The In Sound From Way Out!

19 05 2010

When you think of electronic music, the 1960’s doesn’t exactly come to mind. Sure, the minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich were doing things that would later influence electronic music. And, yes, guys like John Cage were playing around with experimental music, taking “found sound” and injecting it into their live performances, but what we would now think of as electronic music was just in it’s infancy at that point. It was such a new concept that few had even explored the potential. For starters, the main contributor to the genre, the synthesizer had yet to be invented… so one would think. While modern synthesizers, like the Fairlight CMI and Synthclavier, did not appear for some time, there were a few predecessors that started it all, and with that were some very innovative artists that would pioneer a whole new breed of music.

Here are a few videos of one of the earliest electronic keyboards, the Ondioline. It is a vacuum tube instrument that was invented in 1941 (!). This is one of the earliest pioneers to use such technology, Jean-Jaques Perrey, doing a demonstration of how this instrument would change the way we think of music. The first is from 1960, the second is from 1966… both are from an old show called I’ve Got A Secret.

Perrey was on the absolute forefront of such music technologies.  He traveled Europe showing what the Ondioline could do, then moved to NY where he helped develop the idea of making rhythmic loops out of cut and spliced tape. This technique would later be know as tape looping. Perrey would soon befriend Dr Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer. The Moog was an instrument that truly changed the musical landscape. In the 70’s it rose to great prominence with help from artists like Stevie Wonder, Jan Hammer, Kieth Emerson and Bernie Worrell. Soon after meeting Bob Moog, Perrey became one of the first Moog synth musicians, creating “far out electronic entertainment”. In 1965 Perrey met Gershon Kingsley, a former colleague of John Cage. Together, using Ondioline and Perrey’s loops, they created two albums for Vanguard — The In Sound From Way Out (1966) and Kaleidoscopic Vibrations (1967). Both were groundbreaking pieces of work that still influence today’s musicians, like the Beastie Boys for instance, who borrowed the title and cover art from the former.

Below is “One Note Samba” (a cover) from Kaleidoscope Vibrations

This is “The Little Man From Mars” from The In Sound From Way Out

Gershon Kingsley and Jean-Jaques Perrey were perfect collaborators however, they soon parted ways to work on their own music. Interestingly, they both created some extraordinary work as individuals. Some of which still lives on today. For instance, Kingsley’s 1969 hit “Popcorn” was a huge success that is often covered by contemporary musician, both young and old. This all instrumental pop-centric tune was created after listening to the rhythm of a popcorn maker. The song was featured on his 1969 release Music To Moog By. Kingsley became famous for being the first musician ever to play the Moog in live performances. It should be no surprise that the Moog was his writing tool for this worldwide hit and would later define his style.

Here is the original video produced for “Popcorn”. You will absolutely recognize this one as it has been covered about 30 times and was featured in countless films, TV shows and commercials from decades past. It’s amazing to think this was written and recorded the same year as Woodstock.

Perrey also had great success as a solo musician. His song “EVA”, from 1970, is much like “Popcorn” in that it has been covered for decades. When you listen to it now, it sounds like something modern day musicians are doing in their home studios. It’s wild to think that the genre really hasn’t come that far in 50 years. Immediately below is the audio from the original EVA recording and just after that is a live performance of the song recorded in 2005. The live version is great to watch but has about 2 minutes of introduction. It’s crazy to see this old man up there playing the original vintage instruments on which he composed this masterpiece… and yet the music sounds like something written 5 years ago.

The thing to note about all of this music is that it was often a painstaking process to create. It was the advent of computer technology that has made it more accessible to modern players. Perhaps that is why the style has taken off. As it becomes easier and easier to create, more young artists try their hand at what was considered relatively impossible a half century ago. That combined with modern pop sensibilities means that electronic music is now one of the most popular forms world wide.

References:

More info on Perrey & Kingsley

More info on Jean-Jaques Perrey

More info on Gershon Kingsley

More info on the Ondioline

More info on Robert Moog

More info on the Moog Synth

More info on The In Sound From Way Out

More info on Kaleidoscopic Vibrations

More info on “Popcorn” and it’s covers

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