Early ElectroMIX #19

Selections/Mix/Text/Layout: Philippe Petit
Cover art: Yan Proefrock

Early ElectroMIX is a series to document the history of experimental Electronic music from the 50s to the 80s, composers making use of electronic instruments, test equipment, generators of synthetic signals and sounds… to analog synthesizers…While our sessions document those who make it today my desire is to transmit some pioneering works which paved the way to what we try to create today.
Realizing that most of those seminal recordings were not available I decided to archive them in a contemporary way, DJing-mixing them and while most of the time running several sources together or in medleys I made sure to respect the original intent of each composers as I want to transmit their message rather than mine.
The only one I would dare deliver being that they should not be forgotten…

Philippe Petit / April 2021.

Recorded (on March 24/2021) for our series broadcasted on Modular-Station


Bernard Herrmann – The Day The Earth Stood Still (Medley) (1951) 00:00 > 03:15
Johanna M Beyer – Music Of The Spheres (1938) 03:02 > 08:53
Joan La Barbara – Thunder (1977) 07:08 > 28:04
Morton Subotnick – Sidewinder (Medley) (1971) 18:48 > 29:54
Bengt Emil Johnson – 3/1970 ; (Bland) III (1970) 29:06 > 30:54
Bengt Emil Johnson – 1/1967 (1967) 30:38 > 43:03
Klaus Röder – Polyphonie (1981) 36:15 > 54:02
Richard Maxfield – Pastoral Symphony (1960) 48:45 > 52:43
Iván Patatich – Ballade (1981) 52:35 > 57:20
Vladimir Ussachevsky – Sonic Contours (1952) 57:17 > 58:20
Max Mathews – Bicycle Built For Two (Daisy Bell) (1962) 58:17 > 01:00

Bernard Herrmann – The Day The Earth Stood Still (Medley) (1951 / London)

To me Bernard Herrmann was nothing short of a genius and my favorite soundtrack composer, along with Morricone up to the 80s… Obviously famous for his collaborations with directors Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, he also scored some Cult classics like Cape Fear, Fahrenheit 451, Taxi Driver, or Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone…
Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth + The Day the Earth Stood Still are my favorite three Sci-Fi movies. The soundtrack of the latter was composed by Herrmann in July, and recorded in August 1951. He chose unusual instrumentation for the film including violin, cello, and bass (all three electric), two theremin electronic instruments (played by Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure), two Hammond organs, a large studio electric organ, three vibraphones, two glockenspiels, two pianos, two harps, three trumpets, three trombones, four tubas, and extensive percussion including cymbals and tam-tam. Unusual overdubbing and tape-reversal techniques were used as well and Theremin became associated to anything Otherwordly Sci-Fi afterwards…

Johanna M Beyer – Music Of The Spheres (1938 / 1750 Arch Records)

Born in Leipzig she travelled to the USA and studied with Henry Cowell… Both had a romantic affair for a few years. Much of Beyer’s music, particularly that written between 1931 and 1939 are exemplary of dissonant counterpoint, and developed her own distinctive gestures and procedures that distinguished her music from that of her colleagues. Her compositions are characterized by an economic use of resources, balanced and well-constructed forms, “a unique sense of humor and whimsy” and a commitment to experimentation.
Although her music was overlooked during her lifetime and for decades after her death, it was some of the most experimental and prophetic work created during the 1930s. Music of the Spheres(1938) is the first known work scored for electronic instruments by a female composer and most assuredly one of the most haunting and delicate. Pure beauty recorded in 1977 by Don Buchla’s Electric Weasel Ensemble.

Joan La Barbara – Thunder (1977 / Chiaroscuro)

Joan La Barbara is a composer, performer, sound artist and actor, renowned for her unique vocabulary of experimental and extended vocal techniques, which have influenced generations of composers and singers. Tapesongs was her first outing and made use of early electronics, and multi-tracked tape techniques to manipulate her signature extended vocal techniques.
In 1977, La Barbara was living in NYC, playing concerts internationally and performing regularly with John Cage, who she described as a mentor.
“Thunder” is for six tympani and voice, using electronic devices and explores patterns through instruments and real-time composition with two jazz improvising musicians.

Morton Subotnick – Sidewinder (Medley) (1971 / CBS Masterworks)

Subotnick left New York in the fall of 1969 to participate in the founding of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). There, he continued the series of Buchla works with Sidewinder, Four Butterflies (Columbia, 1974), Until Spring (composed in 1975, released in 1976, on Columbia Odyssey), and an epilogue, A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur (Nonesuch, 1978).
In his program notes, Subotnick described Sidewinder as “virtual grooves,” akin to the grooves of an LP, “in orbit throughout space.” They “would periodically pass through the room, like a solar system where different musics are planets and the room is the sun. Each orbit had a different length and timing and the music in each was a distinct entity. As the orbit allowed its music to pass through the room, the music would be heard and would be blended with whatever orbit was playing its music at the time.”
To create Sidewinder, Morton Subotnick continued to generate musical materials, “sound events,” by running Buchla sequences. The principle of shaping gestures using a pressure sensitive touch plate continued. The innovation was Subotnick’s use of an envelope follower, developed by Don Buchla and allowing to use voice to control voltages. The composer could design the patches, generate sounds, and subsequently adjust the tempo, attack and decay of notes and sounds, then he would sing or hum into a microphone, which would be translated into performance information (control data) by the Buchla’s envelope follower. This module tracked the changing amplitude of his voice. Those shapes could be applied to changes over time of any musical parameter—not just amplitude. Subotnick would then set the assignment of sounds to multiple channels (to be placed in different speaker locations), and mix several tracks down to stereo, allowing him to add more tracks beyond the capabilities of a tape recorder of the day.

« Don [Buchla] developed the envelop detector for me — the idea then was I could get another step where my voice would go to an envelop detector and a very high sine tone would then get recorded onto a tape, along with other sine tones of different pitches— I could get five or six. The early ones had my voice on the tape. The later ones had a sine tone that was moving with my voice. I don’t think that anyone, to this day, does anything like that. The ability to be able to do that in real time and break it up into little pieces is still something that I can’t do on the computer. You can come close, but you can’t really do that. You don’t have an equivalent to control voltage in a computer.
What I ended up with was deciding that one could compose segments of a piece of music with one’s voice and finger pressure in which you are only encoding the meaningfulness, and later you could do this one-minute section in one minute, or you could take five minutes to that same segment—but very quick. And then take three months to take little bits and pieces of it to see how you want that to be realized. So, for instance, I could take, with just my voice, I’m thinking now of an opening for something or a section [hums quietly, with most of his emphasis on articulation, not melody]. And then I could build an entire piece in this way. And not even be concerned with what it’s going to sound like. Just what I wanted it to feel. And so, I ended up doing that.
By the time of Sidewinder I had developed techniques, and by the last ones the techniques were quite complete, in which I would record my voice and finger pressure, put them on a track of tape and then decode them into control voltages and then break up a second of one of those, or three seconds of another one, and put it on leader [tape without information] and work on it for two weeks, not worry about the whole thing, just that. But when you take the leader out, you still have your performance, but you have perfected every sound along the way. And that’s how I ended up working. »

Bengt Emil Johnson – 3/1970 ; (Bland) III (1970 / Dokumentation Från Elektronmusikstudion)

Bengt Emil Johnson – 1/1967 (1967 / Dokumentation Från Elektronmusikstudion)

2 pieces coming from the recommended Elektronmusikstudion Dokumentation in 4 volumes, respectively from #4 and #2 by this composer from Saxdalen, Sweden.
Johnson joined the concert organization Fylkingen circle in the early 1960s, appearing there himself as a pianist and composer and in happenings. He established co-operation with several other musicians and composers, including Lars-Gunnar Bodin. Johnson has been on the staff of Swedish Radio since 1966 and was made director of the Music Department, where among other things he has been an enthusiastic initiator of the annual Electronic Music Festival in Stockholm (first arranged in September 1979).
Johnson is also a practising poet, with fourteen collections published between 1963 and 1986. He is much in demand as a compere and author of programme notes at concerts. As poet and composer, Bengt-Emil Johnson is greatly fascinated by materials. His poetic career began with collections in a concretist spirit, and his music was also inspired by the thought of coming to terms with different kinds of acoustic material. And yet he has seldom figured as a technically preoccupied composer. His works often have literary ramifications, sometimes relating to poems of his own, sometimes to those of other poets (Carl Jonas Love Almqvist). He is a pioneer of text-sound composition, an amalgam of poetry and musical composition which acquired especially powerful standing in Sweden during the 1960s. He has taken a close interest in improvisation and collective composition. A more refined technique of composition underlies Disappearances for piano and recorded tape, the ensemble piece Mimicry and Colloquium.
Experiences of nature, awareness of death, reflections on contemporary phenomena — these are some of the ideas recurring in his musical compositions, with Night Chants, to words from ceremonies of the Navaho Indians as something of a high-water mark. The singer Kerstin Ståhl has played an important part in inspiring and interpreting several of Johnson’s works.

Klaus Röder – Polyphonie (1981 / Self-Released)

I had featured Mr. Frankenstein’s Babies from his first album in Early ElectroMIX #10 and wanted to offer an extract from his second album as he is too often ignored especially considering he was a member of the early Kraftwerk even contributing to their classic ‘Autobhan’.
German composer, guitarist, and electronic percussionist Klaus Röder was from Stuttgart, Germany. He had developed his interest in experimental music throughout the 1960s, studied violin and piano, sound engineering, composition and guitar. He soon discovered a passion for manipulating tape sounds and synthesizers, which led him to even create his own custom-made instruments.

Richard Maxfield – Pastoral Symphony (1960 / Advance)

Richard Maxfield was musical at an early age, played piano and clarinet as a child, played clarinet in the Seattle All Youth Orchestra, and wrote a symphony when he was in high school. Maxfield attended Stanford University for one year, where he continued to compose, and his works were played on the University radio station. In April 1947, he decided to transfer to the University of California and was awarded the Hertz Prize. The Hertz Prize allowed Maxfield to study for a summer with Ernst Krenek in Los Angeles and then to travel through Europe, where he met Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono, and where he probably first heard electronic music. He studied with Milton Babbitt, and received an MFA in 1955. He won a Fulbright Scholarship in 1955 and returned to Europe to study with Luigi Dallapiccola and Bruno Maderna in Italy. He remained in Europe through 1957, where, through Christian Wolff, he met John Cage and David Tudor.
In New York in 1958, Maxfield attended John Cage’s course at the New School and in 1959 replaced Cage as the instructor. He taught the techniques of creating electronic music from purely electronic sources, without microphones, and it was because of this course that the New Grove’s Dictionary of Music acknowledges him as “the first teacher of electronic music techniques in the U.S.”
On his way to Darmstadt in the summer of 1959, La Monte Young met Maxfield in New York City. On returning to Berkeley, Young presented Maxfield’s electronic music in concerts in the Bay Area and in 1960, after completing two years of graduate study at Berkeley, Young also won the Hertz traveling fellowship and went to New York to study electronic music with Maxfield at the New School.
Maxfield was the first American composer to build his own equipment for the purpose of generating electronic tape music and was possibly the first American to compose purely electronic music as distinct from “musique concrete” composed of non-electronic pre-recorded sounds. The tape elements of Maxfield’s compositions, which included both concrete and electronically generated materials, were all produced in his own studio in New York. His equipment was rudimentary: several kit-built, sine-square wave generators, two tape recorders, a homemade mixer and a homemade turntable, microphones, a “Dynamic Spacexpander” (a kind of reverberation device), possibly some filters, and inexpensive switches, amplifiers and speakers.

Iván Patatich – Ballade (1981 / Hungaroton)

Hungarian composer born in Budapest who composed around 200 film music works. His oeuvre also includes two operas and three ballets. From 1958 he also turned to electronic music and experimented in studios in Bratislava, Budapest, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Utrecht and New York. He won two prizes in Bourges in 1978 and 1984.

Vladimir Ussachevsky – Sonic Contours (1952 / Gene Bruck Enterprises Inc.)

Even if he started composing Electronic music in 1951, together with Otto Luening, Ussachevsky founded, in 1959, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City. While acting as head of the Electronic Music Center Ussachevsky specified the ADSR envelope in 1965, a basic component of modern synthesizers, samplers and electronic instruments. He served as president of the American Composers Alliance from 1968 to 1970 and was an advisory member of the CRI record label, which released recordings of a number of major Electronic works.

Max Mathews – Bicycle Built For Two (1962 / Decca)

The father of computer music, pioneering researcher Max Mathews programmed the first-ever computer-generated sounds, setting into motion a technological and creative revolution which continues to this day. A telecommunications engineer and amateur violinist working in Bell Telephone Laboratories’ acoustic and behavioral research department during the mid-’50s, Mathews was originally assigned to explore the digital transmission and recording of speech patterns, a process he realized could be easily adapted to the composition and playback of music as well. In 1957, he created the first music-synthesizing program, MUSIC 1, effectively transforming the computer into a new kind of instrument, one theoretically capable of generating any sound transmitted through a loudspeaker.