Electrospective: An Exploration Of Synthesized SF Sounds

Sounds Like We Are Going Into 2017 On A Synthwave

forbidden-planet-machine

“I’ll bet any quantum mechanic in the service would give the rest of his life to fool around with this gadget” – Chief Engineer Quinn. 

A New Year = A New Hope?

Brad may be an idiot, but he’s not foolish to believe that the travails of one rotten year are all going to magically dissipate as soon as a fresh one begins, but behold!

Aah, the healing power of music, especially the electronic kind. Having sought to prepare this Post for some time and – considering how hits of yesteryear usually slip back into my post-Christmas playlist every year – here it is!

We have come a long way since the days of Robby the Robot…

The first electronic movie score was used for Forbidden Planet (1956). To create a totally radical Space Age OST, Louis and Bebe Barron invented their own cybernetic instruments to produce: “Electronic Tonalities.”

For TV’s longest-running SF series: Doctor Who, Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop transcended tech limitations by tape-splicing the sounds of tone generators.

In 1972, mechanical experiments in sound texturing were afoot in Germany. Combining backwards guitar overdubs with chiming synthwaves, Neu! launched the subgenre that would become known as Kosmische Musik (dubbed somewhat disrespectfully as Krautrock by a disapproving UK press).

The early 1970s also saw the emergence of the ultimate electro-pioneers and shapers of the future: Kraftwerk. Their man-machine trope and their innovative creation of synthesized instruments for their “robotklang” were as far removed from the mainstream as you could get, but provided the template for electronic musical progression for many years to come.

Other experimental acts in this wonderful Kosmische canon include Popol Vuh and Can, providing their own unique spaced-out sounds.

In 1974, Tangerine Dream practically invented the (definitive?) “sound of “tomorrow” in the phenomenal shape of their fifth studio LP: Phaedra. Brimming with scintillating Moog and glacial mellotronica, the origins of modern techno can be discerned amid the glorious title track (which, remarkably – after 150+ Posts – is the first time its been uploaded here(!); looks like this Spaceman is slippin’ up in his middle-age…):

Could Have Played: Anything by Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Cluster or Can et al.

“We are doing intellectual research on electronics… We really like to show how modern, sophisticated equipment can be used today in order to create a futuristic sound” – Edgar Froese.

Could Have Played: David Bowie – V2 Schneider, Neukoln or Moss Green.

“I’m not an original thinker. I am best at synthesizing things… I’d like to think what I did changed the fabric of music” – David Bowie.

Being on Earth, but not being of it resonated with the late, much-missed Starman: David Bowie.

Space travel and aliens (more specifically alienation) rolled recurrently throughout his lifetime (of) achievement. In The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) he appeared cold, emotionless and detached, because that’s exactly how he felt at that point.

Burned out in the US – both physically and spiritually – Bowie fled to seemingly the most incongruous hideout in Europe: the Turkish sector of Cold War Berlin. The Artist Formerly Known As Ziggy Stardust became very fond of the anonymity it granted him; the music he created during this phase became “some of the most rewarding of my life.”

In collaboration with ambient wizard: Brian Eno, he felt compelled to dabble in soundscapes, encouraged by the possibilities that different sonic textures could achieve.

“I was a big fan of Kraftwerk… and I thought the first Neu! album, in particular, was just gigantically wonderful…” Bowie remarked, reminiscing about this special time in his life.

“I had absolutely no doubts where the future of music was going, and for me it was coming out of Germany.”

Electronic music certainly revolutionizing his approach to music-making. Low and Heroes – both released in 1977 – form distinctive high points in what appears today as such a sumptuous discography.

Bowie’s instrumentals contained the breath-taking results of his Kosmische-inspired aspirations to make “expressionist mood pieces.” The track: V-2 Schneider was an ambiguous homage to Kraftwerk; Edgar Froese’s Epsilon In Malaysian Pale directly inspired Moss Green; while there is a hefty nod to Neu! in Neukoln; and how much of Neu!’s Hero can you hear in Bowie’s landmark single: Heroes? 

Even as late as 2013, nostalgic reflections of his time in Berlin graced the incredibly moving single: Where Are We Now?

Could Have Played: Honestly, we would be here ALL NIGHT going through my eclectic 1977-1984 playlist! Believe me – by Jiminy – the list is endless! (And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!)

“To me a career is just like a machine. All the pieces have to fit together perfectly or else the machine will tear itself apart” – Gary Numan. 

With the rise of electronic music during the 70s, SF sounds soared into a whole new system. One of the pioneers of electro: Giorgio Moroder revitalized the career of disco queen: Donna Summer. I Feel Love became the first fully-synthesized (playing no trad instruments) No.1 pop single in 1977.

That same year, Gary Numan also conquered the charts with two classic electronic singles, embracing the SF with his distinctive brand of synthpop and android looks. Are Friends Electric (listen above) – with its roboticized chugging beat – is one of his most enduring classics. To complement the sci-fi vibe, his fans are endearingly known as “Numanoids.”

Up to the end of the 70s, and well into the early 80s, numerous acts such as Ultravox, the Human League, OMD and many others continued the man-machine SF theme and never failed to dominate the charts.

Meanwhile, in the film world, John Carpenter contributed his own distinctive mark on the history of electronica by composing scores for his own films: most notably Halloween, Escape From New York and The Thing. 

Numerous electronic film scores emerged during this period, but probably the greatest masterpiece in this field would have to be the soundtrack for Blade Runner by Vangelis.

Could Have Played: AFX – PWSteal.Ldpinch.D; Orbital – Science Friction; Eternal Basement – Parkhouse; Plastikman – Menak; Mike Ink – Thesis; Jeff Mills – Step To Enchantment; LSG – Hearts;

“Everyone Needs A 303” – Fatboy Slim.  

With the onset of the 90s, electronic music branched off into experimental subdivisions such as house – and of course techno (a mighty subgenre in itself, shortly to get its own post here!).

The whole scene was transformed by one unlikely piece of equipment: the Roland TB-303: a bass synthesizer (with built-in sequencer). DJs and electro musicians in Chicago experimented with this device and created acid techno (which thrived in the UK and Europe as well).

1994-1998 was a particularly innovative time with several artists becoming big names (especially in the Brad household!) with the likes of Jeff Mills, James Ruskin, Sven Dedek, Eternal Basement and Plastikman, aka Richie Hawtin – whose father was a robotics engineer and Kraftwerk fan (ideal background then for the son to make his own mark in electronics!)

Look again to Germany and the Tresor record label offered a quite considerable coterie of the next stage in intriguing artists such as Regis, Surgeon and Pacou. One of the most remarkable producers on the current German scene is Wolfgang Voigt, aka Mike Ink, aka Studio 1. aka Gas etc etc!

In the early 21st century, advances in digital tech allow for more complex soundstructures of diverse techno. Perhaps it is fitting that we arrive at a recently formulated subgenre referred to mainly as retrosynth (or synthwave) which marvellously recreates that analogue 80s style. Of the numerous artists working now, none is more impressive – and best prepared to reach for the stars – than Lazerhawk.

Before departing on my own jump to lightspeed, enjoy this delightful composition which, fortunately, is accompanied by a suitably cosmic vid:

Could Have Played: Burger/Voigt – The Jealous Guy From Memphis; Daft Punk – Moroder;

IN MEMORIAM:

david-bowie-1024x685

David Bowie: 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried”

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16 thoughts on “Electrospective: An Exploration Of Synthesized SF Sounds

  1. This was fascinating! I had no idea what to expect when you teased a music-related post, but this was great. I actually only know the basics of electronic music so this was informative. I love that you imbedded the music in the post too. This was a lot of fun!

  2. Great post! Big fan of electronic music. It deserves more attention & praise! Was listening to Giorgio Moroder with the hubby last night & I also just picked up a movie I’ve never heard of simply because I read that Tangerine Dream did the score. : )

  3. Great post! Sorry I’m just now getting caught up on blog stuff; 2017 has gotten off to a really rough start for me. 😦 Here’s hoping things will look up from here!

    I love electronic music; Daft Punk is my favorite, and I especially love the disco/retro/electronic sound of their most recent album.

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