from Dick Trowel, P.I. (dir. Wally Harris, 1949) + version.

Out from the mist by the Jersey City Stockyard Company’s pier in Hoboken emerges a lonely male figure in a trenchcoat and Trillby. As he comes into side-lit black-and-white close-up he lights a cigarette. The titles tell us this is Dick Trowel, Private Investigator, starring Brian Hogarth. He turns to look at the black Chrysler parked under a crane, and those of us who recognise this famous film noir know that Trowel is hoping in vain for Betty (Doreen McCall) to swing her shapely legs out of the car’s driving seat door. But she has left him and gone up state, just like the hoodlums Trowel helps send in the same direction. He walks into the shabby warehouse building and climbs the stairs to the first floor. He enters his spartan office. Melba, his over-made-up but devoted secretary, has long since gone. Trowel starts musing philosophically: maybe about Betty, maybe about the recent spate of home defeats suffered by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He pours himself the last drops of bourbon from the bottle in his desk drawer and looks soulfully out into that late November night as the camera zooms back from his lonely window into the crime-ridden cold and damp …

Top of document 4. Afroglass (long mix) [15:01] from Afroglass (dir. René Jaffa)

This suite combines the underscore from several key scenes into a continuous suite. The screenplay of Afroglass is based on best selling novelist Wilhelm Müsli’s ethnic eco-thriller about the machinations of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Schleier in Ghana.

Roberto De Caligula plays the ruthless Swiss yuppie plantation manager Helmut Hässli who, plagued by sexual impotence and the contempt of his spoilt but alienated wife Heidi (Greta Cacchi), lives in constant fear of failure. His mission is to force Ngolame villagers into mass cultivation of the locally grown obulali plant, an essential ingredient in the Schleier Corporation’s highly successful rejuvenation drug Juvanol™. The only problem is that obulali is holy to the Ngolame because, as a euphoric and mildly hallucinogenic stimulant, it occupies a central position in time-honoured ritual. This means that local resistance to Hässli’s plans is compact. Hässli tries to beat the Ngolame people into submission by torching their huts and crops. His efforts are in vain because he totally underestimates the driving power of the Ngolame people’s individual and collective sense of pride, honour, self-sacrifice and solidarity.

Hässli’s will to dominate is further thwarted by the presence in Ngolame country of Canadian computer whizz-kid Steven Hirsch (played by Tom Bruise). Hirsch, ex-student of Ghanaian musicology professor Nketia and erstwhile member of a Toronto-based jazz-funk band (in which he doubled on bass and tenor sax), is considering settling in the area where he has already lived for a year, learning the trade of master drummer. One of the Schleier Corporation’s problems is that Hirsch, unbeknownst to Hässli, has hooked up his laptop, ingeniously powered by solar cells on top of his hut, to a satellite dish made from gourds lined with mirrors. Hacking his way into the Schleier computers in Zürich, Hirsch uncovers the machinations afoot and e-mails both the U.N. and Greenpeace. The latter fly in a troop of African guerilleros and the scene is set for one of the most exciting and thought-provoking political action movies of the decade…

Due to the film’s numerous panning shots over the savanna (e.g. when huts and fields are torched or when Greenpeace guerilleros fly in), Jaffa is said to have wanted a ‘Philip Glass type of score’. This is not, as some critics suggest, the origin of the film’s title. The real reason is that glass is the most significant material symbol of holistic thinking throughout the film, the camera work of Sven Gammalqvist underlining how glass can be seen both through and into, that it can cause both light and fire, that it can send, mediate and receive. Moreover, the Ngolame hold glass in high esteem as a means of creating, with the help of a mild obulali high, images of the ancestral kingdom — the ‘window on before and the mirror of after’.

In addition, glass is also used in the mirrors which Hirsch, the Greenpeace guerilleros and the Ngolame all use for purposes of popular resistance against neocolonialism: they line Hirsch’s gourd satellite dish with glass mirrors, they blind Hässli’s henchmen with glass mirrors, they set fire to the petrol tanks of Schleier trucks using special glass, etc., etc. The music also contains two ‘glass motifs’: (i) the ‘glass bead’ sounds that start as well as end the suite and (ii) the ‘shimmering glass’ pentatonic string pad that increases in strength towards the end.

Much of the music is based on a significant sideline in the film, i.e. Hirsch’s reworking of traditional Ngolame music, with its complex polyrhythm (here 12/8, 10/8, 9/8 and 7/8 simultaneously), into a form that sonically encapsulates European and North American arrogance in Africa. The suite is supposed to function narratively as the result of Hirsch’s compositional work. However, the suite also symbolises Hirsch’s own process of community alignment and group identity: from fascination and westernisation of the Ngolame as exotic ‘noble savages’ (the bass and sax solos at the start of the suite) through horror at ‘first-world’ oppression (the Schleier Corporation symbolised musically about eight minutes into the piece with crashing brass chords in clumsy 11/4 time) and the subsequent resurgence of the local people and their culture (pan flutes in call-and-response, instead of bass or sax solo, together with the ‘glass motif’ of the pentatonic string pad).

Top of document 5. Afroglass (short mix) or Club 33 Goes African [3:02]
— main titles to Afroglass

The title sequences to Afroglass (see track 4) consist of a series of long helicopter panning shots over Ngolame country, gradually zooming in towards the village that becomes the centre of action. The same music and similar visuals are used when the Greenpeace guerilleros are flown in.

Top of document 6. Arizona Drains [1:16] — title theme from TV series

One of the most bizarre weekly series of all time, Arizona Drains recounts the activities of a Phoenix-based, Hendrix-worshipping heavy metal group in their efforts to retain metal cred while at the same time combating horrors perpetrated by a seemingly endless string of competing bands connected with satanic rites, cult mass suicide, hard drug peddling and sex killings. [P.S. The distortion is intentional]

Top of document 7. ‘Crépuscule métropolitain’ [1:35] — titles to Sans jamais y penser
(Louis Valise)

Montréal cop Lucille Lachine (Clarisse Thibault) goes underground to discover why the only son of a U.S. corporate tycoon has disappeared in the city. When no ransom is demanded after one month, kidnapping is ruled out. There are no witnesses and there seems to be no reason for nineteen-year-old Byrne to run away. Is it is a matter of illicit love? Or perhaps the family holds hidden secrets? The title sequences are shot from inside Lachine’s car as she drives in the evening rain along the busy Boulevard Décarie, sunk like a huge six-lane gutter into the city. There are no sound effects with this music apart from the monotonous to-and-fro of the windscreen wipers which reveal red tail lights, dipped headlamps, street lighting and the city above in kaleidoscope patterns on the wind shield.

Top of document 8. Robocopter [2:07] — main titles (dir. Paul Verhuizen)

This high-tech piece of A.I. metal and plastic can fly like a helicopter, cross-reference rap sheets, survive Hollywood car chases, sniff out dope pedlars, repel 45 Magnum bullets, spit napalm, run credit checks while driving a car and make mass arrests at mass brawls in honky-tonks, logging offence data at precinct headquarters and in the DA’s office, all at the same time from the scene of the crime. Problems start in this tragicomic techno-thriller when Robocopter cross-checks psychological profiles in a search for suspects of a mob and drugs-related homicide. Discovering that its (his?) own psychological profile is that of a machine, that machine characteristics are generally regarded as undesirable and that a common reaction to being unwanted is to behave unreasonably, it (he?) feels logically obliged to act accordingly. Falling in love with attractive and intelligent DA Jill Hill (played by Victoria Bridle), Robocopter jealously kills his amorous rival who happens also to be police chief. Robocopter is now a machine on the run through the urban decay of Gary (Indiana) and South Chicago…

Top of document 9. ‘Unfair Fourths’ [3:36] — opening of Poltergeist XVII (dir. Stephanie Eisberg)

Slow panning shots of Millie McGuire (played by Courtney Beaver), a rich young heiress widowed under mysterious circumstances, show the gradual animation and crisscross movement of inanimate objects in the large drawing room of the McGuire family’s New Hampshire home. It may be a lovely day in early fall, but who controls these uninvited guests and who will exorcise them?

Top of document 10. ‘Unfair Fifths’ [4:48] — from To Have and to Hold (dir. Alan Parkinson)

The thriller To Have and to Hold, based on the novel Who Loves GRHQ? by cybernetics professor Fred Smith, traces the true fate of six million unemployed university graduates in corporate Britain in the second decade of the 21st century. Persecuted for draft dodging compulsory conscription into corporate Britain’s ‘Army of Temporary Mobile Labour’ and adopting the identity of outlawed New Age Travellers, a hard core of graduates set up clandestine resistance headquarters (GRHQ) beneath the hill at Sherborne in Dorset. Posing as an out-of-work Thomas Hardy researcher, Maria Hess (played by Fatima Redfern) is the tireless and heroic coordinator of efforts by the Graduate Underground Movement (GUM) to break into the corporate media monopolies of virtual reality programming by broadcasting messages from the real world in 3D and squalor. The ‘unfair fifths’ underscore a scene from the middle of the film in which Maria and her two children, now fatherless, are filmed in rags after Corporate Security have blown the first GRHQ to smithereens. They are forced to beg by a roundabout on the A30, where the contrast between Hardyesque landscape in all its nostalgic beauty and the technological cruelty of corporate Britain creates a pungent mood of despair.

Top of document 11. Ghoundles (dir. P. Romanski) — ‘Dracula’s Organ Drool’ [4:45] (underscore)

Hugh Johnson plays gay scientist Alvin Pugh who, expelled from Cambridge University’s genetics laboratory for tampering with sub-nuclear DNA, now teaches parapsychology at the famous private school in idyllic Oundle (Northamptonshire). Thanks to his past in DNA manipulation, Pugh discovers the reasons for mysterious disappearances in the little town. He finds that the mossy slime on eighteenth century limestone graves in the old parish churchyard is mutating into a parasitic and intelligent life form that occupies the souls of the dead and kills any human within a one metre range. The deaths are horrific: suffocation in green slime followed by complete mutation of every single molecule in the human body, this increasing the mass and killing range of each unit of slime. However, these ghouls of mutated moss slime are not satisfied with their rate of progress: to live their destructive life to the full they must also learn to suck blood. They have therefore summoned Dracula’s army of vampires to help them in their quest for eternal life. In this scene, we witness the gradual assembly of the Oundle ghouls (the ‘Ghoundles’ of the film’s title) in the thirteenth-century parish church and the sudden entry of Dracula. With the red lining of his billowing black cape matching bloodshot eyes and sanguineous fang tips, Count Dracula crashes through the magnificent stained glass east window of the church to seat himself at what becomes a six-manual organ. The putrid and perverse ritual of necrophilia ensues and Dracula delivers that now classically fiendish pep-talk to the assembled company of ghouls and vampires. The bloodthirsty attack on innocent men, women and children can now begin. Remembering that garlic and crucifixes don’t work on mossy slime, how, with all the odds stacked against him, will Alvin ever get the ghouls and beat the big bad bats?

Top of document 12. The Ugly Cowboy Suite [08:36] (dir. Leo Sergione)

This is the story of the rugged, atheist and principled young cowboy (played by Eli Clitwood) who, bullied by his peers for his supposedly acne-scarred face, finds it easy to identify with other underdogs, such as the Mexicans and Native Americans whose land his fellow pioneers in the wagon train, aided and abetted by the U.S. cavalry, are about to steal by force. Tormented by taunts and disgust at hypocrisy and violence, he leaves his post as armed guard on the wagon train and heads for Indian country. After riding for several days and nights, he arrives as the adobe pueblo Santanna del Yermo where he meets the scared and suspicious mestizo population who, stricken by drought, now experience frequent and sudden death at the hand of Mexican bandits and evil gringos, both on the payroll of the U.S. government. The disfigured hero is gradually accepted by the villagers, who nickname him ‘El féo’ (=The Ugly One), and who welcome his skills as a mean gunslinger capable of helping them defend their pueblo against marauders.

The ugly cowboy learns that General Custard is to send in parts of the sixth cavalry under his arch-enemies and tormentors Sgt. Obadiah North and Lt. William Callous. These blue-eyed, all-American boys have been ordered to obliterate all pockets of resistance against white settlement in the West. In a flashback, we learn how our hero had as a boy tried in vain to defend his sister from rape by North and Callous and how they had punished his resistance by drenching his face in paraffin and stubbing out their cigars in his cheeks. So, bent on revenge and confident of victory after repelling Mexican bandits and gringo murderers, ‘El féo’ kills Callous in a classic gundown during the cavalry attack on Santanna, but is simultaneously shot in the back by North. Our ugly but noble hero dies defending the pueblo whose people he has come to love and whose brave inhabitants then proceed to hack North into small pieces with their machetes. Such collective anger, determination and strength scares the rest of the US cavalry who, thoroughly routed, beat a disordered, cowardly and ignominious retreat.

The Ugly Cowboy Suite starts with the film’s opening titles [duration 1:51]. At dawn, over the prairie, a traditional hymn tune is heard as pious pioneers wipe the sleep from their eyes and rise with the sun to join the wagon train taking them beyond the endless horizon to their ShangriLa settlement in the great beyond of the West, or, in the case of our hero, to the impoverished and besieged Santanna del Yermo (‘Pueblo Bells’ [:32] with its ‘Indians, Spurs and Rattlesnakes’ [:34] and ‘Mexican Work’ [:52]). This section then segues into ‘North and Callous’ [:34] and ‘Cavalry attack on Santanna’ [:59], culminating in the ‘Showdown with Rapists’ score (same theme as ‘North and Callous’) [:42]. The suite ends on the main street of the ruined pueblo, after the battle as our heroic ugly cowboy dies in the arms of honest and grateful villagers. He longs for his Oregon idyll and a slow zoom-out shows him being laid to rest by the mission church outside the smouldering pueblo as the end credits start to appear.

Top of document 13.‘A Minor Repercussion’ [7:20] — from Los abalorios
(English title ‘Glass Beads’, dir. P. Almonedeor)

In this story, based on a novel by Ettore Umbro, Henry Ford Harrison (Jr.) plays Swedish-Spanish musicologist Fernando Ström who, while researching the Arab musical treatise Kitab al-musiqi al-garbh in Seville, stumbles on a code that could provide the key to strategies of social domination if cross-referenced with the patterns of power described in Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. Help comes in the unlikely form of Carly Kowalski (played with great aplomb by Bambi Kissinger). Kowalski is an ex-Wall Street money shark who, disenchanted with an occupation devoted to legal extortion, can now afford to pay back some of the debt she owes society. She is also a virtuoso code-cracker and computer systems analyst. Ström and Kowalski work and make love at computer terminals and in monastery libraries at all times of the day and night (the solo guitar duo in the middle of this piece actually underscores one of their wordless and frenetic moonlit sessions in the Alhambra gardens). The couple finally manage not only to identify the key to Arab mercantile domination of the Mediterranean up until the fourteenth century but also to uncover Spanish and Portuguese strategies for plundering gold and silver from the Americas and Africa in the heyday of Iberian colonialism. And, if that were not enough, the musical codices, if programmed correctly, also provide substantial evidence that British, French, Dutch, German and North American attempts at world domination were based on the same, clearly formulated strategies of racism, genocide, lies and ecological terror.

Of course, such strategies were and are known to only the select few. Ström and Kowalski want to reveal the secret for the benefit of humanity but they have enemies in high places. To make matters worse, good old ‘Joe Public’ never believes dull academics or glitzy sleaze bags turned goody-goody, especially not when they tell stories like this one! But the truth will out. Or will it?… ‘A Minor Repercussion’, played here by the Gypsy Queens, underscores much of the Spanish-Porteño episode in Ström’s and Kowalski’s heroic search to expose the true nature of class society and imperialism.

Top of document 14. Vindaloo and Lager [0:55] — TV theme

This Channel 99 series was supposed to poke fun at anti-Asian racism in the UK. OK, it was fine as long as the gang at the Taj on Runcorn Road spilt biryani sauce and Tiger beer all over racist lager louts who’d been given a ‘free’ meal voucher and managed to get themselves tied to their chairs, but it got a bit silly when most of the Merseyside police force were supposedly locked up in the restaurant’s lavatory.

Top of document 15. Mad House [5:05] — TV theme (extended)

Manchester detective and divorcé Tony Huskisson is devastated when his daughter Linda is found dead after her first all-night rave in Chorlton. He turns to drink and is only shaken out of his alcoholic stupor when Linda’s old boyfriend Danny, working as a techno D.J, discovers that the verdict of ‘accidental death by poisoning’ is wrong. ‘It must be murder’, says Danny, because on the night of her death, Linda had been offered an ecstasy pill which had the image of Donald Duck stamped on it. This Donald Duck consignment, Danny learns, is regarded as lethal by all regular ravers. Danny also has information about several other mysterious disappearances associated with Donald Duck pills. With the possibility of revenge in sight, Tony Huskisson goes straight into a rapid detox programme, conducting much of his first investigation as a private detective from the nursing home. Danny does most of the leg work and their expenses are paid by a rich Bolton family who lost their son under similar circumstances. This pilot production serves as the basis for an innovative and gripping series set in the Manchester rave scene.

Top of document 16.‘Military Heartbreak’ [1:36] from Århundrets kärlekssaga

Taken from the Märta Tikkonen book of the same name, this love story has no happy end. The woman keeps returning to her alcoholic husband until the force of her despair and anger is so strong (this scene) that her eyes roam slowly over the husband’s collection of tin soldiers until her gaze fixes on their wedding photograph, whereupon the glass frame cracks into little pieces…

Top of document 17. Coke Squad [3:25] — TV title theme (extended)

Gary Tate (played by Mitch Melson) and Al Washington (Lenny Godiver) are part of New York’s special squad for busting cocaine traffic. Their mission is to crack down on coke and crack dealing to young people. This is not just your usual action series containing one obligatory car chase each week: Tate is an ex-social worker and Washington a psychology graduate from Columbia University. This means that the reasons for and consequences of drug abuse come in for some attention, too.

This version of the Coke Squad theme contains three sections: (i) the opening titles (in 4/4), (ii) the ‘trip motif’ and (iii) the closing titles (in 7/4). The opening shows glistening coke powder in slow motion bursting from a polythene bag into a hallucinatory sequence of computer graphics as the titles, with 3D effect, enter and exit quite abruptly. The middle section (the trip motif) is a flying sequence: (aerial shots containing exciting swoops and swerves from a subjectively unreal camera). The last section (in 7/4) is often used to underscore final chase scenes in the series.

Top of document 18. Declan Dougherty [1:59] — TV theme

It is early morning and the mists on the flat land around Craughwell (Creachmhaoil) are slow to clear on spring mornings. Through the long-distance lens into the haze, just as the guitar is heard, you can almost make out a dark green Peugot 406 approaching out of the eastern light down a straight section of the N6. Just as the car comes into focus and as the flute tune starts, the titles sequences cut to helicopter tracking shots of the car passing through Galway and along the coast towards Lettermore Island (Leitir Móir). When the final phrase is repeated, the helicopter sweeps down close to the car. Dougherty gets out of his Peugeot, slams the car door (inaudible) and walks to the water’s edge as the helicopter returns to its previous altitude. With waves breaking into showers of foam on the rocks below him, Dougherty, in his mid forties, peers out towards the distant islands and horizon.

Frequent flashbacks in this RTE series show how young Declan, born into a poor Catholic family in Derry, joined the provisional IRA in the 1970s. We also know that he greatly admired his grandfather who served with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil war and who, in the early eighties, died from injuries sustained at the hands of fanatics teaching him ‘a lesson’ for proclaiming a peaceful solution to the province’s ‘problems’. It was while studying at the Tampere Peace Research Institute that Declan met his Finnish wife Sirpa whose strong accent and language, combined with an unswerving ability to smell bullshit from anyone of any persuasion, political or religious, often keeps her husband on track in hounding down the bad guys. As an investigative journalist with experience from Ulster, Bosnia and the Basque country, Declan seems to live from selling his sensational stories of shameless oppression and corruption to the media. He has contacts everywhere: at the local computer chip factory, in local pubs, in the corridors of power at the UN, in Brussels, Dublin and London. Whether it be German arms-dealing millionaires with mansions by salmon waters, arrogant Anglos and American Irish who exploit the local work force, or sectarian bigots from Ulster, no-one escapes the imaginative but critical lateral thinking that only Declan Dougherty can produce.

Top of document 19. The Confused Detective [2:14]

The title sequences show this old man wandering aimlessly down a busy high street. He produces a crumpled receipt from the pocket of his tweed jacket: half a kilo of pilau rice, five hoover bags and a Pritt stick. Why?

Top of document 20. Le commissaire Sartre [1:50] — TV title theme

This is the classic ORTF series starring Yves Delalande as the romantic, misunderstood, Gitanes-smoking, Belgian beer-drinking, Parisian Detective Inspector Jean-Philippe Sartre, whose weekly dose of night school philosophy at Paris VIII under the brilliant and highly attractive professor Nanette Hegel (Babette Brigeaux) always seems to provide him with the curious clues that help him solve the equally curious crimes the Quai d’Orfèvres asks him to investigate. Sartre has tackled such bizarre cases as (i) intestate aunts involved in organised crime, (ii) Lepen hoodlums defiling mosques and causing international incidents, (iii) murder in the European Union’s agriculture offices in Strasbourg, (iv) ex-members of the student left running illegal plutonium sales at the market in Limoges, (v) the mass rape of nuns at a mob-run convent in the Vendée and (vi) fetishist murders in the fashion industry.

Detective Inspector Sartre’s personal life is also curious. Apart from Plato the dog, he keeps a cat called Kant who tries to eat the pet parrot Baudrillard and the aquarium fish he collectively refers to as l’École Francfort. Sartre’s real mainstay is Mme Labitte, the moustached concierge, who not only checks that M. le Commissaire has taken his underwear to the laundromat and who feeds the Sartre menagerie but who also runs quite an advanced phone bugging system from her room downstairs. The only other person, apart from Nanette, with whom Sartre seems to have any meaningful conversations is Georges Brel, an old PCF activist and retired railway worker who spends most of his time in Sartre’s corner bistro, drowning his sorrows and regretting that the Red Army never reached Finisterre. Misunderstandings with Nanette are also a recurrent theme: she rarely feels able to reciprocate Sartre’s shy and clumsy expressions of love and when she does occasionally try, he inevitably has to leave on an assignment.

The viewer always ends up alone with Sartre in professionally panned evening shots of the Pont St. Michel, raindrops and the river glistening like tears in the glow of street lights and headlamps. The sound effects fade out, the title music fades in and the final credits sweep up the screen. We are always left wondering ‘why the crime?’, ‘why the punishment?’, ‘why the loneliness?’ and ‘why no love?’ This series beats the hell out of mass produced Hollywood TV police teleproduct like Hustler and Scratch: the Sartre series gives proof of imaginative story lines, superb photography and a wistful, almost surrealistically assured sense of humour and humanity.

Top of document  21. ‘The Sad Detective’ — theme from Inspector Dragg [1:50] — TV theme

Dragg of the Cambridgeshire County Constabulary is an amateur choral composer. His main solace in life is Tudor polyphony at evensong in King’s College. Dragg’s investigative qualities seem to be suspecting the worst of everybody and feeling guilty for being right so often: he is disgusted about the amount of fear there is in the world and all the destruction such fear causes when it seeks to be controlled. Dragg faces murder cases where everyday psychology spiced with intimate knowledge of academic ambition and administrative corruption are the tools of the trade. A Disneyworld of bygone ages becomes the ironic backdrop for crimes that seem to lack passion or reason, except the ‘reason’ and ‘passion’ of fear, failure, freemasonry and feigned excellence. Even the Cambridge University Music Society’s piano is detuned, tampered with and placed at the back of an empty Elizabethan dining hall to underscore the malaise of this smug and silly little city with its inbred arrogance. Good men like Dragg should not have to live in such an ugly environment; nor should any of us!


About this album

Hearing The Detectives
Non-existent Records NONEXCD 1
© Philip Tagg 1999

In all but two cases, the music on this CD was recorded using only a Korg M1 synthesizer and Voyetra’s Sequencer Plus Gold software (DOS version). The two exceptions were: [1] Declan Dougherty, re-recorded using a Turtle Beach Pinnacle sound card (Kurzweil synthesis); [2] Coke Squad, some of whose sounds were re-routed via various samples found at Liverpool’s The Sound Lab (was the Liverpool Music House).

The original recordings on this CD, transferred direct from synthesizer to DAT, were made between 1989 and 1997. Most of the tunes were intended to sound like detective themes (tracks 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22). All but three of those eleven themes (tracks 7, 16, 19) are in C minor (in addition to a couple not included on this CD), the idea being to test what (rather than key) distinguishes one detective mood from another. The different musical moods are on the CD and the type of narrative mood associated with each recording is set out in this inlay.

When it came to producing a CD for other people to hear, the idea of 74 minutes continuous detective music in C minor did not strike me, as a listener, as much fun. That's why this CD also includes music intended for a wider variety of action, adventure, mystery and thriller purposes than those primarily associated with crime detection and police stories. It’s also why more keys are used than just C minor!

If you'd like to know more about it, try reading the article I wrote in honour of Maestro Morricone's seventieth birthday in 1998. The article is called 'Tritonal crime and “music as music”'. You can access that text online.

Front cover photo by Karen Collins, April 1999

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