Bali High Note

18 Mar

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKBali High VHS (Isomer Productions, 1981)

Breathe easy, all you extreme-sport surf nazis: this is the last of my posts about ye olde surf soundtracks from days gone by. But dammit, I’m ending on a high note here. The gorgeous 1981 video by Stephen Spaulding entitled Bali High had a totally hot, fusionoid score by Mike Sena recorded out on the Hawaiian island of Kauai that’s never seen an LP or CD release. Me, I’d never have even heard of Mike Sena or the film in question either, had not Ryan over at (Mostly) Blue Skies Above Us ripped the damn thing from a warped VHS tape and posted it on his blog, in all it’s murky glory. Thank god for obsessives like Ryan.

The hard rockin’ but tropical feel to this score puts me in the mind not of MERRELL FANKHAUSER, but of an instrumental KALAPANA spin-off trying on the early 80’s RUSH catalogue. And if this doesn’t sound appealing, well, that’s only cause you aren’t listening to it right now! The production has a nicely humid, low rent sonic aura, the riffs & motifs are consistently varied and strong, and the musical interaction kicks up righteous sparks at all key junctures. I like that these players acknowledge older, longhair aesthetics – CARLOS SANTANA for one, and maybe TOMMY BOLIN ca. Billy Cobham’s Spectrum lp – while welcoming KRAFTWERKian, new wavey ideas of beauty to their sonic palate as well. Anyone thinking this is hackwork need only to compare it to the proudly lackluster Band On The Run soundtrack by ex-TAMAM SHUD Tim Gaze from around this time; warmed-over Steve Miller Band, anyone? No thanks.

It is this soundtrack that made for the most perfect early 80’s rides through the last unspoilt parts of Indonesia surfers would ever encounter, and I’m glad it did. Listen to it now.

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11 Responses to “Bali High Note”

  1. Michael Sena April 14, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    Wow, I was quite surprised, and happy, when someone from the past found me through this website and made the comment that a lot of people looked favorably upon the soundtrack I wrote for Bali Hai back in 83′. It was my second attempt at writing for picture and Steve made it easier by bringing in a cassette of the original soundtrack. Most times, I just listened to each song and tried to create something that kept the feel of the original songs, I think there were 22 pieces. For $500 up front and a promise of something on the back end, I had to fill 90 minutes with wall-to-wall original music. I didn’t use any previously written songs except for ‘Ride’ which was a jazz ballad called ‘Winter’. Except for a few vocalists and one band-tracked song I played all the instruments on the score, tracked individually and sometimes with the help of the latest thing in early 80’s music production, a sequencer, given to me by Graham Nash. With the aid of a DX-7, drums and a few guitars I deliberately tried to make each recording sound like it was a different band. My modus operandi back then was to play as much as I could myself. Then I’d go down to Club Jetty where they hired cover bands from the mainland by the month, and pick a keyboard player or vocalist to do what I couldn’t. I’d usually trade them for recording time or they’d just want to do it to be part of the video.

    What’s interesting about writing scores (I still do) is that there is really no feedback from the viewing audience. One sends it out there and it either gets aired or not but the royalty checks (if there are any) don’t reflect how the audience likes or doesn’t like one’s music. In fact, the only feedback I ever got on BH was when Titus Kinikmaka confronted me in a parking lot to ask me why I wrote such diabolic music under his session. I told him that I was trying to imitate ‘No Spill Blood’ by Oingo Boingo. We’re friends so he just let me off with a scowl, no dirty lickens.

    My awesome and beloved studio was destroyed by hurricane Iniki on Sept. 11, 1992. A month later, I made the decision to move to the mainland for a couple of years to study composition at UCLA with the intent of returning home when the island came back. Well, even after five years, the island economy was in a terrible state and I had built a commercial studio in LA. I have been here since but lately have started making plans to move back to Kauai. I still write scores but also produce videos, one of which will be released this year on DVD, Kauai Unveiled. It’s an adventure trip around Kauai, part of which I shot in HiDef from an ultralight at 7000′ above Kauai and Niihau, our neighbor island. It features, once again, a mashup of different styles all sounding like its several bands, but its just me, still tripping on the amazing beauty of nature through music. If anyone would like a copy of BH I can get you one copied from the only existing version that I have, a cassette. Sadly, the masters were destroyed in the hurricane.

    • mrowster April 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

      Right on, Mike Sena! It’s an honour that you’ve seen fit to stop by. Your soundtrack is totally great, and IMO lays to waste the other version, the one with the Rolling Stones/Earth Wind & Fire/Bob Marley et al on the soundtrack. And curious to hear it was mostly done solo! The rockin’ throughout speaks of hot, well oiled, small band action.

      Your story about Titus is hilarious . . . I’m glad it was you, and not me, who he cornered all those years ago:) Glad to hear you are still active, musically speaking. I will endeavour to check out your new soundtrack work in the near future.

    • Anonymous April 17, 2011 at 11:34 am #

      No way! I copied the Bali High soundtrack on to a cassette years ago, so I could listen to it on my way to the surf. Love the tracks from this film, especially the section with Tom Carroll and Pete McCabe at racetrack.

    • Donny A Potter July 29, 2012 at 7:18 am #

      hi, my name is Donny Bryant Potter, Anahola Resident of 32yrs and a friend of Steve S. back in the late 70’s-early 80’s…anyway I have been living in Bali for 30 yrs on/off as well..his movie & your sound track I would like to get a copy of, its going in a resturant on a loop at Uluwatu…how can I do this ??

    • John Minneci September 22, 2013 at 1:27 am #

      Michael:

      That soundtrack was the best ever. How do I get up with you for a copy?

      John

  2. Anonymous October 21, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    If anyone with deep classic surf movie knowledge can help, I am very curious to find the name and artist of a song I was told was from Bali High, but after listening to the recorded version of the soundtrack found on this site, I realize must be from something else (I was imagining a much more surf psychedelia sound to the music, which is the style of the song im looking for). Here is a link to a recent skateboard video that I heard it in, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFLr0G7NNY0&feature=player_profilepage ,

    If anyone knows what its from Id love to know, Much thanks

    • mrowster October 21, 2011 at 7:42 am #

      Am listening to this YouTube clip right now, but I don’t recognise it from any surf film I’ve ever seen. Though no doubt there’s hundreds of garage rock enthusiasts out there who could probably place it immediately. Sorry, and good luck with your search!

      • Andrew Bearer October 21, 2011 at 8:07 am #

        Sorry, I hope you see my correction below, that was not the correct song, I messed up copying the link, the correct link is

        Let me know if it rings any bells, Thanks

  3. Andrew Bearer October 21, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Sorry! I made a huge mistake, THE VIDEO LINK I COPIED WAS WRONG, SORRY!
    And sorry for the double comment, my mistake.
    Again, Im trying to find this song if anyone knows any info about it, you can listen to it here, from a youtube video.

    The CORRECT link is:

    Much thanks!

    • mrowster October 21, 2011 at 8:12 am #

      OK!

      So I’ve nailed this one: it’s “Bali Ha’i” by The Irridescents, and it’s from the early 60’s. Never on a soundtrack to my knowledge, but I don’t know everything. Check it out –

      • Anonymous October 21, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

        Thanks a lot Man, i had a feeling this was the place to look for a real surf patron to pick this one out, and it surely was. Radical

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