A History of Electronic Music (Part 6)
Into the Seventies
It is generally accepted that the release of Walter Carlos's 'Switched on Bach' alerted rock musicians to the potential of synthesisers. In 1966 Carlos had set up a private studio where he made electronic arrangements of popular songs including 'What's New Pussycat?' and 'Cherish'. By 1968 his album 'Switched on Bach' became the best selling 'classical' record of all time. It was nothing more than the selected works of J. S. Bach - created by multi-tracking the Moog synthesiser. Whilst Carlos's craftmanship in using the synthesiser is unquestionably good, the final result was not, in fact, 'electronic music' although many thought this to be the case. One of his better compositions 'Sonic Seasonings'1 (1972) was much more in the spirit of electronic music. Divided into four movements, representing the seasons, it has the formal structuring found in the works of Henk Badings and Pierre Henry. However, Carlos's ability to realistically synthesise the timbres of musical instruments encouraged the use of the Moog synthesiser by rock musicians.
A year previous to the release of 'Switched on Bach' Electra records released 'The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds'2 a mixture of poetry and music, the electronic treatments employed were by one Paul Beaver.
Beaver's later collaboration with Bernard L. Krause resulted in the release in 1970 of 'In a Wild Sanctuary'3. It presented environmental impressions recorded with Moog synthesisers, Hammond organ, congas, tablas, tambourines, drums, piano, and live voices of lions, birds and monkeys. "A celebration of life" to quote Krause. Later they contributed their electronic wizardry to albums by Simon and Garfunkel, The Rolling Stones, Byrds and The Doors, to name but a few.
Another 'electronic' duo whose work is probably better known on other people's LP's were Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Working under the pseudonym TONTOS Expanding Head Band, an acronym for their synthesiser — The Original New Timbral Orchestra, they produced two albums 'Zero Time'4 released in 1971 and 'It's About Time' in 1974. During that period they worked with soul singer songwriter Stevie Wonder producing, engineering and programming the synthesisers for Wonder's fusion of jazz-rock-soul music. A prime example being the 1973 album 'Innervisions'5. Wonder was probably the first black musician to use the synth and undoubtedly helped broaden black musicians' horizons. 1970 saw the release of 'Paul Bley's Synthesiser Show'?
Bley, a former member of Charlie Mingus' mid-1950's aggregation released the first jazz album to utilise the synthesiser as a "truly musical improvising instrument", a quote from the cover of the Milestone album. Annette Peacock, who had been given a synthesiser by R. A. Moog had also worked with Paul Bley. She concentrated on the electronic treatment of voice, and gave the first performance using a synthesiser in a 'live' situation at the 'Village Vanguard'. Amongst the curious audience were Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and John McLaughlin. A year later Annette signed to RCA and recorded 'I'm The One'. It was innovative in many ways, being the first album to electrically treat the drums, horns and voice. It was released in 1972, to unanimous critical acclaim: "Feeding her voice through the synthesiser, she is constantly shattering established boundaries of vocal expression, the first largely electronic album with the potential to reach a mass pop audience" — Chris Vanness, La Free Press (1972).
Although it acquired a cult following among critics and musicians, it remains an individual accomplishment a decade ahead of its own time. It did, however, stimulate Mick Ronson to release the title track on his own album 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue', and also to record 'Love Me Tender' (an Elvis Presley song) precisely as Annette had interpreted it.
Despite the fact that David Bowie had been asked to vacate the studio during the recording of 'I'm the One', his enthusiasm for it led to her affiliation with his management 'Mainman'. She declined to appear on Bowie's 'Aladdin Sane' album or perform with him at the Radio City concert hall. Instead she chose to attend the Julliard School of Music, appearing some while later in an exhibition of holograms with artist Salvador Dali.
These musicians were amongst the first mainstream jazz and rock musicians to employ synths. However, the rock music scene was changing; the troubles of 1968 were beginning to affect the musicians and their songs. The heady days of 'flower power' when rock music was deemed to have a somewhat more political and social function than previously gave way to a more violent and anti-establishment approach.
The Rolling Stones, whose anti-establishment-macho image had not fitted very well with the 'peace and love' approach of The Dead, Jefferson Aeroplane, et al, wrote some of their most compelling songs. 'Sympathy for the Devil', 'Street Fighting Man', and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', captured the more violent aspects of the times. Other bands developed along these lines, none more so than Led Zeppelin. Their impeccable musical skill, combined with high volume, dramatic stage effects and a sense of the grandiose led to the birth of 'heavy metal' music, with another exponent being Deep Purple. However, outside this generally accepted approach were bands influenced more by the previous psychadelic era, using for example, extended musical forms and greater instrumental colouring exemplified by the early works of the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger and Jefferson Airplane. One of the most notable of these groups being King Crimson. Led by guitarist Robert Fripp they combined a mild jazz influence with a quasi-symphonic structure and a touch of lyrical mysticism. Their debut in 1969 owed much of its impact to the use of the 'mellotron'. The mellotron used pre-recorded tapes to produce the sounds of choirs, massed strings, brass etc, to give a grandiose and impressive quality to the music.
The timbral subtlety that the mellotron offered characterised much of King Crimson's music. One of the early works, 'Pictures of a City' (1970) combined Fripp's unique guitar sound with the mellotron and additional sonorous relations proceeded from the saxophone and flute. The song's structure was reinforced by timbral repetition, although a change in mood half way through deprived it of predictability, it ends in chaos, a cliche derived from earlier psychadelic bands. One other band, The Moody Blues made similar use of the mellotron, although they later performed with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Rock music was becoming sophisticated as a result of the influence of other forms of music. A band formed in 1968, Yes, cited Stockhausen, Mimaroglu, Stravinsky, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and jazz among their many influences. Yes approached the electronic medium via the use of orchestra, mellotron, and synthesiser and their songs contained long instrumental breaks exhibiting a wide range of timbres. In 'Close to the Edge'7 (1972) the opening section features filtered noise, frequency modulated tones, bells, organ chords and occasional rapid sequencer patterns. Later, equipment preset with different timbral shades was incorporated, making various sonorous possibilities a reality in a live performance. The multikeyboard player with Yes, Rick Wakeman, contributed a great deal to this overall sophistication. His later solo work was, however, little more than a self-indulgent display of keyboard virtuosity.
One other group who employed electronics as effectively as Yes were Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Keith Emerson had played keyboards for The Nice whose 1968 recording 'The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack' had already established Emerson as a flamboyant virtuoso of the keyboard. The Nice had previously been the backing band for British singer P. P. Arnold. However, Emerson's showmanship often upstaged her and they eventually parted company. The Nice often revamped jazz and classical themes. Amongst the most favoured of these were 'Rondo' and 'America' from West Side Story.
Emerson soon left The Nice, joining with Greg Lake, who had been in the first King Crimson, and with Carl Palmer, to form ELP. Whilst Rick Wakeman had been noted for his stylistic mannerisms lifted from classical music, Keith Emerson chose compositions around which to base his improvisations. A good example being Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition'9 (1971). The character is retained, and indeed whole sections are left intact, i.e. 'Promenade', but the rest serve as stopping off points for group improvisation and development. Various synthesiser applications included amplitude, frequency, and ring modulation, white noise, slow filtering and oscillators tuned in seconds and fifths. Similar effects are used in Ginastera's 'Toccata' which ELP recorded in 1973. Choral effects were produced by tuning oscillators in unison and changing waveforms.
Keith Emerson was also fond of ring-modulation and based his choice of timbre on structural relationships. His music was always interesting because it avoided triteness and unnecessary repetition.
Matching Mole, contemporaries of ELR used electronics in a much more subtle way. In their piece 'Gloria Gloom' from the album 'Little Red Record', Brian Eno's use of simple melodic patterns on the synthesiser together with sustained tones, glissandi, filtering, ring modulation etc. combines to produce a soft and impressionistic atmosphere. Eno's contribution to 'Gloria Gloom' is obvious when the song is compared with others on this album. The other songs are much less imaginative in their use of electronics and 'Gloria Gloom' hinted at the talent of Brian Eno and his 'non-musicians' approach to the synthesiser. This non-musicians attitude was soon to be found on Roxy Music's first album. Brian Eno had joined Roxy Music in 1971. They were to become one of the most successful bands of the '70s. The original line-up had been put together by vocalist/pianist Bryan Ferry and bass player Graham Simpson. Andy Mackay on saxophone was a former member of the National Youth Orchestra. Paul Thompson played drums and Eno, primarily the sound mixer, was joined by Philip Manzanera who later replaced guitarist David O'List, to become Roxy's long standing guitarist.
Ferry had expressed a liking for Smokey Robinson, Ethel Merman, Marcel Duchamp, Leadbelly, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. Eno's antecedents were a little vague, but he had been involved in the electronic music scene and was familiar with the work of John Cage, Terry Riley, Morton Feldman et al. He also sang with his own rock band, Maxwell Demon. It was not surprising therefore that Roxy's music was unique and was to catch the ears of the media. They were soon to be managed by David Enthoven, responsible for handling ELP, King Crimson and T. Rex. Their first album, produced by Pete Senfield entered the charts as well as debut single 'Virginia Plain'. Eno's later collaborations and solo efforts will be looked at in the next part.
Feature by Derek Pierce
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