Album Review

OHM+: THE EARLY GURUS OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC [coll] – [ellipsis arts]

cujo   8/20/2012   A Library

Ironic preface:
“It is right that the historian should indicate the summits of achievement in art; but in a sense this is of little use to us. The claims of life are stronger than the sublimest art; and even were we to agree that we had achieved the best and most beautiful it is possible to achieve, we should be impelled in the end, thirsting as we do more for life and experience than for perfection, to cry out: ‘Give us something else; give us something new; for Heaven’s sake give us something bad, so long as we feel we are alive and active and not just passive admirers of tradition!'”
Carl Nielsen, “Living Music”, 1925

KFJC does its damnedest to keep it new. We have a revolving door of musicians playing live in our studios, we produce and promote concerts all over the bay area, and we travel the globe to remotely broadcast festivals (which isn’t cheap, by the way – donate to the cause at www.kfjc.org!).

But we can’t be live all the time, and so our crack music department staff keep stuffing our library with the freshest funkiest sounds.

And the weaker among us (of which I’m a shining example) can’t help but reflect on the past, perhaps to understand what whiggish path we have taken to the present. To help us, allow me to sneak this collection of relics into the library.

In 1999 Thomas Ziegler and Jason Gross archived a Who’s Who/What’s What of the early gurus of electronic music. We previously got our hands on an unassuming sample CD, but here is the complete 3CD+1DVD+booklet set in fancy packaging (those are theremin schematics printed on the outside). The first CD roughly covers the 1950s, the second the 60s, the third the 70s, and for giggles throw in a DVD too.

Nothing I write (on this electronic computer) could adequately summarize these 30 years of pioneering efforts in harnessing electrons for powers of music. Dive in, and dive often. There are plenty of whooshes of tape manipulation, the bleep bloops of early synthesizers, the decidedly swooning theremin and ondes martenots, science fiction soundtracks, brain control experiments, and explorations of humanly impossible pitches, durations, timbres, volumes, and attacks.

Particular elements of the reviewing experience I enjoyed:
-reading up on the names and studios I hadn’t heard of before.
-visualizing the proliferation of electronic music studios through the 60s as the video graphics of global thermonuclear war’s rocket launches.
-to this day many of the offerings pack a powerful punch. Your mileage will obviously vary, but if you really need my help for a starting point: Schaeffer, Varese, and the CD3 sequence of Lansky, Spiegel, Parmegiani.

DJs, just follow this in your programming with something brand-spanking new…

In our own library, see also related items:
CBS Records collections “from Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center” and “New Electronic Music”
Caipirinha Records’ “Early Modulations” (though I think this has vanished)
Sub Rosa’s Anthologies of Noise & Electronic Music (though I don’t think we have all of them)
New World Records’ “Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center 1961-1973”
…and plenty of albums dedicated to single artists found in the set
…and plenty of albums dedicated to single instruments found in the set: theremins, ondes martenots, moogs, just about everything but Nancarrow’s kitchen sink.

“Every musician is entitled to use tones as he thinks fit. Old rules may be accepted or rejected at will… It is up to you to listen, seek, think, reflect, weigh, and discard, until, of your own free will, you find what our strict fathers in art thought they could knock into our heads”
Carl Nielsen, “Living Music”, 1925

-Cujo, KFJC, Aug 2012

you heard it 93 times on kfjc! most recently:
  • 529 days ago, Cynthia Lombard played Oraison
  • 529 days ago, Cynthia Lombard played Living Sound, Patent Pending Music for Sound-joined Rooms
  • 620 days ago, Cynthia Lombard played Music Promenade
  • 744 days ago, Justin Outlier played Sine Music (Swarm of Butterflies Encountered Over The Ocean)
  • 1487 days ago, Monotone Heroine played Williams Mix
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