In a moment of contemptible self-consciousness I re-read some of my most recent posts and realized that I’ve been giving out about the media quite a bit. Surely its not all bad, one would think – there must be some saving graces somewhere.
And so there is. For the last two weeks Richard Doyle has been presenting a series on Lyric FM called Electrolight a short history of electronic music as part of the regular segment Sunday Sequence . The first program deals with the 1950’s and Richard concentrates on a decade per half hour episode. Fortunately, I noticed this before it started so I was able to catch the first one last week.
“The jolt of electricity in music…the technical revolution that challenged all ideas of what music is. Roger Doyle tells the story of how, for the first time, music was NOT made by hitting things, blowing into things, scraping things or singing.”
If I’ve a complaint about Richard’s program it is that it is too short, but he still manages to fit in some very interesting music in that time, including much that I’d never come across before, such as music by Iannis Xenakis (from 1958 but found by chance in an archive in 2001), Edgard Varèse’s Poème Électronique, which was composed as part of a multimedia art work for the Philips Pavilion during the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958 and an extract from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte.
I’ve read a lot about Stockhausen but haven’t really sought out his music, mainly because I was afraid it would give me a headache (one 1995 composition is called the Helicopter String quartet and involves the playing of violins in a flying helicopter – the notation for which is above).
Unfortunately the first one, which starts interestingly enough with Sparky’s Magic Piano (a piano that talks), is not available online any more but the second one on the 60s is still up. This weeks program, which aired originally last Sunday at 10pm, provides a track I, in my ignorance, have been aware of but never really paid attention to, The Beatles Revolution No. 9, the experimental 8-track tape piece from The White Album. Perhaps the only thing I connected with it before was the way it was satirized in the Simpson’s when Barney as a member of the Bee Sharps writes a song that repeats the number 8.
Doyle though follows it with Stockhausen’s ‘Hymnen’ from 1967, which uses a compendium of different national anthems, including the Irish one. The extract that Doyle selects has a canny resemblance to the Beatles track and Doyle suggests that the reason that Stockhausen appeared on the cover of Sergeant Pepper was an acknowledgement of a debt.
Apparently, Stockhausen claimed that the attack on the World Trade Centre ‘the greatest artwork ever made’. However, when an almighty fuss ensued he rushed to clarify, saying that he ‘used the designation “work of art” to mean the work of destruction personified in Lucifer’. Just like Milton was described by Blake as being ‘of the devil’s party without knowing it’ I suppose.
However, all is not lost. If you’ve missed any of the Electrolight series there is a perfectly serviceable podcast available on the history of electronic music which can make up for your loss. John Search on Triptree has provided five so far, one produced every month since July. I know little about the man who put these together but again, like Doyle’s he provides brilliant examples of the different periods, although starting a lot earlier than the Electrolight series.
“Part 1 This part covers the early electronic instruments, the telharmonium, the trautonium and the ondes martenot and features music from 1930 to 1947 by Paul Hindemith, Olivier Messiaen and others.
PART 2 - Part 2 is all about the theremin, it’s early use in classical music and later in film music. Featured music includes Free Music #1 by Percy Grainger (one of the earliest examples of purely electronic music), and music from the films Spellbound (Miklos Rozsa) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann). Spans the years 1929 to 1957.
PART 3 - This part covers 2 early Hammond instruments, the famous organ and the less well known synthesizer, the Novachord. Features music from 1940 to 1969 by Ethel Smith, Jimmy Smith (no relation) and the TV series The Twilight Zone.
PART 4 - Musique Concrete, Tape Music and the early electronic avant-garde are discussed and explored. With music from Pierre Henry, John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
PART 5 - Tape music and electronics in performance, early computer music and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Music by Terry Riley, Jean-Claude Risset, Delia Derbyshire and many more.
The presentation, given by John Search isn’t as polished as Doyle’s, but is all the more endearing for it. For example, in the second part he makes several corrections to mistakes he’d made in the first part and also explains that he’s broke at the moment and asks if anyone wants to make donations if they like what they hear. However, its highly informative and John knows his stuff, although I found the Part 3 on the Hammond organ to be a bit dull and, after listening to part 2 I’m starting to think that the theremin is the pan-pipes of electronic music.
But he did bring my attention to the BBC4 Documentary on the BBC Radiophonic workshop.
In fact there’s tons of information on the web. For example, here’s all you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of electronic music, composers, instruments, everything. In addition, the EMF institute also provides a timeline by composer while obsolete.com has another timeline, this time following the electronic musical instrument and its inventors.
Still, the best place to start is Richard Doyle’s Electrolight, online or on Lyric FM this Sunday at 10.
To my great embarrassment, I got the name of the presenter of the Electrolight series wrong. It’s Roger Doyle not Richard, as I have written many times above.
Roger wrote the following to me:
The early operating theatre stuff can be listened to here……. on the discography page.
There was a free double CD of it in the brochure of the 2006 Dublin Electronic Arts Festival called ‘The Early Years’ but maybe it’s a 30 minute work called ‘Rapid Eye Movements’ from 1980?
His records can also be purchased on the CMC website.