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November 29, 2012

Book Notes - Mark Brend "The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream"

The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Mark Brend's book The Sound of Tomorrow tells the fascinating story of how electronic music became ingrained into popular culture.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Mark Brend's Book Notes music playlist for his book, The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream:

My book The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream, was written in a shed in the south west of England. Thanks to a broadband connection and a collection of CD compilations I was able to write to an intermittent background hum of library cues, film scores and washing machine adverts from the first decades of electronic sound. Much of this music was made on the cheap in workshops, home studios and yes, sheds, by pioneers who were making it up as they went along. Although the book also traces the history of popular electronic music made by mainstream composers working within the music and entertainment establishments, I found myself particularly drawn to this collection of freelance oddballs, lone wolves and auto-didacts who did so much to popularize electronic music. What follows is not only a playlist for the book, but also a salute to those sonic adventurers:

Louis and Bebe Barron – Bells of Atlantis (score to 1952 short film)

The Barrons engaged in several collaborations with the writer Anaïs Nin and her first husband, Hugh Parker Guiler (as Ian Hugo). Bells Of Atlantis pits a Barron score against a series of protean visual abstractions overlaid with Nin reading extracts from her book, the House Of Incest. The bubbling molten electronic tones were painstakingly created in the couple's home studio, in the main room of their Greenwich Village apartment. The score is a prototype for the couple's one big hit, the Forbidden Planet soundtrack of 1956.

Raymond Scott – Soothing Sounds for Baby series (1964 set of three albums)

Scott made a fortune as a TV and radio composer, bandleader and all-round musical fixer. This he invested in a home studio to trump all home studios, sprawling through many rooms of his Long Island mansion. Here he invented a series of electronic instruments that might have changed the course of musical history if only they'd made it out of his dream factory. A tantalising paucity of music made with these machines only serves to sharpen the intrigue. The Soothing Sounds For Baby series of three albums were the first sequencer records. Their simplistic repetitions may or may not have achieved the stated aim of lulling infants into slumber, but I found they communicated a sort of peace, particularly when cut with the songs of birds in the garden where my shed stands.

Barry Gray – Excerpts for Documentary about Hoover Keymatic Washing Machine (score to short promotional film c.1960)

It was a favourite ploy of advertisers in the late 50s and early 60s to imagine the future home as a techno paradise full of labour saving devices. And what better soundtrack for such Utopianism than electronic music? British composer/bandleader Barry Gray had a conventional musical schooling followed by a career that included serving as Vera Lynn's musical director. His electronic music tended to feature more melody and harmony than was the norm in electronic composition of the 50s and 60s. Gray's score for a promotional documentary about the Hoover Keymatic washing machine features extended use of the exotic French electronic instrument of the 1930s much favoured by Messiaen, the Ondes Martenot. A few years ago I got to play the very instrument this music was made with. It had been retrieved in a dilapidated state from a lock up in Chelsea, where it was stored after Gray's death, moved there from his studio in an old German bunker in the Channel Islands.

Fred Judd – Space Patrol (score to 1963 TV series)

The British author, editor, composer, inventor and electronic music evangelist Fred Judd conducted a solitary campaign out of a modest terraced house in Woodford, northeast London. His natural milieu was the lost world of amateur tape recording clubs, electronic hobbyist magazines and home movie aficionados. He reached his biggest audience with an all-electronic score to Space Patrol (AKA Planet Patrol), a puppet TV sci fi series. There's a photo of Judd in his home studio in the early 60s, the banked tape recorders and oscillators in the corner of a typical British suburban living room of the time, with flowers in a vase and net curtains.

Fifty Foot Hose – Cauldron (1967 album)

In truth I don't think I actually worked to this music, except when I was researching the band. Operating out of San Francisco in the glory days of acid rock, Fifty Foot Hose merged a serious electronic music aesthetic with rock'n'roll. Leader Cork Marcheschi fashioned a homemade rig of primitive noise-making devices from oscillators, radios, hobbyist kits and an old speaker from a second world war Navy warship, into which he would tip ball bearings that would bounce and rattle when low frequency tones played through the speaker. The band's sole album veers between fierce blues-rock, nocturnal jazz and woozy psychedelia, the ghostly tones of Marcheschi's rig oozing across it all like musical ectoplasm.

Daphne Oram – Rockets In Ursa Major (music for 1962 play)

The first lady of British electronic music left the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which she had helped to form, in 1959, and spent the rest of her career working from a home studio in the tower of her Kent Oast House. As her career progressed she drifted into obscurity, but she has been posthumously acclaimed. Her Oramics machine was set up recently as a sort of holy relic of electronic music in an exhibition at London's Science Museum.

Tristram Cary – Quatermass and The Pit (score for 1967 film)

In the late 1940s Tristram Cary began assembling the first electronic music studio in Britain, a collection of military surplus equipment he called the machine. By the 1960s this had expanded to fill a large corrugated iron hut in Suffolk, and it was here that he assembled the electronic sections of his orchestral score to the third instalment in the Quatermass series of films (US title Five Million Years to Earth).

Mark Brend and The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream links:

the author's website
the book's page at the publisher

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" music lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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