Mental Machine Music

Pauline Oliveros "Bye Bye Butterfly" (1965) Through tape manipulation and a peck of pinched Puccini, this piece invents postpunk nurses with wounds 13 years ahead of schedule.

MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) "Spacecraft" (1967) How my greasy loner friends who I trade Crispy Ambulance bootlegs with never turned me on to these acid-soaked freaks I'll never know. Looked them up on the Net, but all I found was a site for a radioactive ion-beam facility.

Terry Riley "Poppy Nogood" (1968) The full title of this one is "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band Purple Modal Strobe Ecstasy With the Daughters of Destruction." That's all you really need to know.
Clara Rockmore gets good vibrations from her theremin.
Clara Rockmore gets good vibrations from her theremin.

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Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music: 19481980
Ellipsis Arts
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David Tudor "Rainforest Version I" (1968) Pianist and muse to the stars, Tudor envisions an electro/worldbeat fusion full of gnashing teeth and tsetse flies: nothing at all soothing or N.P.R.-ready.

Laurie Spiegel "Appalachian Grove I" (1974) Kudos must again go to Ohm's compilers, cuz Disc 3 (1972-1980) in no way wanes in quality (which I thought it might, since so many de rigueur synths and devices of that era have come to sound so Kitaro-y and Vangelis-y today). This computer-made track sounds as cool and alien as the day it was hatched. I played it on my computer, and my computer told me it loved me.

Robert Ashley "Automatic Writing" (1979) The walls are melting, my brain is on fire, Throbbing Gristle are exposed as the frauds that they were. These physics professors are getting downright fucking spooky.

Which reminds me: Did I mention yet that all of these artists were completely insane? More than one of them based their compositional theories on ancient religion or metaphysical philosophy. Most had grandiose ideas of some perfect forum for their music to be heard, preferably with hundreds of loudspeakers involved. A 31-year-old Karlheinz Stockhausen, speaking in 1960, envisioned a time when every major city would have an auditorium specifically designed for the appreciation of "space music." If he had only known then what time and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer would bring!

And somehow, someway, every one of these egghead eccentrics managed to create (despite their often convoluted quantum mechanics fixations, crude yet mind-boggling inventions, and reliance on tin cans) a spontaneous-sounding and vibrant form of music, all but bypassing the always fashionable and almost always boring world of George Crumb wannabes and academic/atonal/serial/Schoenbergian federally funded "modern" classical music that exists to this very day. Perhaps when you're playing something called an "electronic sackbut" it's harder to get into a stylistic rut.

Or perhaps the answer lies in the warning that fad exploiter and '60s electronica icon Richard Hayman (who rearranged the hits of the day for sci-fi fans by adding synth burps and farts to "The Windmills of Your Mind" and "The Look of Love") includes in the liner notes to his Vietnam-era Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine LP: "Beware the Ides of Moog." Even in those dark samplerless, modemless days of yore, electronic gadgets and boxes provided the user with limitless possibilities to create unheard and unheard-of sound. Thus the greatest influences on today's music that no one has ever heard of—guys like La Monte Young in 1969, giving their masterpieces bizarre names like "31/69 c.12:17:33-12:25:33 pm NYC"—could screw with time and space via piercing sine waves that can still back up your sinuses for a week. So pin back your ears, mate. Piss off your dog!

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