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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Do Not Listen if you are Stoned

That title was a tag line affixed to copies of Nik Raicevik's limited release electronic music albums in the period 1970-75. That really said a lot about what people thought of electronic music when it was created with mysteriously complicated modular synthesizers.

I've been writing about the history of electronic music for many years, but I know that a book is no substitute for hearing the music.

With the launch of my podcast in August 2020, I've opened up my archives of historic electronic music recordings to share with other interested listeners. I hope that by sharing these vibes from the past and give you the enjoyment that electronic music can bring. The music heard on this podcast comes from my Archive of Electronic Music, my subterranean repository of vintage recordings spanning the years 1915 to 1985. Although I’m not opposed to including something more recent if it fits with the podcast theme.

This edition of Noise and Notations provides my notes for episode 1 of the podcast. You can access the podcast here.

For this episode, I thought I would bring you some vintage head music. Coming from before the success of Tangerine Dream and the emergence of New Age music later on, this is music that you might have listened to with your eyes closed, in the dark, music that blurred the lines between unconsciousness and consciousness, like a dream.

Four works will be played and I’ll talk about them more fully after you hear them.

Track 1, Vladamir Ussachevsky, Wireless Fantasy from 1960.

Track 2, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hymnen, excerpt from Region 1 from 1966 and 67.

Track 3, Nik Raicevik, Lysergic Acid from 1970.

Track 4, Ned Lagin, Seastones, track VII from 1975

The first two works were composed on tape.

Track number 1, Vladamir Ussachevsky, Wireless Fantasy from 1960. Ussachevsky was the director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York, where this was composed. The work romanticizes the dying sounds of shortwave radio technology and the vacuum tube technology of the original radio age. Much of the original technology of radio, dating from the 1920s, found its way into electronic music studios of the 1950s, and 1960s. Ussachevsky recorded many of the source sounds for the piece at a radio museum in Trenton New Jersey, then lovingly assembled them at the NY studio.

Track number 2, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hymnen, excerpt from Region 1 from 1966 and 67.

This version, the original, was released as a double LP and featured 113 minutes of music. The work revolved around the use of recorded national anthems that one could imagine hearing on shortwave radio. Stockhausen carefully edited the work mixing electronically generated or modified sounds with concrete sounds from the world. One of his favorite studio devices at the time was the Springer, a recording device used in radio to lengthen or shorten broadcast recordings. In Stockhausen’s hands, the Springer became a tool for sustaining recorded sounds for abnormally long spans, a technique he used frequently in Hymnen.

Whereas the previous two tracks were considered examples of tape composition using a variety of studio tricks to create the sound, the next two tracks mark the transition to the use of synthesizers to create the sound material.

Track 3, Nik Raicevik, Lysergic Acid from 1970.

This track was on an album called Head. It was on the Buddha label—a big popular music label at the time. His agreement with Buddha was short-lived and Nik’s other recordings—four in all from 1971 to 1975—were released privately on a label he called Narco Records. The record included two other tracks, Cannabis Sativa and Methedrine; clearly a drug themed experience. Nik was an early owner of the Moog Modular Synthesizer. His work gives the impression that he worked by finding a good patch on the Moog and then made adjustments to the settings in real-time while he kept the tape recorder going. He got out of the electronic music world and apparently sold his Moog to Steve Roach in 1976.

Track number 4, Ned Lagin, Seastones, track VII from 1975.

Dead Heads may recall that Lagin was associated with the Grateful Dead from about 1970 to 1975. He sometimes performed on keyboards and paired with Phil Lesh for a middle set of electronic music. To the casual observer, Seastones may seem like a momentary flash in the pan for Lagin. But it was really the culmination of a period of great musical creativity and Seastones is the document of that collaboration. Lagin was a graduate of MIT. He found ways to use computers to manage the performance of his electronic music through various kinds of synthesizers including those made by E-mu, Arp, and Buchla. After Seastones, Lagin moved-on to have a successful career as a computer engineer. Seastones VII seems largely improvised which would make sense in the context of the Grateful Dead.

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Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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