THE REVOLUTION OF ELECTRONICS
Chapter 2: TOWARDS A MUSICAL REVOLUTION
By: Jorge Munnshe
During the forties and the fifties, only a few lonely researchers persisted in the exploration of the musical universe offered by electronics (John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, Milton Babbitt, and some more), as a general rule from a purely experimental terrain, related to Contemporary Music (New Music), one which gave rise to Electroacoustic Music and to Concrete Music.
Many of these musical pieces had as their only path for work the manipulation of tapes. The recently commercialized tape recorders came to achieve a key role during some years. Recording all kinds of sounds, mixing them, and reproducing them at different speeds, gave rise to important sonic distortions. Even specific tape recorders for sonic distortion were developed, equipped with a speed selector that could alter the pitch of a sound making it coincide with the notes of the conventional musical scale.
Electronic organs already had a growing presence, and together with some variants of themselves and of the tape recorders, they allowed researchers to start experimenting in the regions of unearthly sounds.
The electric guitar appeared then. Although its sonic possibilities did not permit a sonic experimentation in depth, they did provide a leap beyond all kinds of music existing so far. This leap was Rock. Had the electric guitar not been invented, Rock would not exist, or at the very least it would hardly resemble what we know today.
In the fifties some prototypes of synthesizers were developed. These were much more evolved machines than any of the previous non-acoustic instruments, but they happened to be very difficult to handle and maintain. To start with, their size was monstrous, they could easily take a whole room. Of all of them, the most remarkable one was the Mark II of the firm RCA, a marvel of pre-digital technology. Also there were other amazing prototypes, such as the ANS developed in Russia by Eugene Murzin somewhat later than that of RCA.
Perhaps the most spectacular instance of the real technical possibilities that electronic technology allowed for in those times if it was used with a wide enough musical vision, far from the conventionalisms that dominated the musical panorama, is the movie soundtrack for the excellent science fiction film Forbidden Planet, composed in 1956 by Louis Barron. Even today this music comes to impress the listener with its amount of overwhelming synthesized roars. This proves once more the fact that electronic music does not become outdated as time goes by, since the sonic possibilities that the electronic medium offers to explore are so vast, that a result achieved at a certain date with a certain equipment can never be equaled whatsoever.
THE MUSICAL REVOLUTION STARTS
The fifties were the stage for the progressive condensation of the musical revolution that had been developing during the last three hundred years. The spearhead for this revolution was Rock. Everybody knows the reach of this universal wave, the upheaval not only in the musical arena, but also in the social, cultural, psychological, artistic and even political aspects that affected the whole world, shook the foundations of the Victorian conception of western society, and introduced electronics into universal music forever. It is then unnecessary to narrate the beginnings of Rock, of Pop in general, the speedy increase of its audience, and the impact caused on the young generations, the most receptive ones at that time. On the crest of this wave, in the mid sixties, with the Beatles shaking the masses and the electric guitar made into an all-powerful god, there was an unbridled collective need to change at all levels. At the same time, a very important leap in the field of musical technology was taking place. The technician and the musician were beginning to collaborate in a perfect understanding of one another, or they even came to be one and the same person.
The explorers of the electronic universe grew in number. Karlzheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Jean-Claude Risset, Krzysztof Penderecki, and others, opened new, exciting paths.
A character that appears more and more colossal as time goes by, is that of Conrad Schnitzler. His extraordinary historical importance in the electronic revolution within music, has caused him to be described as for instance "The Great Father of Current European Electronic Music". In 1951, at age fourteen, he already had a clear idea that his musical interest was focused beyond everything conventional. A pianist and a violinist, he was a pioneer in the use of synthesizers, just like years later he was to become a pioneer in computers. Within electronic music, he has been a master musician in all kinds of styles, throughout three decades and dozens of works. He has dealt with all sorts of music, ranging from the most abstract of experimentations to the most popular forms of Techno or Pop. His activity within electronic music, and the influence that his innovative ideas have had in the current musical panorama are so wide that they deserve a monographic article.
By the mid sixties, in Great Britain, the birth of another one of the most decisive influences in the musical evolution towards new artistic concepts was taking place. The architecture students Nick Mason, Richard Wright and Roger Waters joined Sid Barret to form Pink Floyd. At the same time, in Germany, an explosion of avantgarde musical ideas was being generated, which sprouted such bands as Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Popol Vuh, Amon Duul, Can, and others. Also, some isolated musicians of this hot nucleus coincided in their wish to open the doors towards unexplored sonic regions, as for instance Vangelis, who at that time played at the Formynx, and who did not take long to go from the electronic organ modified by himself, to the synthesizer, as soon as he was able to do so. Pink Floyd were the first of these bands that achieved fame, perhaps because they knew at once how to define their musical style. On the other hand, the evolution of the German bands took longer and harder, since they had a much more difficult target: to do something completely new, severing any ties to the conventional musics, including Rock.
As this new music was germinating, also the technological medium was getting better, in such a way that it would allow for a definite capability to achieve artistic progress. In the USA, Robert Moog, an electronic engineer who had a musical background, built theremins (see chapter 1) in his free time. Thanks to that fact, he got to know composer and music professor Herbert Deutsch. From the technical needs of this musician as well as the musical hobby the technician had, the first voltage-controlled synthesizer was born by Moog's hand. At once he awoke the interest of the scientific community with this. As well as that of the musical community...
It did not take long for Moog to get orders from musicians who felt the need to do new things. He built costumized units for each one of them. Some of his first customers were Walter (today Wendy) Carlos, Eric Siday, and Keith Emerson. Carlos utilized the synthesizer to perform in a masterly way the Brandenbourg Concerts by J.S. Bach, thus proving that electronic instruments were no worthless gizmos to produce sonic special effects for rays shot by Martian invaders and such trash, but they could really be musical instruments of their own right, with a warmth and an expressiveness capable of competing with those typical of acoustic instruments. Siday recorded with the synthesizer musical pieces for advertisements, thus taking the first step towards the nowadays widely trodden path of electronic music for television. Emerson utilized for the first time the synthesizer at a live performance, thus proving that it was not a laboratory machine, but an instrument with all its qualities, which allowed for live performances to take place.
Pink Floyd impact in 1967 with their first LP Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Edgar Froese, Conrad Schnitzler and Charlie Mariano found the band Minus Plus, which soon after was to become Tangerine Dream, experiencing various comings and goings of members. Schnitzler participates as well in the creation of Cluster. Tangerine Dream and Cluster begin performing at the Zodiak Club in Berlin, a must for all the new trends at that time that were being born in that fascinating city. Vangelis, Demis Roussos and Lucas Cideras found the legendary Symphonic Rock band Aphrodite's Child, characterized among other things by the peculiar sounds that Vangelis extracts by distorting electronic organs. The movie soundtrack composers Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith also shake the classical musical foundations by creating new structures radically contrasting with the traditional orchestral concept that up to then was held with regard to movie music. The birth of Electronic Music is coming near, as a number of different styles outside the conventional acoustic conceptions of music. By the end of the sixties the boiling point is finally reached. This is a time when the technological changes that can transcend public opinion follow one another in a spectacular way, as for instance the exploration of the Moon and the space race, whose effect on society is increased by such hit movies as 2001, A Space Oddyssey. Many other sociological changes are likewise registered, as for instance the cultural encounter between the East and the West, or the famous events of May, 1968. This month, the non-conformist student movement bursts out, and the hippie revolution acquires all its full identity. We find the germination of Kraftwerk, the advent of Popol Vuh, the excellent success of Walter Carlos's record Switched on Bach consisting in pieces by J.S. Bach performed by means of a Moog synthesizer, and the fact that several innovative bands appear as well... In one way or another, May '68 deeply affected all those musicians. It prompted Tangerine Dream in their ardent wish to sever all the traditional musical structures, as they considered them to be a "bourgeois product". During May '68, Vangelis went out to the streets recording demonstrations, events, dialogues, and in summary, the everyday developments of this mobilization. The material thus compiled would then be used for a record that he would release after te separation of Aphrodite's Child: Fais que ton reve soit plus long que la nuit.
1969 is a year that already heralds important changes in the musical panorama worldwide. The first recording formation of Tangerine Dream comes to be consolidated in 1969, with Edgar Froese, Conrad Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze (who had been in charge of the percussion for Psy Free). They record their first LP: Electronic Meditation. The double LP by Pink Floyd, Ummagumma, appears as well. End of the World by Aphrodite's Child marks a path for the metamorphosis from symphonic rock towards a new musical genre. The culture of India awakes new sensibilities in the most restless minds in the western world. Man treads on the Moon for the first time ever, thus giving humanity a new, cosmic dimension. The music exclusively elaborated with synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments will not take long to awaken the enthusiasm of the masses. In the beginning, nevertheless, the interest will be more centered in the spectacular nature of the sounds rather than in the music created with them. The Human Being is curious by nature. What is new holds a deep attraction on us.
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