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One of the earliest interactions between music and the new realm of electronics in the first half of the 20th century was the French school of Musique Concrète. Constructing works using the then-new medium of magnetic tape, these composers could use the recorded sounds of the world rather than traditional instruments to create their music.
Herbert Eimert – Klangstudie II | download
This new ability to capture sounds and use them as one might use the individual sections of a traditional orchestra opened up a world’s worth of noises to experiment with. Some of the earliest pieces of musique concrète eschewed musical instruments entirely, like Pierre Schaeffer’s Étude aux chemins de fer.
Pierre Schaeffer – Étude aux chemins de fer | download
In today’s age of digital recorders and 120Gb iPods three minutes of manipulated train noises may seem simplistic, but in 1949 it would have blown a few of the punters clean off their seats. Keep in mind that thanks to World War 2, magnetic tape recorders were unheard of outside Germany until after the end of hostilities and recorded sound had been limited almost entirely to dialogue in talking pictures.
The techniques being played with at the time ranged from the ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ simplicity of playing records backwards or at different speeds, to cutting edge (for the time) tricks like tape splicing/looping, microphone placement and EQ manipulation. Dalia Derbyshire’s theme song for Doctor Who is perhaps the most famous example of musique concrète techniques in action – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was mad for the tape looping.
Excerpt from the BBC documentary The Alchemists of Sound
featuring more of Delia Derbyshire and her works
But for all of its innovativeness, musique concrète of the all-noise variety is understandibly hard to take in large doses.
Perhaps the greatest champion (and survivor) of musique concrète is Jean-Jacques Perrey. At 79, he’s still making records. His collaborations with Gershon Kingsley as part of electronic group Perrey and Kingsley mark the first real effort to make electronic music ‘popular’ – music for sitting down and listening to, rather than an extension of experimentation with sound technology. He’s even recorded an album with IDM legend and library music crate-digging wizard Luke Vibert.
Perrey’s work is so prolific that I would hazard a guess there’s not a single one of you reading this blog who hasn’t heard something of his in one form or another. From television to Disneyland to samples, there’s a touch of his work everywhere. Have a listen to Perrey’s E.V.A. and then Gang Starr’s Just to Get a Rep and see if you can spot the sample.
Okay, cadets, feel free to take five. I’m on a roll, though – I want your asses back in those seats because we’re going to push on into the next step in music technology: synthesizers.
[Special intarweb reacharound to my homeboy Chad for hooking me up with the real early electronic goods.]
Mmm. I do so dearly love when science and music come together*.
Wired has a lovely article full of all sorts of groovy gizmos that will be producing the sounds of tomorrow.
The Brick Table
Stay tuned for a complete 180° turn in our next installment – we’ll switch from the future of electronic music to the past. One of the finest bombardiers in the fleet (and defending zero-gee shoot fighting champion of the HMS Lakota), my old comrade Coyote, asked a while back for some more info about 60s electronic stuff when I dropped some Pierre Henry on the firing range. So keep your eyes on the radar for some of that on the weekend.
Huh – the teaser for the next post contains more words than the actual content of this post. Weird.
Oh well. Viper Pilot, signing off.
*Yes, yes – music is math and all, so you could technically say that music is science. But, really, let’s be fair. Math is a grey area within the realm of science. Sure, you need it to perform scientific calculations, but on its own it’s kind of just a set of logic experiments, done within the head and no need for real-world observations. Discuss this paradox amongst yourselves.
JJ Speedball is the southside’s great hero of dirty rock. He’s a larger-than-life cult figure of the Brisbane/Gold Coast megacity’s indie music scene, clad in tight red vinyl pants and rocking the punters since 1989. He doesn’t just get on stage and perform the rock, he lives it. He’s an accomplished air guitarist (having competed semi-professionally) and puts more energy into his stage act than Iron Maiden on a three-day methamphetamine bender.
A a result of my many successful forays into the realm of mashups, I’ve been assigned a super-duper secret mission: carve the shit out of one of JJ’s rock epics and turn it into something not-quite-what-it-started-out-as. I have humbly gone about fulfilling this task, and now present to you the fruits of my efforts.
It’s music. It’s got robots. Awesome.
For a blog about science & music, here’s the money shot:
The Reactable is the epitome of design interace for triggering loops and samples and generating wave noise. I want. Björk has one I could maybe ask for, but I imagine she kind of needs it.
Oh well. I’ll just keep fiddling with Atomique’s theremin until Björk puts her Reactable on eBay or something.
After 50 mighty fine years of space exploration, NASA is set to celebrate the end of the first decade of the 21st century by retiring the thirty year-old space shuttle. The Orion class heavy lift vehicle won’t be ready until 2015, so while the Yankees are bumming rides off the Russians to get to the International Space Station, we’ll see some new players emerge onto the scene.
So just who is lining up to tame the next frontier? It’s no longer nations that are into the achieving-escape-velocity game these days. We have both commercial and national interests looking to the skies. With all this competition, surely some day the peasant folk like you and me will be able to afford some steerage-class tickets off this mudball.
While Russia’s Soyuz rockets are doing a lot of work these days, the Russians are focusing on milk runs to supply the ISS and drop off satellites. China, on the other hand, is plowing ahead with its space program. It’s now the third country to have put humans into space, and taikonaut Zhai Zhigang conducted his country’s first spacewalk last month. The Chinese have announced plans to build an orbiting laboratory and have it in orbit by 2011, with a full-fledged station by 2020.
Visit Venus – Orbital Workshop | download
We may see several moonbases up and running by 2025 – Russia, China, Japan, the USA and India all have their sights set on some prime lunar real estate. Atomique and I hold a couple of acres of homestead near Crater Huggins, purchased from the super-dodgy and not-legal-at-all-but-hey-I’m-the-guy-with-a-deed-for-moon-land-and-you’re-not Lunar Embassy.
Perhaps the most exciting entry into the new space race comes courtesy of the Japanese, who plan to build a space elevator for the paltry sum of 1,000,000,000,000 Yen. Okay, so a trillion Yen doesn’t sound like much of a bargain, but when you consider that that’s roughly 9 billion US dollars and the Space Shuttle program has to date cost about 1.3 billion US per launch, it starts to sound quite economical. The question is, can you stand fourteen hours of elevator music?
Just to emphasize the point: space elevators are beyond kickass. If they pull this off, we can defeat that cocksucker gravity for once and for all. Japan FTW.
Then there are all the private entities vying to show they’ve got the right stuff. Only when space has been opened up to commercial activity will we have any real hope of prices dropping, so I hope there are enough idle rich folk kicking around willing to foot the bill for the first decade of commercial space travel.
The most well-known of the private-sector space travel mobs is surely Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The airline (spaceline?), using Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo as its launch vehicle, will get you into the thermosphere and weightlessness for six minutes. No firm date has been set for the first liftoff with a compliment of paying passengers, but it should be some time in 2010.
On the 28th of September, 2008, SpaceX became the first non-government entity to lift a liquid fuel rocket into orbit (woot!). SpaceX seems to have lifting cargo as its main goal, but the SpaceX Dragon may be lifting astronauts to the ISS before the Orion comes online.
But just what do you do with a ticket to space? Chances are that any moonbases will be fairly cramped, scientific outposts, and you’d better hold a few doctorates if you want a bunk. Unless all you’re after is a short burst of zero-gee frolicking (wheeee!) on a Virgin Galactic flight, what are your options?
Well, luckily for us, Bigelow Airspace is not only planning to build a lunar cruise ship which will take you on a tour around the far side of the moon and back, it’s also working on an orbiting hotel. Bigelow has already lifted two payloads into orbit to test various habitat construction methods. I’m EXCITE!
Bigelow have no set date for the opening of any of their facilities, unfortunately. There will be a hotel in orbit by 2012 (maybe) courtesy of Galactic Suite (I hope), although you may have to wait a while if you can’t afford the inaugural three-day rate of four million dollars.
So – long story short – you and I aren’t getting a ticket to beyond the atmosphere for the next couple of decades. But I’m willing to wager it will be affordable (enough, if you’re really keen) by 2050. I’ll be 75 then, but in 2050, 75 will be the new 45.